This Little Figgy Went to Market

IMG_5573I love the summer. Fresh produce and veggies abound and each week at local farmers markets reveal a new harvest of seasonal favorites. For some the season is long: tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash,  peppers and chilies will all be around well into September, some up until the first frost. For others the season is short: corn is in its prime right now, although it will still be available in the weeks ahead. In these parts, figs are a late summer 3-4 week crop at best and the local fig season is flourishing now – but don’t blink, they will be gone before you know it!

Fig trees put out fruit slowly at first and then the branches are filled to brim with sweet ripe fruit.  Farmers pick as fast as they can, but once picked fresh figs only last a couple of days before they will start to over-ripen or go bad. To quote farmer Jessica Smith at Strong Bird Farm in Monroe, “Its time to get figgy with it!”

If you love figs like I do, you’ll want to buy several containers as you hit local farmers’ markets this weekend. One to snack on as you drive back home and the other to enjoy this weekend or to freeze , dry or cook with to preserve their flavor for weeks or months to come.

Where to Find the Figginess You Seek

In the Charlotte area, recent rains have played havoc with the crop, but fresh figs are out there and well worth the search. If you are lucky, you have a neighbor or friend with a backyard fig tree and you could go pick your own. If you are shopping at local markets, know that last weekend I spotted several vendors with figs at the both the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market in Matthews NC and at the Charlotte Regional farmers’ market on Yorkmont Road in Charlotte, and I suspect figs will make an appearance at those markets this weekend as well.

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Tip of the Season: Store fresh figs in paper egg cartons

Once you buy your figs, if they are ripe – and I suspect they will be  – you’ll need to use them right away.  Keep them in the fridge, but know they will ripen and then over ripen quickly.

Here is a great  fig storage trick I learned this year, again from Strong Bird Farm, if you keep the nearly ripe or just ripe figs in an egg carton, each fig in its own separate compartment, they will stay fresher longer. If you pile the figs in a plastic container or bag, the ones on the bottom bear the weight of the load and will start to get soft fast!

In the Charlotte area, the likelihood is great that you will buy one of two varieties, Brown Turkey Figs or Celeste. Brown Turkeys are by far the more prevalent.  Because they are so perishable its unusual to regularly find fresh figs in local grocery stores; but if you do, you may see other  varieties such as the beautifully green kadota figs or  dark black mission figs.

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The difference between fresh and dried figs

Not to be confused with our fresh local Brown Turkey varietal, nearly any kind of Turkish fig you would find in North Carolina would be dried; and if the dried figs you buy don’t come from Turkey or the middle east, they come from California. Turkey is the largest producer of dried figs in the world. California is the largest producer of dried figs in the United States.

Most of the recipes here work equally well with fresh or dried figs, save for the stuffed figs which for me are the very best way to toast in and enjoy this glorious season of fresh figs! For this  “don’t-even-need-printed-directions” recipe, cut open your figs with a cross cut on the stem end or cut them in half. Top them with your favorite local chevre, ricotta, feta or goat cheese and then drizzle with honey.  Serve them as an evening appetizer of for breakfast, brunch or a midday snack.

It is my experience, that they disappear as fast as you can make them.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well then, a video is worth many more. Here local figs from Strong Bird Farm (follow them on Instagram)  take center stage topped Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese and Dancing Bees Sourwood Mountain Honey –my oh my!

 

The Fig-eliciousness that Awaits

Short of eating them “au natural”, because figs come to us originally from the Middle East, they are best paired with other Mediterranean flavors such as pistachios, olives,  olive oil, honey and oranges. And, you’ll be happy to know the rich sweet tastes also pairs well with dark brown liquors.

Lets start with that last thing, first: Liquor.

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“Figcello”

Once or twice a year I make homemade lemoncello. I have for many summers past now, and  thought that it would be fun to apply the same recipe to my favorite summer fruits, namely peached and figs. I have yet to try making a homemade peach-cello; but I can tell you that I have deemed  my first batch of figcello to be a tasty, albeit, potent, success.

The recipe for lemoncello is pretty easy and I thank Luisa at Charlotte’s Dolce Ristorante for originally showing me how its done.

Take 12 lemons and peel them. Add the peels to a half gallon of Everclear and let the mixture stand for a couple of weeks. Strain the Everclear and mix with a half gallon of simple syrup. Refrigerate and viola!

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I applied the same principles to the fresh figs; but as figs are sweet  I needed to add in acidity.   I cut up about a dozen sweet fresh figs – this is a great way to use overripe figs – and put them in a 2 cup jar of Everclear ( I have since determined that this will be even better if you put the figs in an aged Whiskey ( I like TOPO Aged Oak Whiskey from Chapel Hill, NC).

 

 

IMG_5746I let the figs sit in the Everclear ( or Whiskey) for 2 weeks. Then, I made a simple syrup with the juice and zest of one orange, 3-4 drops of Crude Small Batch Bitters “Sycophant” bitters ( another great North Carolina product), added a tsp of cardamon, 1 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of organic sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil; turn down the heat and continue to summer 10 minutes or until the mix starts to get syrupy and thick. Let cool.

Then add the cooled orange syrup to the fig infused liquor. Refrigerate for about a week. The longer your Figcello sits it the refrigerator the more mellow it will become. Enjoy!

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I posted the photos of this next recipe on my Facebook and Instagram feeds to rave reviews. Now, here is the recipe you’ve all been asking for with thanks to Farmer Dan Kypena and his wife Meg of Middle Ground Farm in Monroe.

Heidi’s From the Farm Summer Fig Tart

IMG_5687pie crust – use your favorite recipe, your favorite refrigerated brand or  use my favorite from scratch recipe – you’ll only need enough for one pie

12-15 fresh ripe figs, cut in half lengthwise

2 duck eggs ( available at from Rowland’s Row Farms in Gold Hill, NC) ( you may substitute 3 chicken eggs, but duck eggs make the tart richer and creamier)

1/2 cup organic sugar

1 cup organic heavy cream

Roll out the finished pie crust large enough to fit in a false bottomed 9-10 inch tart pan. Arrange the figs, cut side up in the crust. In a separate bowl mix the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the heavy cream and blend well. Pour the egg/cream mixture over the figs. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top of the pie starts to  brown nicely. Remove from oven and sprinkle the top with brown sugar or maple sugar ( available from the Savory Spice Shop). Cool. Cut into wedges and serve topped with real whipped cream!

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For the next two recipes you’ll need to start with what I call a fig paste. The first recipe is salty, and the second sweet – both are delicious.

IMG_5723To make the fig paste: take about a pound ripe figs, stem them and cut them in half or quarter them. Place them in a saucepan with just enough water to barely cover them. bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer until the figs soften. Strain the figs well to remove most of the water but not all of the juices and puree just until smooth in  food processor fitted with the metal blade. Freeze the puree for later use or use as directed in either of the following recipes.

As I mentioned earlier, the sweet sticky taste of figs is a delicious foil to the salty taste of olives. What better way to start a summer dinner than with a fig and olive spread served on crackers, toasted sweet potatoes ( just thick sliced and toast them in your toaster or oven – go ahead, try it, you’ll be glad you did!), or on toasted sliced of French bread.

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Heidi Billotto’s Olive and Fig Tapenade

 Heidi’s Olive and Fig Tapenade

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted dry cured black olives

1/2 cup fig paste ( see recipe in this post)

2 Tbsp. capers
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
zest of two lemons

Mix all ingredients in small bowl to blend. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

 

I couldn’t complete this post without some sort of fig cookie.  I won’t name names here, but growing up I honestly didn’t love the standard fig bar – you know which one I mean, just didn’t love the crust. These days, I find myself obsessed with hand pies and absolutely adore a light flaky pie crust wrapped around some sort of sweet filling. Use my pie crust referenced in the tart recipe in this post, cut it onto circles to make mini hand pies or these melt-in-your-mouth fig bar cookies – the perfect sweet salute to the summer’s fabulous fig season!

IMG_5776Heidi’s Fig Hand Pies

pie crust – use your favorite recipe, your favorite refrigerated brand or  use my favorite from scratch recipe – you’ll only need enough for one pie

1 recipe of Heidi’s fig paste ( see directions above)

2-3 Tbsp. local honey

1 tsp. dried ground cardamon

Pinch of salt

IMG_57731 tsp. vanilla

1 cup ground pistachios ( maybe more depending on the consistency of your fig paste)

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. of water or milk to make an egg wash

Roll out the pie crust and cut into 3 inch circles or into a rectangle approx. 9 inches long by 6 inches wide. Don’t sweat it if your measurements are a little off. Reserve

Combine the fig past with the honey, cardamom, salt, vanilla and ground pistachios and blend well.

Heidi's Tips and Tricks

If you’d like you can use this sweet fig paste as a summery spread on toast, French toast or waffles as well!

 

 

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Brush the rounds of pie crust with some of the egg wash, taking care to lightly coat the whole round. Spoon a bit of the sweetened fig paste into the center of each of the rounds. Fold the round in half and pinch the sides to seal. crimp with a fork and them gently make three slits in each half. Brush with the egg wash once again. Place the semi circular mini hand pies on a parchment lined baking sheet.

 

 

IMG_5759Take the rectangle of dough and brush the edges with the egg wash. Fill he center with the sweet fig paste. Fold the edges up and over the filling and pinch the ends and side to seal. Place seam side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Make small crosswise cuts in the top of the crust every inch or so – this will allow for easier cutting after the bars have baked.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, Cool on  rack before eating. Its hard to wait, but they really are better if they’ve had a bit of rest time after baking is done.

Once the long cookie roll has cooled a bit, use a chef’s knife to cut along the marks you made before baking to cut the bar into fig filled cookies.

PrintIf you love to cook with local and seasonal ingredients like fresh figs – you won’t want to miss any of my At Home with Heidi or On the Farm cooking classes. I source as many local ingredients as I can and I am always adding on new classes for you to enjoy.

Its all as hands on as you would like and each class included wine pairings, printed recipes and a gift bag full of  coupons, samples and fun swag for you to take home and enjoy! Check out my upcoming August and September classes here!

 

 

 

In Honor of Julia – My Julia Child Story

PrintThis Tuesday August 15 2017  would have been Julia Child’s 105th birthday.

I invite you to join me in celebration at my annual In Honor of Julia Cooking Class, to be held this year on Sunday Aug 13, 2017 from 2-5 pm.  Like all of my classes this is a hands-on experience, but if you’d rather just sit back, watch, eat, drink and enjoy that’s fine too and I feel sure Julia would agree! In class we’ll prepare 5 of my favorite Julia recipes using all local ingredients that I will pick up from area farmers’ markets this Saturday.  Do come and join in on the fun – Look for details on the class itself and reservations links on the cooking class page of my blog. I’d love to have you join us!

julia child on setChild, who passed away in August of 2004 was our nation’s grande dame of cuisine and my personal  culinary hero. She got her  start at what would become  her lifelong career because she wasn’t afraid to take a chance and then happened to be in the right place at the right moment and made it work; but I don’t think even she had any idea of what her eventual  impact would be. She took her passion and ran with it, with wild abandon, to lead the charge to change the culinary world. She brought the style and technique of French cuisine to American home cooks first in a two volume culinary tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, VOLs. 1 and 2, which she co-authored; and then continued to influence the world via of number of her own television series. It all started with The French Chef produced by Boston PBS station WGBH in 1963 .

Ask any food writer, chef or culinary professional who has been writing and working since the 1960’s or ’70’s and they probably have a Julia Child story.

julia-child-in-kitchenMy Julia Child story started in the mid 1960’s when I was eight or nine. I loved to watch what was then the first television show of its kind, the new Julia’s PBS series, The French Chef.  I wasn’t so interested in cooking at first, as much as I was fascinated by Julia herself, her attitude and her panache; to say nothing of all of the little bowls into which each and every ingredient was placed, the mis en place, ready for Julia to whip into something wonderful. And I loved her flourish as she raised her glass and to toast us all goodbye and “Bon Appetit!”

 

Back then, the home I grew up in in Jacksonville, Florida was set up so that my brother Jaimie and I shared a large bathroom fitted with a lengthy vanity and large wall mirror situated low enough to the counter top that we could see ourselves without having to stand on a stool.

julias cookbooks

Heidi Billotto’s much loved and much used collection of Julia Child’s books & cookbooks

Inspired by Julia, I would often while away hours by taking a few pots and pans and every little bowl I could find with me into the bathroom, cover the sink with Mom’s well-worn wooden cutting board and would pretend to cook, with all of the Julia –like flourish I could muster, watching myself in the mirror just as I had watched my mentor on television.

Several years later my parents gave me my very own copy of The French Chef Cookbook and encouraged me to move from the bathroom to the actual kitchen, where I began to cook for real.

Fast forward to September 2001. I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina and was teaching cooking classes  and catering and working as a food writer and restaurant critic.  The 40th Anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia’s first cookbook, originally published in 1961 had just been released. In promotion for the new edition, Julia Child was available for interviews. I set up the interview and dialed the number the PR people had given me. Low and behold it was Julia’s home and I got her answering machine. In her own unmistakable warble, she explained that “no one was home right now, please leave a message…”  I left my name. Later that day, I came home to find a message on my machine.

“ Hiiiiiideeeee, Julia here…” My heart raced, I think I may have actually stopped breathing for a moment. She was headed out to dinner with friends but I could call her back in the morning. I don’t think I slept a wink that night.  I saved her message on the machine ( in a time before the world was digital, like most of the rest of the world I had a mini cassette tape voice recorder) for months until the tape  finally broke from repeated play.

300-JULIA-BRANDING-FINALI never met Child in person, but had the great good fortune to interview her over the phone on two occasions. Initially in that first conversation with this culinary icon, I stammered and stumbled over my questions, unable to think of much more than the fact that I was actually speaking on the phone with Julia Child. She was her delightful and unpretentious self and immediately put me at ease. After a while it was like chatting with an old friend. She even asked me for a recipe.

“I hear your fried chicken is really quite good down there,” she said. “Would you send me the recipe, if you have a good one?”

Julia Child asked me for a recipe – I was floating on cloud nine. I mailed a recipe off the next day and still have her number and address in my old paper bound address book.

A native Californian, Julia graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in the 1930’s. At that time women were expected to graduate to become be a nurse or a secretary or a wife and a mother, but that was not for her.

“I just wanted to have a good time,” she said. And she did. In 1944, she found herself in working in Washington DC in the office of War Information. She was later upgraded to the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, the precursor to the CIA and was sent on assignment to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, to gather intelligence during World War II. In Ceylon she met the man who would become her husband, Paul Child. Just after the war the Childs moved to Paris, France where he was a diplomat at the American Embassy.

If you have seen the movie Julie & Julia or much better still, read Julia’s book “My Life In France”, then you know the story; but I am so honored that I heard it first from Julia herself.

Julia told me that she had taken French all of her life, but when she got to France, she couldn’t say a word.

“At least not a word that anyone could understand,” she laughed. “My husband was practically bi-lingual; he was taken for French all the time, but somehow I could just never pull it off.”

Eventually she found herself looking for something to do and began taking a culinary class set up for housewives at Le Cordon Bleu. Her interest piqued and Julia talked the famous culinary school into admitted her to a training class for former GI’s offered as a part of the GI bill. After six months of classes she was hooked! “This was for me”, she said. Indeed.

Friends and fans have continuously celebrated and applauded her life and her career. All of her cookbooks remain in publication and several of her television shows are syndicated. Video clips are now available on itunes and YouTube and she even has her own Facebook Page!

Julia Child

While Julia refused to ever allow her name to be attached to a kind of cookware or kitchen utensil brand, in 2000-2001 she did allow her good friend Gary Ibsen, a grower of more than 400 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and founder of the annual Carmel TomatoFest in Carmel, California, to name a tomato for her. Her only request was: “That it be tasty.”

Ibsen complied and today one can purchase packets of seeds for The Julia Child Heirloom Tomato through Ibsen’s website, where you can also read a bit about Ibsen’s long time friendship with Julia and his memories of her.

 

Heidi and Julia

Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

The kitchen Julia and Paul Child shared in their Cambridge. MA home, the same kitchen seen in her last three PBS television shows, was disassembled in November of 2001 when Julia moved back to California. Julia donated the kitchen to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in the hope that it would inspire home and professional cooks to ”make your kitchen a real family room and an important part of your lives.”

Literally millions of visitors a year, “tour” Julia’s kitchen. It has been rebuild exactly as it was and encased in clear glass walls so visitors can peep in where windows, doors and wall used to be and see it all in all its glory. Julia was a gadget person and as she told me, “sort of a knife freak.”  That is an understatement. Julia’s collection of kitchen gadgetry is amazing and it’s all there, including the knives lined up on magnetic strips and the pots and pans hanging on the pegboard wall. It’s a wonderful exhibit – a must-see for culinary enthusiasts of any age. If you don’t have time for a trip to the Smithsonian right now, you can take a virtual tour of Julia’s kitchen  and hear her thoughts on making the donation and having the kitchen open and available for everyone to see and visit.

Heidi Billotto 2008

 

Over and above that she has influenced many more of us than she would have ever know, including a little girl who pretended to cook in front of the bathroom mirror and now gets to do it for real.

We raise our glasses to you Julia, Happy Birthday and  Bon Appetit!

 

 

simply-email-heidi-to-make-your-reservationsWhile I don’t have an exact menu For my Annual “Celebration of Julia” Cooking Class just yet, I can promise we will recreate several of her classic master recipes to make a meal.  As the menu is based on local ingredients, I’ll wait until I hit Saturday markets to make final decisions, but rest assured, the fun will start with a bubbly toast in Julia’s honor and an appetizer upon arrival. Do plan to join us. Cost is $85 per person. Simply Email me to make your reservations– Cheers! Heidi

 

Home Grown Tomatoes

Tomato TimeFresh off the VinePlant ’em in the spring eat ’em in the summer, All winter without ’em’s a culinary bummer…                                 From “Home Grown Tomatoes” | John Denver

I don’t know about you but I have been like a kid in a candy shop with the flood on homegrown tomatoes now available in local markets. I long ago gave up on growing my own, deciding to leave the important work of seeding and sowing such seasonal pleasures to the professionals. Now I buy at every market from a host of farmers and you should too!

There is nothing quite like that first taste after a winter and spring without the real thing, but after a month or so it feels like you  just can’t eat them fast enough.

Truth is though, with one master recipe, you can use this season’s perfect fruit (or vegetable) to create a host of dishes to enjoy. And the best news is that these pan roasted tomatoes freeze well. So cook ’em down and pack ’em up and enjoy this, oh so special, taste of summer throughout the rest of the year as well.

This past week in particular has been a tomato-ey one for me. I’ve done a tomato time cooking class at Windcrest Certified Organic Farm in Monroe as a part of my On the Farm series of classes and then have been on television twice this week to help promote the first ever HomeGrown Tomato Festival to benefit 100Gardens.org in Charlotte.  I’ll be appearing as an official judge at the festival along with mixologist Stefan Huebner of the newly opened DotDotDot at Park Road Shopping Center and North Carolina’s own “Tomato Man”, Craig LeHoullier – Raleigh NC- based author of the award-winning book “Epic Tomatoes” and THE MAN who developed and named the famed Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato.  More about the festival at the end of this post along with the video segments that aired to promote it, but first -lets get on to the recipes of how best to eat ( and drink) up the sensational taste of summer tomatoes.

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Just a little reminder from my friends at Barbee Farms

First thing…How do you know when your tomatoes are ripe? You can’t always tell by the color because many heirloom varieties are not red – they are often green, yellow or striped. Look follow your nose, they should smell wonderfully tomato-ey and should be firm to the touch – although when you are shopping, don’t go around squeezing the tomatoes – farmers hate that and while we are on topic the same goes for peaches!

tomato tips

Now that you know how to choose and how to tell when your tomatoes are ripe, let’s start with a cocktail, shall we? Now I am not a bartender or mixologist by trade, but if you’ve got a good recipe and use great ingredients, making a refreshing summer cocktail is just like cooking a meal. You can do it, too, and here’s how…

Heidi's Summer SmashTomato watermelon cosmopolitanHeidi’s Summer Smash | Tomato and Watermelon Cosmopolitan

1 small local watermelon (check out the watermelons from Rowland’s Row Farm, available at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and the Davidson Farmers’ market or the melons from Barbee Farms, available at the Davidson Market or at the Barbee Farms farm store in Concord)

1 ½ lbs. local red, pink or yellow heirloom tomatoes ( in truth the color doesn’t matter – its about the taste of the ‘mater; but for this cocktail, rosier hues help keep it in the pink!)

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup water

3/4 cup Your favorite Vodka ( lots of great choices distilled right here in North Carolina)

lime

1 local jalapeno, sliced and candied*

Cut the pulp of the watermelon from the rind; remove any seeds ( see my tomato seeding tip below) and puree the watermelon until it is smooth. Refrigerate or freeze the puree.

Cut smaller cherry tomatoes in half or seed larger tomatoes; then cut them into chunks. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat and add the tomatoes. Allowing the tomatoes to cook for 15 mins or so in the simply syrup made when the sugar melts into the water. Ad the tomatoes cook down, their flavor transfers to the syrup. Remove the syrup from the heat and allow it to cool. The longer the tomato pieces sit in the syrup, the more tomato-ey goodness they will impart.

For two ( or maybe three) cocktails: combine 1 cup of watermelon puree with 1 cup of the candied tomato syrup ( use the candied pieces of tomato themselves for a garnish) Add the vodka and shake well. I like to do this in a large canning jar as I find it easier to shake than a cocktail mixer; but if your watermelon puree is frozen, you could also whip it up in a blender. Blend well; pour over ice. Add a squeeze of fresh lime.

Garnish with a candied tomato and a candied slice of jalapeno if you want to spice things up!  **To candy the jalapeno, make the same simple syrup mixture you did for the tomatoes, but this time add in fresh sliced jalapenos instead.

What Would Heidi Do-

pan roasted tomatoesNow that we all have a cocktail in hand, lets get down to cooking with all of this season’s wonderful tomato – you will find them everyone, just be sure you are buying local. In these photos you will see local tomatoes from Windcrest Farm in Monroe, New Town Farm in Waxhaw and Tega Hills Farm in Ft Mill ( all available at the Matthews’ Community Farmers’ Market), from Burton Farms ( available at the Cotswold Farmers’ Market and the Regional Market on Yorkmont Road) and from Rowland’s Row Family Farm ( available at the Matthews’ Community Farmers’ Market and the Davidson Farmers’ Market)

Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

 

3 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil ( available on Saturdays at the Cotswold Farmers Market and at all of my cooking classes)

1 small local yellow onion, diced ( optional)

2 cloves local garlic, optional ( optional)

OuterBanks SeaSalt & Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend (made from a blend of three peppercorns found at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte)

3-4 Lbs. local tomatoes,  diced or quartered

Place 2-3 Tbsp. of Kores Estate olive oil in a large pot and saute diced onion and garlic with salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. If you don’t want to add the onions and garlic, then just start with the oil.

Add all of the tomatoes to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes until the tomatoes start to soften. Puree the onion-garlic-tomato mixture with an immersion blender or food processor and use as a spread on toast for a wonderful appetizer all on its own or proceed with any of the following recipes…

Just Like Disney Did It RatatouilleJust Like Disney Did It Country French Farmers’ Market Ratatouille

One pan of Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

Your choice of any of these veggies:

2-3 local Haikuri Turnips

1 local eggplant, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 zucchini, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 yellow squash, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced

1 yellow bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced

3 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate olive oil, or to taste

2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence

¼ cup Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese ( available in cheese and gourmet shops all around Charlotte as well as on Saturday mornings at the Matthews’ Community Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market on Yorkmont Road)

Spread the pan roasted  tomatoes on the bottom of an oven to table casserole.

Arrange alternating slices of eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, and yellow bell pepper, starting at the outer edge of the dish and working concentrically towards the center. Overlap the slices a little to display the colors. ( Remember how the little chef did it in the movie Ratatouille? Layer your veggies, just like that!) Drizzle the vegetables with 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Dollop with the Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese or ricotta cheese.  Sprinkle with Herbs de province. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until veggies are roasted and tender and slightly browned. Top with the remaining pan roasted tomatoes just before serving.

Summer Tomato BisqueHeidi’s Summer Tomato Bisque

 

One pan of Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

2-3 firm, ripe tomatoes, diced

5 large Italian  basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade (roll the leaves up and then thinly slice them and viola! You have a chiffonade of basil!)

2 cups water

drizzle of Olive Crate Chile Pepper organic vinegar

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Start by heating the tomato puree you made in the Master recipe. Add the remaining diced tomatoes, basil leaves, and water. Simmer 10-12 minutes.

Remove from heat; spoon into bowls. Top each with a drizzle of the chile pepper balsamic vinegar. Serve with Greek yogurt and additional fresh basil on top.

Homemade KetchupHomemade Tomato Ketchup and Fries

For the Ketchup:

2 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate  Extra Virgin Olive Oil

½ local red onion, minced

¼ cup minced local celery

One pan of Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

1/2 cup water

2/3 cup organic sugar

3/4 cup Olive Crate Honey vinegar

2 Tbsp. sea salt

Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend, to taste

Saute onions and celery in olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes, stir to mix.

Add remaining ingredients.  Cook on medium high heat, stirring constantly, uncovered, until mixture is reduced by half and very thick.

Smooth the texture of the ketchup using an immersion blender, about 20 seconds.

Adjust seasonings to suit your tastes

 For the Fries:

Peel and rinse 4-5 local potatoes.  Cut the potatoes into your desired shape.

Place them in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Allow them to soak, 2 to 3 hours.

Drain the potatoes and blot dry on several thicknesses of paper towels.

Heat a few inches of  organic canola oil in a heavy pot.  ( you can tell that the oil is hot enough by placing a dry wooden spoon in the oil as it heats. When little bubbles start to form around the spoon, then the oil is hot enough for frying)  Cook the potatoes in small batches for just 4-5 minutes – they will not be brown, but remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels.  Then refry them in hot oil until brown. Salt to taste and serve with your homemade ketchup!

More about the first ever Home Grown Tomato Festival to benefit 100Gardens.org in Charlotte.

Come on out and join in the fun at 1 pm on Saturday July 29, 2017 at Midwood Country Club in Charlotte. Purchase tokens for $5 each to buy delicious homegrown tomato sandwiches made with bread from Sunflower Bakery and Burton’s Farms heirloom tomatoes or tomato pies from Christine’s Konditorei; beverages from Eli’s Lemonade and more. You and your kids may also adopt and take home a dwarf tomato plant; listen to the bands, watch the mixologists compete for the best tomato cocktail and see, taste and vote for all the homegrown tomatoes vying for the best of show.

On the Charlotte Today segment I did this past Monday with Home Grown Tomato Festival creator and farmer Sam Fleming of 100Gardens.org in Charlotte and mixologist Stefan Heubner, Sam tells show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson more about his aquaponic operation and how he is teaching kids how to farm. I talked about all of the dishes I’ve showed you here and Stefan shares another great tomato cocktail recipe. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone Can Cook; Let Heidi Billotto Show You How To Make It Fun!

heidi with cookware “At Home with Heidi” and “On the Farm” Cooking Classes continue through August, September and October…

Get ready to slice, dice, simmer and saute as you make plans to join in on the fun at any one of my exciting hands-on classes cooking classes taught as the name suggests, “At Home with Heidi ”  in my home kitchen; or  come and experience one of my unique On the Farm Classes are held at various farms in and around Charlotte. Each On The Farm class includes a walking Farm Tour and then we settle into the farm kitchen to cook with whatever is in season. You really just have to experience these classes for yourself, there is indeed something quite special about being on all these local farms…

Classes are a perfect  for a fun date night, night out with the girls and a great way to meet new people or host a team building event.  Don’t see a date that fits – Plan Your Own Private Cooking Class email me and lets plan your own private class with work associates or with friends or family.

simply-email-heidi-to-make-your-reservations

Registration links are at the end of each class descriptive.  Make your reservations by simply sending me an email. Payment confirms your reservation and you may pay by cash, check or credit card. As soon as I gets your email, I’ll be right back in touch to confirm your payment and to give you the  address and details for each class

Craving a Competition? I Got What You Need!

PrintAs many of you know I freelance in the culinary world, which means I have irons in many fires. I’m a food writer and blogger, I work with chefs and restaurants to fine tune and manage their social media,  I teach cooking classes, I share stories in print and on television about local products and take my readers on virtual food and drink-centric three day weekends.

In addition to all of that I am most pleased to be working with the team at the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association – NCRLA as the organizer/coordinator, writer of blog posts and host of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown event to be held in Raleigh on August 21, 2017!  I did the 2016 NC Chef Showdown as well, the inaugural year for this now annual event, but this year promise to be even bigger and better.

Sixteen chefs from across the state will compete for the titles of 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year and 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year... and I’ll be there to bring it all to you bite by bite!
Just take a look at the stellar line up of chefs and restaurants who will be participating in this year’s evening of competition. They will be there preparing dish which represents them and their restaurant.  I am thrilled to be instrumental in helping them tell their story –  getting to know these chefs from across the state of North Carolina,  writing about them and their restaurants, inns and hotels and sharing with each of my readers, followers and fans what this talented group of North Carolina chefs does so well – can’t wait to see what fabulous sweets and savories they will  bring to the table!  

IMG_2670Just this morning I wrote a blog post similar to this one for the NC Chef Showdown Website & Blog announcing the list of chefs recently selected to participate in the 2017 NC Chef Showdown competition, and just in case you missed it -I wanted to share it here with you as well.

With nearly 40 talented applicants from across the state applying to compete, and only 16 spots to fill, the competition was fierce and the decision of the selection committee, a formidable one.

In all, 16 of North Carolina’s top culinarians will be competing on the evening of August 21, 2017.  The event will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina at 214 Martin Street and Market Hall Raleigh’s historic downtown City Market and the presenting sponsor is the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Cooking for a crowd of 300 plus, competing chefs will each have a station representing their restaurant or culinary outlet. Chefs will serve tasting-size portions to guests and plated tapas-sized portions to a panel of six culinary judges.

The presentation of the plates to the judges will be done live on stage in front of the crowd throughout the course of the evening. Chefs will have an opportunity to introduce themselves to the judges and the crowd and will share the concept of the dish they have each created for the evening.

This year’s event will see the following talented chefs on the savory side of the table competing for the title of the 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year. If you just can’t wait to see what these talented chefs will be cooking in August, spend this summer visiting their restaurants and eat with them now! You can visit all of their websites here – be sure to #TellThemHeidiSentYou !

And competing with dishes to satisfy the collective sweet tooth of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown crowd will be the following four North Carolina Pastry chefs all going for the title of 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year.

All 16 chefs will be judged on the look and taste of the dish as well as the best use and number of local North Carolina ingredients including on each plate.

The judging panel of industry professionals will offer the top honors of 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year and 2017 Pastry Chef of the Year, in addition to  awards for  competitors in both the sweet and savory categories for the “Best Use of a North Carolina Product” and the “Most Creative Presentation”

092836adcfb3f147e9ddba652c15f755New in 2017, the NCRLA will also crown a 2017 NCRLA Mixologist of the Year, as six NC distilleries will be featured with hand-picked bartenders slinging their spirits.  Look for the announcement of competing teams of distilleries and mixologists to come in the weeks ahead.

Attendees to the 2017 NC Chef Showdown will also get a say in the matter as each guest will get one vote in each category to determine the People’s Choice winners for Best Savory Dish, 2017 Best Pastry Dish and 2017 Best Cocktail.

The 2017 Chef Showdown will take place after the first day of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Expo at the Raleigh Convention Center. Centrally located in the state’s capital city, this is an event that offers members of North Carolina’s hospitality industry two back to back days of meetings and seminars as well as a trade show.

static1.squarespaceTickets for  the 2017 NC Chef Showdown are priced at $125 per person. The event takes place on August 21, 2017 from 6-9 pm.

Your ticket price includes unlimited tasting sized portions from all 16 of these talented chefs, tasting sized cocktails from six North Carolina distilleries represented by six of the state’s talented mixologists, a chance to vote in the evening’s People’s Choice awards,  a selection of wine or beer, a gift bag to take home and an evening of fun, live music and more! Don’t wait, Get Your Tickets Now!

 

Those of you who have a business that caters to the hospitality industry may be interested in  playing a slightly bigger role in the 2017 NC Chef Showdown event. if you are interested in being a sponsor at any number of levels, please contact Mindy Wharton at the NCRLA  with any questions or to work out all the details: 919.277.8585 or mwharton@ncrla.org.

Questions about becoming a member of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, visit the NCRLA website here.

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

To keep up with all the details of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown and to learn more about each of the competing chefs and their restaurants – go to the NCChefShowdown website and follow that blog just as you do this one.

 

Heidi Billotto’s “On the Farm” & “At Home with Heidi” Cooking Classes

 

Saturday July 29, 11-1pm – Summer Seafood At Luca Modern Italian Kitchen with Chef Luca Annunziata

delamer-aboutheader-1I am over the moon to be asked to join Chef Luca Annunziata and Jessica Annunziata of Luca Modern Italian Kitchen to help teach a Summer Seafood Cooking Class.  The class will take place a the Annunziata’s own Luca Modern Italian Restaurant on Elizabeth Ave. You’ll learn to shuck, fillet, peel, saute and steam your way to four summer seafood courses with tremendous wine pairings. Can’t wait to see you there! Cost is $80 plus tax and gratuity. Tickets are only available through this Eventbrite link.

Biscuits and the Big Deal about Baking with Buttermilk

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Heidi makes her Next Day Grilled Blue Cheese Biscuits on the kitchen set of WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today

I come to you today on the heels of three days in Knoxville, Tennessee. First at the Southern Food Writing Conference and then at the International Biscuit Festival.

I have biscuits on the brain.

I am a bread baker from way back, I love the smell of yeast,  the therapeutic pleasures that come from kneading and the magic of watching a mass of dough rise to the occasion.

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Heidi Makes her Next Day grilled Blue Cheese Biscuits in a demo at the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, Tenn. The table was taller than most – haha! – and necessity became the mother of invention. Nothing like cooking while you are standing on an apple crate!!

So when my friends at Southern Biscuit Flour, owned by Renwood Mills in Newton, North Carolina, asked me to represent them in a demo and at the judges table at the festivals biscuit baking competition I was delighted to accept the offer.

But it wasn’t as easy as all that – you see biscuits are a very different animal. As John Craig, the “Biscuit Boss” and the coordinator of Knoxville’s annual BiscuitFest was quoted as saying, “Biscuits are the easiest bread to make and the hardest.”

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After doing my research, I was ready to roll ( subtle pun, intended).  I headed to Knoxville and enjoyed a wonderful three day adventure: two days rubbing elbows, sharing stories and hobnobbing with a fabulous group of Southern food writers it was my pleasure to meet; followed by a day at the annual BiscuitFest celebration.  Here Knoxville’s Market Street becomes Biscuit Boulevard – the road is blocked off to allow for the foot traffic of thousands of visitors and booths offering biscuits of all shapes and sizes line the curbs and sidewalks.

I spent a good part of the day talking biscuits and handing out samples of Southern Biscuit Flour’s Formula L, a wonderful all-inclusive biscuit mix that only requires the addition of buttermilk. The Southern Biscuit Flour booth was located just outside the festival’s Biscuit Baking tent,  and when I wasn’t in the booth with the Renwood Mills team, I was in the tent to judge one round of the competition and then to do a demo on behalf of Southern Biscuit Flour.

As it was all such fun, I decided to recreate the recipe, using a host of ingredients from the Carolina’s for my recent appearance on WCNC’s midday shown, Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson.

IMG_2778As always, I try practice the mantra I preach of using local products and with this recipe it was easy. Start with any variety of Southern Biscuit Flour from Newton, NC – all purpose, self rising or their biscuit blend, Formula L will all work well – more on the nuances of working with each in just a few.

No matter which one you choose, all of the Southern Biscuit Flours are still milled with North Carolina’s own soft winter wheat all harvested from within 50 miles of the town of Newton.  If you select the all purpose flour, then proceed with the recipe exactly as it is written. If you go with the self-rising flour, you may omit any additional leavening, in this case the baking powder. If you want to really make it easy, buy Southern Biscuits Formula L. This is a delicious complete biscuit mix and only requires the addition of buttermilk ( and the cheese, of course!)

In addition to local North Carolina flour, I used local butter from Charlotte NC’s  Uno Alla Volta or Grassfed Productions Rootdown Foods, local baking powder from Caly’s Kitchen in Waxhaw, NC; salt from OuterBanks SeaSalt from the North Carolina coast, and then from our friends and farms in South Carolina I featured Hickory Hill Milk whole milk Buttermilk and Clemson Blue Cheese.

Here is a look at the video from my May 31, 2017 appearance at Charlotte Today – the details of the recipe with photos and where-to-buy info on each of the products follows.

 

 

Heidi’s Next Day Grilled Blue Cheese Biscuits

2 1/2 cups all purpose Southern Biscuit Flour ( see notes that follow the recipe for using the self-rising flour or the easy-as-pie Formula L)

1/2 tsp. OuterBanks SeaSalt

1 Tbsp. Caly’s Kitchen Baking Powder

1 Tbsp, organic sugar

6 Tbsp. COLD Uno Alla Volta or Grassfed Productions/RootDown Foods butter – keep the butter in one piece for easier grating

1 cup COLD crumbled Clemson Blue Cheese

1 cup Hickory Hill Milk Whole Milk Buttermilk

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Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl and then use a whisk to blend them well and remove any lumps or clumps of flour. In the biscuit baking world, lumps and clumps of flour are not your friend.

IMG_2761Next, (and with thanks to my friend Chef Matthew Krenz for this biscuit baking tip) use a box grater to grate the cold butter in the bowl with the flour. Lots of biscuit recipes just say to cut the butter into small pieces and then work it into the flour until the mix resembles coarse cornmeal, but in doing this you run the risk of warming up the butter too much. One of  the reasons the biscuits rise so beautifully is from the steam released from the cold butter in the batter. In the biscuit baking world, warm butter or fat is not your friend.

Heidi's Tips and TricksImportant to note here that you may use any type of high quality fat in your biscuits – local leaf lard from your favorite pork producer or  local beef tallow from your favorite cattle rancher work equally well.  As does your favorite high quality olive oil.  I like using the rich, golden Kores Estate ultra premium extra virgin olive oil from the Olive Crate or any of the ultra Premium extra virgin olive oils at Pour Olive. Pour the olive oil into a shallow plastic container and chill until it is firm – really firm – in a solid mass. Grate into the biscuit dough as you would the butter.

Next, add the Clemson Blue Cheese. You may buy this already in crumbles or you can crumble it yourself. The key is to chill it down before you add it to the batter. In the biscuit baking world, cheese is always your friend.

Use a large fork to blend the cheese and butter into the flour slightly breaking up the little pieces. A fork is better than your hands, as a fork won’t heat the batter up and your hands – especially if you have hot hands- will. In the biscuit baking world, keep your cool – until the biscuits are baking, warmth is not your friend.

Finally add the buttermilk.  For us in Charlotte,  a lot of 268226_10151166855156134_1028399043_n South Carolina is as local as much of North Carolina; and so I thought it would be fun to incorporate Clemson Blue Cheese into this recipe. Clemson Blue cheese is made with whole milk from Hickory Hill Milk, a three-generation family-run dairy in Edgerfield, SC. owned by Clemson alum Watson Dorn and his wife Lisa.

To keep with our theme,  as I was using the Clemson Blue cheese, I thought it would be fun to use  Hickory Hill Milk’s Buttermilk in my biscuit recipe as well. This whole milk buttermilk is not homogenized, so you will want to shake it up before you pour.  measure and stir  the milk into the flour mix. Use  the fork to blend, just until the milk is combined with all the flour. The mix should be sticky.

In the biscuit baking world, too much flour is not your friend. 

Rolling out biscuits and cutting them with a cutter offers up all sorts of opportunities to over process your dough. You don’t want to add too much flour as you roll or pat out the dough – this will bake into biscuits that may resemble a hockey puck. Likewise, take care if and when you use a biscuit cutter. Don’t twist the cutter back and forth to cut a round out of the dough, just dip the cutter first into a bit of flour – just enough to coat and then cut the biscuit with one quick down and then up motion.

IMG_2764To all together avoid the problem of kneading in too much flour, I prefer making drop biscuits. and I like to bake then in a cast iron pan, although they work equally well on a baking sheet.  No real reason, to use cast iron, at first I did it because it offered good presentation value; but truth is, it does add a nice golden crust to the outside of the biscuits and I personally like that crispy crunch the crust offers. Spray the pan with a bit of cooking spray to lightly coat the pan. Remember, this isn’t cornbread, its biscuits where cold is king – so, no need to heat the pan first.

IMG_2762For perfect drop biscuits, use an ice cream scoop to scoop up balls of the batter and place them side by side in the pan. The fact that you use the scoop keeps the size uniform and the fact that you place them side by side helps them to support each other during the baking time, rising to their full potential.

Before baking, gently dab the top of the biscuits with a bit of melted butter. Bake the biscuits in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Eat them hot with or without butter.  For “Next Day Biscuits” slice them in half and ‘refresh’ them by placing them on a griddle in a bit of melted butter to grill the cut side to a toasty finish.

Serve them as they are, or top with your favorite local honey. I simply adore the robust sweet mountain sourwood honey from Dancing Bees Honey in Monroe, NC with these slightly salty cheese biscuits. or serve them as a blue cheesey base for a summer BLT.

In the biscuit baking world, Buttermilk is your friend and here is why…

PrintWay back in the day,  “butter milk”  was simply the whey left  after churning the cream into butter. In days before great refrigeration, this original buttermilk had a longer shelf life because the perishable fat solids had been taken out.   The natural acid left  in the rich sweet milk after the butterfats where removed helped leavening agents to work in baking and the milk was also good to drink

Today no one makes buttermilk like that anymore. In a quick conversation with Watson Dorn of Hickory Hill Milk in South Carolina, I learned the specifics of what I already knew –  all buttermilk is not equal.

Most large commercial dairy’s today use low fat or skim milk to make buttermilk; but, as Dorn says, ” the fat is where the flavor is.” Some DYI advice on the internet and home how-to’s in cookbooks suggest simply adding lemon juice or vinegar to whole or skim milk, to make your own buttermilk, but I am telling you, don’t do it! While it will still works for baking, adding the acid this way  only serves to sour the sweet milk and gives it an off or acidic taste.

True buttermilk takes time.  The milk at Dorn’s family-owned dairy is pasteurized as is required by law; but its not homogenized, so cream rises to the top, believe me, this milk is full of flavor.

To make the Hickory Hill Milk buttermilk, Dorn starts with his dairy’s cream top whole milk and adds a specific culture. The enzymes in the culture begin to slowly add acidity to the whole milk but do not compromise the rich creamy flavor.  Dorn allows the process a full 18 hours to make the buttermilk magic happen – most other dairy’s hurry it up only allowing 6-10 hours. The time and effort Dorn and his team put into the Hickory Hill MIlk buttermilk pays off in texture and in taste –  this non-homogenized whole milk buttermilk has the flavor of buttermilk from years gone by.

In fact, to digress from biscuits for a moment,  Dorn shared with me the fact that  in South Carolina, Hickory Hill Milk sells a lot of buttermilk to retirement communities. The elderly dealing with memory loss and sometimes dementia often are no longer interested in eating. Its a sad problem and it is hard for the staff to get them the proper nutrition they need.

Recently nutritionists were pleased to report to Dorn that in serving Hickory Hill Milk buttermilk to residents, the taste seemed to spark a food memory of  the biscuits, the cornbread and buttermilk from their childhoods. These patients found a comfort in the flavor they somehow where able to remember from many years gone by. Testimony to the fact that eating (and drinking) local brings with it good memories and is the healthiest and happiest way to go!

Where to Find it#TellThemHeidiSentYou (1)Like all of the products mentioned in this article, Hickory Hill Milk whole milk, buttermilk and chocolate milk are  available in Charlotte. You will find Hickory Hill Milk at Earthfare and at Whole Foods. For more info visit  them on Facebook

In Charlotte. Southern Biscuit Flours are most readily available at Harris Teeter, and often at Food Lion and Walmart.    For more info visit them at the Renwood Mills website and be sure to Save the Date on Wednesday June 7 for Newton Nc Biscuit Day! Come and join in the fun from 8 am till noon, when Southern Biscuit Flour teams up with two other iconic North Carolina brands and will be out on the square in Newton,  serving up with Neese’s Country Sausage Biscuits and pouring rounds of Cheerwine! Entertainment by the Sigmon Stringers – stop by, celebrate biscuits and enjoy!

Caly’s Kitchen baking powder and other delicious gluten free products are available on Saturday mornings at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market,  and at Caly’s Kitchen website,

The Olive Crate’s Kores Estate Ultra Premium Extra Virgin olive oil and all of their fine organic Greek balsamic vinegars are available online ( use the code HeidiB20 and get 20% off your purchase) or on Saturday’s in the Charlotte area at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market, the Cotswold Farmers’ Market and the farm store at Grace Roots Farm in Waxhaw on Saturdays,  and at the Selwyn Farmers’ Market on Wednesday afternoons.

Pour Olive ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars are available at Pour Olive, 1528 East Blvd. Charlotte 28203

OuterBanks SeaSalt is available in Charlotte at Fresh Market  and online at obxSeaSalt.com

Uno Alla Volta butter is available along with all of their wonderful fresh made cheeses at the Matthews Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market on Yorkmont Road on Saturday mornings. During the week there are limited supplies available at both locations of Pasta & Provisions.

Grassfed Productions/RootDown Foods butters and ghee are available on Saturdays at the Noda Farmers’ Market and the Atherton Farmers’ Market and on Wednesday afternoons at the @Selwyn Farmers’ Market. They are also available during the week at the new Carolina Craft Butchery in Davidson, NC.

Clemson Blue Cheese is available in most all of the area Ingles Stores or online at the Clemson Blue Cheese  website.

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

For more local and loving it recipes, why not join in the fun at one of Heidi Billotto’s much loved cooking classes. A list of her popular On the Farm and At Home with Heidi cooking classes is posted on these blog pages. Follow the links to make a reservation!

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North Carolina Fish Tales: A Cookbook, Soft Crabs & A Day Down East

For those of you who follow my blog and my social media feeds, you already know that  I am all about supporting local farmers and promoting  local farmers markets, products, produce and proteins.

imgres-2And so I was delighted to be  invited by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to join in a three-day tour for a taste of  North Carolina Seafood. It was an exciting opportunity to explore the historic and important commercial fishing & Aquaculture industry in the Old North State. Turns out I learned something I really always knew: Farming isn’t just on land, sometimes its in water, too! North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry needs our attention, and I am delighted to bring the camera into focus for the bigger picture and turn on the spotlight.

imgres-4The focus of this NC Department of Agriculture tour was on the commercial seafood industry, large and small in the coastal cities of Sea Level, Morehead City, Radio Island, Beaufort, Harkers Island and Smyrna, North Carolina. On the way to and from the coast we also made stops at several fascinating seafood farming operations in Pikeville and Ayden, NC, but those are fish tales for another day.

Fishing is THE industry along the coastal regions here.  Since the early days when the North Carolina coast was home to many whalers as well as fishermen, communities have been built up and around the industry.  Their mantra was then, as it is now, to preach the gospel of Eating Local North Carolina Seafood.   For the members of the local communities who make up the Carolina coast, that point cannot be echoed loudly enough.

For North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry, those third, fourth and sometimes fifth generation fisherman who make bringing fresh locally caught fish to your table their mission, the industry and the commerce it brings is a way of life. Fishing is in their blood and in their hearts. My biggest take away from this trip: when you eat fresh seafood in the state of North Carolina – insist on eating local product! You want to eat fish that came from the ocean off our North Carolina shores, not from across the ocean.  

hard shell crabThere is lots to be said, and I have many important fish tales to tell as a result of this 3-day coastal excursion and the adventures that ensued.  

My first of a series of fish tales here is about our day spent Down East ; a wonderful local lunch at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center; and how I learned to make one of my favorites: fried soft crabs.

The first task at hand was to get my bearings and figure out exactly where “Down East” is and where I was. It was explained to me that this eastern most tip of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, might be described by some as the southern tip of the OuterBanks. But ask the locals and you’ll find that  “Down East” runs very specifically from the time you make the turn on Highway 70 and cross over the North River Bridge, down to Cedar Island where people can catch the ferry back up to Okracoke.

unnamedNorth Carolina Coastal History and the Heritage

Our trip Down East started at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center. This museum, located on the Cape Lookout National Seashore at Harkers Island. NC, holds a lot of the area’s heritage and history inside with exhibits that tell the tale of the early whaling and  fishing communities that built this part of the state. Outside the museum preserves the area’s fowl, flora and fauna on a 4-acre fresh water habitat that surrounds the museum.  This year the Core Sound Museum celebrates its 25th anniversary the weekend of June 23, 2017  with its annual Decoy Day celebration on June 24, 2017. The museum holds an incredible collection of antique decoys, many of them locally made important historical examples of the art of hand carving. The day of decoys in June will include carving competitions, local arts & crafts, a “Ducktiques” Roadshow and of course,  plenty of fresh local seafood.

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Several of the Core Sound Quilters’ Group, dedicated to preserving the heritage of hand sewn quilts and supporting the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center

The museum does not have a restaurant, but  as a part of our tour, we were the guests at a  delicious local luncheon of stewed flounder, beef brisket with sweet potatoes, crab cakes,  fresh tomatoes, quick pickled cukes, and more  prepared and hosted by a group of woman who have  worked to make the museum what it is today.  These woman were all locals, passionate about their community. They all  grew up in the fishing industry  and are keen to preserve the commerce that build the community in which they live and love. Many of these women were members of the Core Sound Quilters who, among their other projects, work together to make a large completely hand-sewn quilt each year, auctioned off at the annual anniversary celebration to raise money for the museum. To date their quilts alone have raised over $100,000.00 to go into the museum coffers.

51jamb2pl3L._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_After lunch we had time to quickly tour a few of the exhibits, climb to the third story tower to check out the fabulous views of the area and to stop in at the gift shop. Lots of coastal goodies here, but my favorite find is always a local cookbook and I was not disappointed.

Island Born and Bred is a collection of Harkers Island recipes, fun facts, history and stories that tell the stories passed down through the generations of this Carolina coastal fishing community. Compiled by the Harkers Island United Methodist Women, it has been in publication since the late 1980’s. Its not only a cookbook, its a great read that goes to preserving the colloquial history of coast. If you collect cookbooks its one to hold on to and use as a wonderful resource.

Mr. Big Seafood

Mr Big SeafoodOur next stop on Harkers Island was to a locally owned independent fish house. Fisherman, seafood retailer and wholesalers Eddie and Alison Willis sell Eddie’s own catch directly to chefs, restaurants, other seafood wholesalers and  in the retail market from North Carolina up and down the Eastern Seaboard and beyond.  A native of Harkers Island, Eddie grew up in the fishing industry and after years of working day and night, in season, for other fish houses, he made the decided to stop fishing for other people and open up his own operation.

Mr Big Seafood opened in 2005 and is a well know spot for fresh Carteret County seafood. In the years since it’s opening Mr. Big Seafood has grown by leaps and bounds and the day before we arrived to visit Eddie, his wife Allison and their crew had just finished shedding and processing 2500 dozen  local blue crabs! Do the math and that’s  30,000 individual soft crabs -all processed and packed by hand.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say soft shell crabs.   To locals, these are simply soft crabs. Call the spring season when local blue crabs molt and shed their hard shells, “soft shells” and it will be apparent that you are not from around these parts.

heidi holding crabI simply adore soft crabs and to see the operation at Mr. Big Seafood at the height of the soft crab season ( which runs from the first full moon in April  till sometime toward the end of May) was fascinating.

The  blue crabs  are harvested and then placed in shallow pools until they shed their hard shells. Locals call the moment the crab pops out of the hard shell “a buster” and we were lucky enough to actually see it happening on the spot.  Mr. Big Seafood’s soft crabs are then shipped fresh or are immediately frozen so that Eddie and Alison have local NC soft crabs to ship from now until March when the season will start again.

Not only do they process crabs at Mr. Big’s, but they catch and process fresh NC shrimp and all other kinds of local seafood as well. As is the way in farming and in fishing, the catch or the harvest changes with the season.

IMG_1837In the midst of the shrimping season, Eddie estimates that his crew of just  3 or 4 employees can head and process 70 lbs of fresh North Carolina shrimp every 11 mins – and again, its all done by hand!  The operations from fish boat to fresh catch to freezer run all year long and Mr. Big Seafood sells  hard and soft crabs, shrimp and fish fresh, frozen and live from January till November; but they take a break from the long days in the fish house and nights out on the boat in December. Then after the New Year’s Eve clock strikes 12, they all swim back into action once again.

One might question if its better to purchase this local fish fresh or frozen, the answer is you’ll be good either way.  This fish is processed, packed & properly frozen less than 24 hours from the time it was found swimming in the ocean.  Hungry for more? You can make arrangements to order your fill of soft crabs, shrimp and just about any type of fresh NC seafood from Eddie and Alison Willis at Mr. Big Seafood by calling them directly at 919.971.3905.  You can pick up your order from the shop at Harkers Island – its worth the trip to make the visit for yourself; or they are glad to make arrangement to meet you in Morehead City, Beaufort or along the coast if you are there for a visit.

If not, Mr. Big’s Seafood delivers across the state as far as Raleigh and can make arrangements to meet anyone from Charlotte or points west in or around the Raleigh area or you can have your order shipped Fed Ex, but the delivery charges are on you.

Once you have your soft crabs in hand – how to properly cook them becomes the question.  The crabs and the fried fish we ate on our NC Seafood Tour of the coast were all lightly breaded – nothing was batter dipped. I wanted to make soft crabs like that at home, so I went to the source: my new Island Born and Bred cookbook from the Core Museum Gift shop. The recipe is really easy, all you need is local NC soft crabs, of course, oil and breader.

breadersAs timing and travel would have it, I was unable to purchase crabs from Mr. Big Seafood while we were on the tour, but I loved this little coastal community and will be back to visit Harkers Island again soon.

In the meantime, to satisfy my soft crab craving, our tour coordinator Kristen Baughman of Table Top Media in Raleigh, was kind enough to stop at B&J Seafood’s retail store in New Bern on our way back home from the coast.

We had  also visited B&J’s dock, fishing boat fleet and processing plant on Radio Island, one of the few remaining fish house’s in the Morehead City/Beaufort area while we were on the tour, so I knew this place was also the real deal.  Long fish story short, I was able to pick up a beautiful bakers’ dozen of fresh soft crabs ( which they packed and iced down in a cooler for me for the trip back home) plus a trio of packaged seasoned breaders all from North Carolina mills.

crab in breader

I’d say the secret to perfect NC soft crabs, once you have great seafood, is in the breading. You can make your own, or use any one of these time tested brands, but the point is not to over bread and certainly not to batter dip. The mission is to accentuate the wonderful sweet and slightly salty taste the crab.

Step one is to light rinse and clean the crabs and pat them dry. They really are already cleaned but I took this opportunity to  removed the top skin of the soft shell to expose just the crab meat.

crabs in breadingGently place the crabs in a paper bag and lightly shake the bag just enough to coat the crabs with the breading.

Meanwhile heat an inch or two of oil in a cast iron pan or skillet. You can use any type of oil and you could do them in a deep fryer, but I think for a dozen or so crabs, that might be overkill.

crab in oil

Fry the breaded soft crabs until they are slightly puffed and lightly browned, turning them once during the cooking time.

Serve the crabs with whatever condiments your heart desires, some people like a little hot sauce or cocktail sauce, these I just dressed with lemon and then served them on leaves on Little Gem lettuce from local Charlotte area farmers Amy and Joe at Boy and Girl Farm.

crabs and wineThis night we wound up cutting the crabs in half and rolling them up in the lettuce leaves for a bit of a seafood lettuce wrap. In honor of the upcoming Decoy Festival at the Core Museum, I opted to pair these delicious soft crabs with a Duckhorn Vineyard Decoy Sauvignon Blanc.

However you eat them, they are a seasonal North Carolina treasure and you should be sure and treat yourself soon. Try them on a sandwich with sliced tomato and lettuce – a taste of the Carolina coast at its finest and the delicious finale to my NC Fish Tale for today.

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But wait, there’s more…

Have I whet your palate for a taste for North Carolina Seafood? Join me for a special NC Seafood and OBX SeaSalt Cooking Class on Sunday June 25, 2-5 pm with special guest Amy Gaw from OuterBanks SeaSalt Cost $85  Five courses of North Carolina seafood, Outer Banks SeaSalt, wine pairings and tons of fun!! Make your reservations now simply by emailing Heidi at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com

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Want to know more – here are all the where to find it, where to order it details… Remember to #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Click here for more information about North Carolina Seafood and when and what is in season this summer.

For more information about the local catch and the seafood industry in Carteret County visit the Carteret Catch site here  

For more information about the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center and their annual Decoy Day celebration, visit their website here

To order your  own copy of the Island Born and Bred Cookbook, shop online at the Core Museum Gift shop here 

To order North Carolina seafood from Mr. Big’s Seafood in Harkers Island, and to read more of their story, including Eddie’s work with NC sea turtles,  visit them on Facebook  or simply call Eddie or Alison Willis directly at 919.971.3905

Three Cheers – Cheerwine Celebrates 100 Years!

Cheerwine Social Media Profile logoThree Cheers my friends! A early May trip to the Rowan County Museum in Salisbury provided my inspiration for this post written in celebration of the 100th anniversary, or the #Cheertennial, as they like to say, of Cheerwine. The legendary soft drink “born in the Carolinas and raised in a glass.”

There will most certainly be #CheerInTheAir as thousands of Cheerwine fans across the country, many members of the official fan club – the Cheerwine Authentic Soda Society –  celebrate this unique cherry flavored soft drink that has been pleasing the public’s palate since its inception in 1917.

I was invited by the marketing folks at Cheerwine to take a little trip down memory lane with them and then to tell the story of this delicious native North Carolina beverage.  I am pleased to partner with the company on this post and in the promotion of the big day of celebration for the centennial,  scheduled  in downtown Salisbury for May 20, 2017.

The Cheerwine Bottling Company,  was conceived by general store owner  L.D. Peeler of Salisbury, NC. in 1917. After a long search for something new in soda offerings, he invented the formula for Cheerwine.  What was then a new and unique soft drink with the sweet cherry taste, is still the delicious Cheerwine beverage we know and love today,

IMG_1413The very building in which Cheerwine was invented still stands in Salisbury at 322 East Council Street. While it is no longer a general store, the murals on the side of the building tell the story of its heritage.  The company’s headquarters are a mile or two away, but still proudly in their hometown at 1413 Jake Alexander Blvd. S., Salisbury, NC 28146.

“While much has changed around Cheerwine over the last hundred years, the taste and authenticity of Cheerwine itself will never change,” promises Cliff Ritchie, Cheerwine’s president. Ritchie is the great-grandson of the soft drink’s founder, L.D. Peeler. His children, Joy Harper and Carl Ritchie, are the family’s fifth generation and currently work for the Salisbury-based company which continues to be family owned.

soda shop setThe company and its many fans have been celebrating this major milestone since the first of the year, when the Rowan County Museum, located at 202 N Main St, Salisbury, NC 28144, turned over more than half of the exhibit space to display a wonderful and impressive collection – much of it on loan from private collectors –  of  Cheerwine memorabilia, advertising, bottles, cans and packaging.

heidi in booth

In the largest exhibit room the museum has set up an old fashioned soda shop – for display only – with counter stools from the original Salisbury Woolworths and a 1950’s circa original vinyl covered booth as well. Its a step back in time through the 10 decades of Cheerwine’s long lived popularity. So much to look at, so much many will remember – from billboards to old newspaper advertisements. This food writer just had  to slide into the historic booth for a quick photo op, to stop for a sip and take a moment to take it all in.

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One of the original glass bottles with the paper Cheerwine label still intact, is on display at the Rowan County Museum in Salisbury, NC, now till the end of the year.

As was the case with the inception of many of the early soft drinks, Peeler was looking for a way to improve the taste of seltzer water. 100 years ago was still a time before glass soda bottles – which would crack under the pressure of the effervescent and decades before the concept of canned sodas or plastic bottles.

The seltzer water was a chemical concoction and until production of the bubbled water was fine tuned it took the expertise of someone with a scientific background to get the mix just right. And so it was that most early soft drinks, often called tonics or elixirs, were thought to give a healthy boost and were prepared and mixed for on-site consumption by pharmacists.

By the early 1920s the first bottled soda’s came around and I was impressed to see one of the original glass bottles complete with the paper label in the Cheerwine exhibit.  The first vending machines came in the 1950’s and gave the consumer the convenience of buying a single Cheerwine on location.  Prior to that Cheerwine was delivered to stores, first by horse and buggy and then by delivery trucks.

The Secret about the Cheerwine Syrup

As the mix was perfected, and the seltzer water became available on tap, soft drink service moved from pharmacies to soda shops where “soda jerks” blended the sweet Cherry flavored syrup with just the right amount of seltzer water.

Cheerwine, and other soft drinks of the day, was not only served by the glass over ice, but the syrup was served on ice cream sundaes and in ice cream floats.  Each of these soda shops specials was hand crafted by a Soda Jerk.  These were the craft mixologist of their day. The moniker was coined and became popular in the vernacular, as a result of the  jerking action it took to pull down the tap to pour the seltzer in the glass.  syrup boxEven though soft drinks like Cheerwine had been sold to consumers in bottles as the industry developed since the 1920s;  these popular soda shops  and then the drive -ins with “car hops” that followed, continued to mix their own, blending soft drink syrups and seltzer together to order.

The syrup came to soda shops and restaurants in boxes shaped much like an oversized paper milk carton. The cartons were labeled “For Fountain Use” but somehow over the years, Cheerwine syrup has found its way into our kitchens where  chefs and home cooks alike, opted to think outside the syrup box, and have loved blending this wonderfully sweet elixir into hundreds of different recipes.

Interestingly, the syrup is not thick and honestly not overly sweet. It definitely tastes of cherries; and while I am not privy to any trade secrets to give away, for me the “deliciously different” taste of Cheerwine, tastes more than just of cherries, there is also a unidentifiable, rooty, rich component – almost as if there is a bit of sassafras in the mix. Whatever the proprietary blend is, a breakdown doesn’t really matter – I love it, both as a beverage and as an ingredient.

the sweet secret - Cheerwine syrup

A glass, bottle or can of Cheerwine,  starts with the sweet syrup pictured front and center here.

The secret I am privy to share is that Cheerwine syrup is  readily available to consumers at an incredible price. It is yours for the asking, ready for you to purchase to use in your own craft cocktails, cakes, ice cream concoctions, candies, and in marinades, barbecue sauces and glazes for beef, pork, chicken, duck, shrimp and other seafoods as well.

While the syrup is not sold in stores, Cheerwine’s sweet secret syrup is available at the Cheerwine corporate headquarters in Salisbury anytime during regular business hours and will also be available for sale in one of the Cheerwine booth’s at the May 20 celebration for just $3 a bottle!!

1eb6dc_dfd76f41f9cc48e0b9d98f5866007a5a-mv2If you find yourself in need of some inspiration before you start to cook  try a jar of another of my favorite Got To Be NC/Goodness Grows in North Carolina products: Cackalacky/Cheerwine Sweet Sauce. The original, and oh so fabulous, Cackalacky sauce is made from North Carolina sweet potatoes. When Cackalacky fans asked for a slightly sweeter version of this delicious slightly spicy sauce, the sauciers at Cackalacky who make the magic happen, reached out to their friends at Cheerwine. The result:  a sweet ‘n savory dip / grilling sauce / marinade  that you’ll want to mop on everything from shrimp on the barbie to that burger on a bun.

Join in the Cheerwine Centennial Celebration

100YearsofCheer_LogoNo cheer-pressure here, but if you’d like to raise your glass in cheer and join in  the May 20 Centennial Celebration in Cheerwine’s home of Salisbury, NC,  you won’t be alone, so my advice is to start early.  You may drive from Charlotte or make the day even more fun and take the train!!

To simplify travel to and from Cheerwine’s Centennial Celebration, the brand has partnered with Amtrak to offer a discounted transportation alternative. Trains will run from Charlotte and Raleigh to Salisbury, with stops at all stations in between. The Amtrak Salisbury Station is just steps away from the action, and Cheerwine will be served to riders while supplies last! To receive a special 15 percent discount on your pilgrimage, Cheerwine fans may book your tickets here 

The City of Salisbury will be closing off two blocks of Main Street to any vehicular traffic all day on May 20, 2017. There will be stands with free Cheerwine with commemorative Koozies,  free biscuits and bbq and a host of live music for everyone to enjoy from noon to 8 pm. In addition, look for Limited Edition Cheerwine merchandise available for purchase and  a People’s Choice BBQ Competition from noon-2 p.m. Here a half dozen or so teams will compete. Celebration attendees can sample BBQ from each team at no cost and then vote for their favorites. After the competition plates of BBQ will also be available for sale.

Come hungry, in addition to the BBQ and plenty of Cheerwine to drink, the May 20 celebration includes food from many of Cheerwine’s partners and friends. Here is what you’ll find in store: Krispy Kreme will be serving fresh made doughnuts from their new “Hot Now Mobile Store”;  Bojangles and Biscuitville will be serving free biscuits; and Select Bakery  will be serving Cheerwine cake. Fatz Café will be on hand with more good eats,  you can sample that famous Cackalacky sauce I told you about earlier; and King of Pops will offer a specially made Cheerwine-flavored popsicle, on my!

For adults there will be a Biergarten with NC craft beer, featuring pours from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte,  and New Sarum Brewing Company & Morgan Ridge Railwalk Brewery, both located in Salisbury, NC.

Antique carFor kids, look for the Family-Friendly Kids’ Zone, with magicians, jugglers, rock climbing wall, obstacle course, slides, bounce house, lawn games and more.

Remember the Cheerwine exhibit at the Rowan Museum I told you about? There will be free tours of museum’s multi-room exhibit celebrating Cheerwine’s 100 years. And while you are looking around at it all, keep an eye out for the historic 1927 Cheerwine Ford delivery truck – it will be making appearances during the day and will be the perfect back drop for fun #Cheertennial photos with family and friends!

Cheerwine’s $100 Centennial Can Promotion

But that’s not all – the festivities don’t end after the May 20th weekend. There is reason – actually 500 reasons –  to keep celebrating Cheerwine through the end of the year. As you purchase cans of Cheerwine this year, keep your eyes out for the $100 Centennial Can promotion. There are 500 of the specially labeled  cans to be distributed throughout the Cheerwine inventory this year. Find one, peel off the winning label on the back of the can and win $100!

cheerwine cansHere is how it works. Throughout 2017, the beloved soft drink will continue rolling out new editions in its centennial can series with each of the Cheerwine labels used over the course of the past ten decades. Cheerwine fans are invited to collect all seven cans in the series, shown here, before the end of the year. My Cheerwine sources report that there are still plenty cans out there yet to be redeemed so there is still the chance to win! Check out the complete contest details here

PrintLater this year, I will be doing another article about Cheerwine and its importance as a local North Carolina product. I will be including some recipes in that post and invite you to join in the fun. Send me your family’s favorite Cheerwine recipe. it doesn’t have to be original but if its not, be sure to credit the source; or if its an original recipe tell me a bit about the history.

My friends at Cheerwine will send coupons to everyone who submits a recipe and I’ll print three of the top recipes submitted.

Send me your recipe with your photo and contact info – Name, Street Address ( so we can send you your coupons) and email, plus a few words about why you love the recipe  – Heidi Billotto – at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com. Then, stay tuned and look for that second post to come out later this fall.

Meanwhile plan to attend the Cheerwine Centennial Celebration in Salisbury Sat May 20, noon to 8 pm and have a blast! Here’s to another 100 years of cheer!

Want to know more?

Where to buy: Cheerwine is available in supermarkets, restaurants, mass merchandisers and convenience stores in select states nationwide, across the state of North Carolina and on the company’s website at cheerwine.com.

Social Speak: Follow Cheerwine on Facebook at facebook.com/cheerwine; or on Twitter and Instagram @drinkcheerwine.

Hashtags: Always look for the #TellThemHeidiSendYou and #IllHaveWhatHeidisHaving Hashtags for all of my food, drink and restaurant recommendations.

When you post your photos from the Cheerwine Centennial Celebration on your social media, be sure to tag me and Cheerwine too, and use any of the fun Cheerwine  hashtags  #CheerInTheAir, #Cheertennial , #Cheerwine100 ,  #Cheerwine  & #Cheers

16298545_10154919280799085_6495336173437586267_nWant to taste or buy more after or before the May 20 celebration? Innes Street Drug Store (112 S Main St, Salisbury, NC 28144) has Cheerwine merchandise for sale and makes delicious Cheerwine floats and fudge.

In addition to the yearlong Cheerwine exhibits open all of 2017, the Rowan Museum in downtown Salisbury also has Cheerwine shirts for sale. For more information and museum hours, click here.

 

For more information on Cackalacky/Cheerwine Sweet Sauce, visit the Cackalacky Website here.

#TellThemHeidiSentYouTo enjoy more from HeidiBillottoFood.com, subscribe to this blog by following the prompts in the upper right hand side bar of this page.

More posts about culinary events, cooking classes, and restaurants you don’t want to miss coming soon.

And remember, #TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

 

 

Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week: Delicious Tastes to Sip & Savor

Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Runs Now till April 30, 2017

I always love it when Charlotte chefs and restaurants pull together to put on a food event.  Throughout the year there are many such collaborative events, wine dinners and themed promotions, and I have loved them all. But for me, some of the best events stretch out over a week or two, giving the dining out public the chance to explore, taste and experience at several different venues.

WineandTapasWeek-just-charlotteThe all new, first ever, Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week is just such an event, and it runs NOW through April 30. This eight day long event ( it all started Friday April 21) is about little plates, sharing and tasting – a great way to dine out with friends; and you still have lots of time to participate!  The more than 30 of Charlotte restaurants  are taking part with special menus offered for the eight evening stretch of this Springtime extravaganza.  CWTW founder Phong Luong, owner of Zen Asian Fusion in Dilworth  came up with the clever concept.

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Heidi Billotto with Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Creator Phong Luong of Zen Asian Fusion on East Blvd.

I caught up with Phong at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week kick off event, held in The Bottle Shop in the lobby of the Center City Marriott, just outside Stoke Restaurant.  He explained the reasoning behind the dedicated week –   “Everyone loves tasting new flavors in food & wine and its always fun to share! Little plates are a great way to try just a taste.”  The concept is  a clever approach and an easy, reasonably priced way to get new and repeat customers in to try out a restaurant where they have never eaten,  or perhaps haven’t eaten at for some time..

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Chefs Rodrigo Velazco, Evoke; Chef Chris Coleman, Stoke; Chef Ryan Daugherty, Dogwood Southern Table all cooked at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Kickoff

This CWTW affords customers a change to mix and match and taste a variety of tapas and wines.  Chef Ryan Daugherty from Dogwood Southern Table and chef Rodrigo Velazco from Evoke restaurant were at the CWTW Kick off and joined Stoke’s Chef Chris Coleman to share tastes of the tapas and wine they will be serving at their own restaurants so that kick off attendees could see how the concept would work.

While a few of the participating restaurants have planned seasonal menus just for the promotion, many are featuring tapas or small plates regularly featured as appetizers, sides or salads on their current Spring menus.

IMG_1142For the stretch of Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week, each participating establishment is offering a pre-selected menu of wine and tapas. $30 or $35 dollars ( depending on the restaurant) buys you two glasses of wine and  two tapas offerings. The really cool part is that you can order a CWFW package for yourself, or you can share one order with friends. It makes for a wonderful game of mix and match which helps to  make this culinary adventure even more fun.  Enjoy your Wine & Tapas offering as a start to a meal, or as an opportunity to just  meet for a drink and a quick  bite. You don’t need to specify when you make your reservations that you’d like to order the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week plates; not everyone in your party has to participate, and you can change it up and order off the restaurants regular menu as well – but only the specific Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu items qualify for the special $30-$35 pricing.

IMG_1096The week before the kick off my husband Tom Billotto and I were invited to come by several of the participating restaurants for a taste of what would be on their menus. And then I tasted more at the kick off event. There are lots of big flavors on these little plates and the wine pairings are nothing to scoff at – as always, Charlotte restaurants and chefs are putting their best plates out there for you to enjoy – take advantage, sip and savor your way through the remaining days of April,  hitting as many of the participating restaurants as you can – you’re going to love it!

The list of participating chefs/restaurants is up  on the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week website as are the detailed menus and wine lists at each venue; and if you would like, there are reservation links here as well.  Check them all out, and eat at as many as you can,  but first  take a look at this quick preview from a trio of the participating restaurants we tried and then make your plans. 

 

LUCA MODERN ITALIAN KITCHEN

For those of you who don’t know, Jessica and Luca Annunziata, Proprietress and Chef, formerly of Passion 8 restaurant here in Charlotte decided just after the first of the year to change Passion 8’s name and concept. The new Luca Modern Italian Kitchen  was born and is still located on Elizabeth Ave. in Charlotte.

IMG_1055The menu and wine list is now decidedly authentic Italian cuisine. You simply cannot wait another minute to go in and check it out. Lots of nightly specials like Tuesday’s Bottomless Bowl of mussels for just $18 and Wednesdays all you can eat pasta night for $30.  You can certainly sit anywhere you’d like in this beautiful restaurant, but truth be told, when it is just the two of us, we love sitting up at the bar. They mix many a creative craft cocktail at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen and will come up with any kind of spirited elixir your would like to try.  While wine comes with the Charlotte Wine & Tapas package, you might just have to start your evening at Luca with a cocktail first.  

Like many of the participating CWTW restaurants, Chef Luca is  featuring some of the regular items from their all Italian menu and all of the wines on the are all spectacular Italian pours. This is the food Chef  Luca was born to cook, literally – its the food he grew up eating and each and every bite of the four dishes we tried – plus the soup and the dessert we decided to add on  was nothing short of spectacular. 

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Pasta e Fagiole at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen. 

We started, as I suggested with cocktails and with a little bite before our tapas  & wine pairings because we simply love Luca’s Pasta e Fagiole, a thick and delicious bean soup with fresh homemade noodles and enjoyed a side of the restaurant’s homemade foccacia on the side.  

Then we made an evening of it and each ordered  the two tapas and two wine package. It was more than enough to make a meal and there was more than enough to share..

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Baked Eggs in Tomato Broth at Luca ModerItalian Kitchen

Among our little plates this evening,  this iron skillet of baked eggs in a savory tomato broth, Parmesan and grilled bread,  or as they say in Italian, Zuppetta di uovo pomodoro    con Parmigiano e pane alla griglia.

We simply had to order pasta, as it is all made in house, so the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – a hot casserole full of fresh made gnocchi was the perfect next plate.  These soft fluffy little pillows of pasta came baked with a sauce from San Marzano tomatoes topped with mozzarella – ahhhh!

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Tender Grilled Octopus at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen

While the gnocchi was divine and we could have simply ordered more and been quite happy, I decided to beef it up a bit with Luca’s  Polpettine di Bisonte  – these bison meat balls are served with local Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms and a creamy Parmesan fondue – perfect with the 2015 Scarletto Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo pairing Jessica Annunziata had suggested.  Tom ordered and very much enjoyed  Luca’s tender Polpo alla Griglia (grilled octopus), a favorite on many local restaurant menus this time of year, but served here with a warm potato salad, celery, olives and a bright lemon emulsion,  few do it better than chef Luca and the team at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen.

We ended our meal at Luca with a two servings of Gelato  – a blood orange for Tom  and a coffee for me. Luca and Jessica bring in this perfectly Italian gelato from a company in Greensboro. The name is Gnam, Gnam Gelato and believe me it is nom, nom.  For More info …

EVOKE RESTAURANT AT LE MERIDIEN HOTEL

IMG_0951With a new chef on the team and some major menu development in progress look for big things to be happening at Evoke Restaurant in the Le Meridien Hotel on McDowell Street in  Uptown. Chefs Rodrigo Velazco in the kitchen at Evoke and Chef Oscar La Fuente, the hotel’s executive chef, certainly have plans to take things up a notch, so the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week affords them the opportunity to stretch their culinary wings a bit and offer some really cool special plates. We had a delicious evening, tasting our way through several plates of tapas. As this is the restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel, Evoke regularly serves breakfast lunch and dinner and the bar is open during those hours.

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A Trio of Trios Marinated Stuffed Olive Plate at Evoke at Le Meridien Hotel 

We tasted several Wine & Tapas pairings at Evoke – The first a clever trio of olives presented three ways – Olives stuffed with Marcona almonds, Dolce Gorgonzola and Fig jam are skewered and dressed in three different combos of oil and vinegar – my fave was the 20 yer old white balsamic with Pumpkin seed oil, but you will love the mix of tasting them all.  Use Evoke’s signature foccacia also on the plate for dipping up the remaining oil after the olives are gone!

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Taste of Spring Grilled Vegetable Platter at Evoke Restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel

The “Taste of Spring”  vegetable plate combines seasonal grilled, sauteed, pickled and raw veggies and was another seasonal winner and a delightful alternative to a simple salad.

At the CWTW kick off, I also tasted Chef Rodrigo’s Middle Ground Farms’ Rabbit Scarpinocc ( a stuffed pasta much like half moon ravioli) served with Sherry jus and manchego; and his delicious fresh Cobia Crudo, a tartar of sorts dressed with aji  rocoto ( a small Peruvian chile) and corn nuts. Sad to say, my photos didn’t come out well, but don’t let that stop you from ordering – both selections are  on Evoke’s  Tapas week menu and worthy of your consideration!

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Corn Soup from Evoke Restaurant in Le Meridien Hotel

As we did at all of these stops, we complimented our taste of the CWTW menu at Evoke with a few extra bites from the restaurant’s  seasonal menu. Chef Rodrigo offered us a sample sized portion of his delicious corn soup served in a tiny saucepan;  and we ended with a a wonderful not too sweet finish from Evoke’s talented pastry chef. On the plate Green Matcha tea mousse with raspberry cream inside, a raspberry puree, and black sesame tuille. Its enough for two of you to share, but you’ll want to order on all your own!

For More Info…  

 

 

THE ASBURY AT THE DUNHILL HOTEL

If its been a while since you have been to The Asbury restaurant in the Dunhill Hotel, its time to get back Uptown and prepare to be wowed. Chef Matthew Krenz’s spring menu has got it going on. If you like what you taste from the Spring menu ( and you will) you’ll want to come back for more. Be sure and check out the detail and make reservations for the one or more of the upcoming  collaborative chef dinners   held monthly from now till the end of they year – Chef Matthew teams with another chef from around the city or across the state and they plan a whole chefs tasting menu dinner around a certain theme –  these dinners are a blast and you’ll want to be sure and make reservations. the next one takes place on May 25 with Chef Greg Collier of The Yolk!

But I digress… all of the Asbury’s Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week offerings are also featured on the Spring menu and you won’t want to miss a single one.  Start your evening  with two of The Asbury’s signature items: the deviled eggs, prepared a different way every evening and the savory sticky buns – yum!!

IMG_1110Each of The Asbury’s  tapas plates is its own little ode to Spring. Take for example the peas bathed in uni butter alongside a pea emulsion with mint and cilantro topped with toasted coconut and springtime blossoms. This is peas like you have never had them before, but this is how you are always going to want then from here on out! See what you’ve started, Chef Krenz!?

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Fried Oysters at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

The fried oysters, dusted with cornmeal and cleverly plated in the shell with onion jam, Cajun-spiced aioli and baby cress are another winner – there are four on the plate – just delicious and beautifully presented.

Heartier Tapas from Chef Matthew include the melt-in-your-mouth Pan-fried Lamb Sweetbreads, that come to the table almost looking like a salad of sorts – the sweetbreads are dressed with  local mustard green and with the made-in-house carrot BBQ sauce the slightly spicy greens are the perfect  foil to the rich taste and texture of the sweetbreads.

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Fermented Chili-glazed Pork belly at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

It is not often that I order pork belly. Those of  you who know me know that I am just waaay over the “everythings-better-with-bacon”, but never say never as there is always the exception to the rule. The Asbury’s tapas of Fermented Chili-Glazed Pork Belly is it. Its tender, and moist and served the way pork belly was meant to be, atop a cornbread puree, braised greens with local turnips and radish

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Pea and ricotta tortellini at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Finally ( well sort of) I’d like to recommend the pea and ricotta tortellini as a tapas plate to consider. It’s scrumptious! Stuffed with local Uno Alla Volta ricotta and peas, topped with asparagus & crispy ham,  the thin melt-in-your-mouth pasta is bathed in a white wine butter sauce – oh my!

IMG_1132When the tapas and wine pairings were done, we found ourselves totally satisfied, but its always nice to end on a sweet note and Chef Matthew did more that oblige the craving.

Spring in Charlotte means strawberries and in total tribute Chef Matthew has created a spectacular take on a Southern fave – strawberry shortcake. Here macerated local strawberries and blueberries are bedded atop a fresh baked biscuit and then topped with an incredible strawberry mousse with  lightly whipped cream. Nuff Said!   For More Info….

#TellThemHeidiSentYouIf you’d like to try a taste and sip and savor your way through these and other area restaurants participating in the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Weekend, its easy and you still have till the end of the evening on April 30. Visit the CWTW website and scroll down through the entire list of logos so you won’t miss a single on of the 30 + excellent options. Click on the individual restaurant logo. This will take you to the restaurant’s page on the site (I’ve already provide those for the restaurants I highlighted here.) Here you will read a bit more about the restaurant , see the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu and can even use the link provided to make reservations if you would like.

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Post your photos on social media and be sure to tag me in the posts on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter – I will be happy to share. Enjoy! Have fun! Now go forth to Sip and Savor your way through the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week line up…Cheers!

 

 

 

Heidi Billotto Live: from The Matthews Community Farmers’ Market

PrintWe interrupt the regularly scheduled series of blog posts to bring you a brand new series of social media videos – all LIVE from local area farmers’ markets.

I generally hit 2-3 area markets on any given Saturday morning. Its my Saturday morning thing to do. It’s not just about what I need to pick up for that week’s cooking classes, catering jobs or what Tom and I will eat during the week; for me a farmers’ market trip is about seeing what’s growing, visiting with all the farmers and being there to support what they do. The fact that I can buy all the local produce, proteins and product that I need and know where it all came from and what went into the food that I eat and serve to others is a bonus. Someone commented on the Facebook feed that they were amazed that I knew everyone’s name.

That’s what shopping local is all about: Knowing your local farmers and producers; Shaking the hands that feed you and resting assure that the food you eat was grown and nurtured with love and care, not pesticides and hormones.

This new video series started as a way for me to help the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market promote their opening day last week. I was going to write a blog post about the new additions to the market and the list of new vendors, but alas as it was all new I didn’t have any of these photos to include in the post.

So instead, I decided to hit the market early on their opening day April 15, 2017 and film my very first Facebook Live video. I had a blast! I have always loved spreading the word of all our local farmers bring to the table and this was a fun way to do it in real time. It appears that lots of Facebook friends and fans loved it too. To date that first FBLive video has enjoyed over 1.6K views! I am over the moon!

And you will be, too, when you go to shop at the Matthews Community Farmers market this Saturday and any or every Saturday hereafter, Spring and Summer hours are now officially in effect.

The market, located at 188 N Trade Street right in the heart of downtown, Matthews, is open every Saturday from 8 till noon. Matthews is a “growers only” market and  each of the farms represented by the farmers themselves are located within 50 miles of downtown Matthews.

Currently the Matthews Market is hosting a strawberry fundraiser with fresh delicious berries from Cody Strawberry Farms and new to the market this year is the addition of a food truck or two. Both of these trucks are preparing breakfast items using the local product you’ll find available at the market each week. Last weekend I enjoyed a killer Farmhouse Croissant from Carolina Smash Truck. The savory breakfast sandwich was prepared with Maitake Mushrooms, green onion, egg, and white cheddar – just what I needed to go with that delicious cup of Good Cup Cappuccino I was enjoying after I posted my video.

You can check out all the names of all the participating vendors, and sign up for the Matthews’ Market’s email newsletter by visiting their website 

Each week the market features a different chef presenting a 9 am cooking demo; and a different local musician  there to provide a little music to enjoy as you shop from and visit with each of the market vendors.

Last weekend, Chef Luca Annunziata wowed the crowds with a taste of his traditional Italian cuisine now featured on the menu at his restaurant Luca Modern Italian Kitchen ( formally called Passion 8). This Saturday, April 22 at 9 am chef Adam Reed from Sante Restaurant in Matthews will be cooking  up a storm for the market crowds to  sample and enjoy after they watch his entertaining demo.

And there is so much more, from compost to King of Pops, local honey, chicken, eggs, pork, beef, fresh from the Carolina Coast seafood,  fresh flowers, plants for you to grow and produce for you to cook and eat; From Water Buffalo cheese to locally made cottage cheese and ricotta; From Beeswax candles to Breads, pastries, frozen casseroles and pizzas made from local ingredients, baskets, pottery… whew! Just take a look at the video here and check it all out for yourself… then stay tuned.

Coming up  in a day or so, a post I filmed yesterday Wed April 19  which  features my  Facebook Live Video with market vendor details from the brand new Wednesday afternoon Selwyn Avenue Market in the parking lot of the Mouzon United Methodist Church from 3-7 on Wednesday afternoons.

This Saturday, April 22, I am teaching one of my On the Farm cooking classes at New Town Farms, but before hand I  will be at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market at 208 N Church St, Waxhaw, NC 28173, open from 9 till noon,  to bring you a FBLIve video of everything from the market there. You can join me on my HeidiBillottoCooks Facebook page to watch the video live – probably around 9:30 -10 or so ( I’ll post a social media heads up about 5 minutes ahead of time), or you can catch it later on my personal Heidi Billotto Facebook page. Or if you are not on Facebook you can view it here in the next farmers’ market blog post.

My plan is to film from a local market once or twice a week  over the course of the next several months – so get ready for your close ups Atherton Farmers’ Market, Mecklenburg County Market, Noda Farmers’ Market, Davidson Farmers’ Market and more! If you know of a market selling local product that I am leaving out or one I might not be aware of – please post a comment here,  let me know and I’ll add it to my list.

My purpose is instead of just offering a list of local markets, you can really have the opportunity to see for yourself, virtually meet the farmers and producers and then make plans to go and shop local so you can eat local, too!

And don’t forget, what ever farmers’ market you shop at this weekend, be sure to #TellThemHeidiSentYou

First Taste of Spring at The SavorNC Cooking Stage

4452defe-d5bd-4fc1-9cc8-2289ed2d4211Tomorrow Friday Feb 23, 2017 marks the first day of all the food flavor and fun at the SavorNC Cooking Stage at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show at the Park Expo in Charlotte NC. The show runs for 6 full days – this weekend of Feb 23-26 and then again the weekend of March 3-5. Attendance at the SavorNc Cooking Stage is free with your ticket to the show and we will be located right by the show entrance, so you can’t miss us!

 

savorncI happily play the part of host of the cooking stage and have invited over 40 restaurant chefs, private chefs, caterers, farmers and other food-centric folk to be on stage with me cooking with tons of local produce, proteins and products.  The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has come on as the title sponsor of the stage, so we are the SavorNC Cooking Stage and each day we have a different local day sponsor involved in all the action.

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The cooking demos each day start at 10:30 am and run every hour on the half hour. Chefs will be cooking, sharing technique, tips about buying local and handing out complimentary samples at each and every demonstration.

At the end of each demo, we’ll ask a couple of fun trivia questions pertaining to what each chef said, and where ingredients might have come from and the winners will get great prizes which will include gift  bags of swag from the NC Department of Agriculture, gift certificates from the participating restaurants and special samples and or coupons from our day sponsors.

Recipes from each day of demos and a photo recap of the day will be posted on these blog pages each evening of the show, so stay tuned for the word on lots of local eats and how to make them in your kitchen over the next ten days. Consider these two weekends a first taste of Spring with all the wonderful local ingredients this, my favorite season of the year, brings.

Here is the line up of chefs for each day  and a little bit about our GotToBeNC Day Sponsors for this first weekend of the 2017 Southern Spring Show… Look for a similar article next week on the line up of all the action for the March 3-5 weekend or check here for a link to the complete list of participating chefs

img_7229Goodnight Brothers Country Ham from Boone North Carolina kicks off our list of day sponsors this year on Friday February 24, 2017. Throughout the day chefs will be hamming it up with Goodnight’s all natural line of thin sliced dry cured ham (I like to call it North Carolina’s answer to  Italian prosciutto) as well as Goodnight’s classic Country Ham. Goodnight Brothers has sent me two HUGE boxes of  sample sized packages of ham to hand out to the crowd and at 12:30 I will be on stage with Bill Goodnight of Goodnight Brothers, cooking with both varieties of this locally cured ham and talking about the history of this family owned company and how they do what they do.  if you have ever eaten a ham biscuit at Bojangles, then you know how wonderful Goodnight Brothers Ham really is – take this opportunity to come to the Spring Show on Friday, to try, taste and learn more about it.

Cooking onstage with me Friday February 24, 2017 –

10:30 am
Springtime Favorites

Chef Blake Hartwick, Bonterra Dining & Wine Room

11:30 am
WCCB Everyday Eats Hamming It Up

Chef Troy Gagliardo
WCCB Charlotte

12:30 pm
Cooking with Goodnight Brothers Country Ham
Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto and Bill Goodnight from Goodnight Brothers Country Ham

1:30 pm
The Sweet & Savory Sides of Eating Local
Chef Paul Verica and Chef Ashley Boyd, Heritage Food Drink, Waxhaw NC

2:30 pm
It’s Cookin’ at The Cowfish

Chef David Lucarelli, The Cowfish Sushi & Burger Bar

3:30 pm
Charcuterie and Cooking with Beer 

Chef Terra Ciotta and Chef Philip Lloyd, The Art Institute

4:30 pm
Dinner from the Springtime Garden

Chef Michael Rayfield, U.S. National Whitewater Center

5:30 pm
Gluten Free Vegan and Vegetarian

Chef Beverly McLaughlin, Beverly’s Gourmet Foods

img_7234On Saturday February 25, 2017 Parla Pasta from High Point North Carolina is our day sponsor and you won’t believe all the delicious Pastabilities we’ll have on hand. Simone Drake from Parla’s parent company Drake’s Pasta will be with us all day and is bringing a wonderful pasta salad for show goers to snack on between demos as well as plenty of coupons to hand out, so everyone can go and buy their favorite variety of Parla Pasta from their grocer’s freezer case after begin inspired by the culinary action onstage. Again, chefs will be cooking with the different varieties of Parla Pasta throughout the day and at 12:30 Simone and I will take the stage together to cook and talk pasta. Parla Pasta is available at grocery stores across Charlotte – find it in the freezer section at your favorite locations of Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, Publix, Ingles, and Lowes Foods.

And here is who will be cooking onstage with me for Saturday February 25, 2017:

10:30 am
Little Plates, Big Flavor with Stoke Restaurant’s infamous Pork Ragu

Chef Chris Coleman, Stoke at the Marriott

11:30 am
Sweet Springtime Dreams

Chef Ashley Boyd and Chef Miranda Brown, 300 East

12:30 pm
Ah, The Parla Pastabilities

Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto with SImone Drake of Parla Post

1:30 pm
It’s Got to Be NC!

Clark Barlow, Heirloom Restaurant

2:30 pm
Kale Yeah!

Heidi Billotto cooks with the Greens that Grow at Tega Hill Farms

3:30 pm
Entertaining on the Fly: From Zero to Party in under and Hour
Susan Murray Innkeeper and Cookbook Author, Carolina B&B, Asheville

4:30 pm
Pasta and Prosciutto with Springtime Style
Chef George DiPaolo from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte

5:30 pm
Risotto From the Springtime Garden
Chef Geoff Bragg from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte

cloister-honeyOn Sunday February 26, 2017, our friends Randall York and Joanne di la Rionda from Cloister Honey are in the house with their entire line of sweet and savory locally raised honey. Cloister Honey will be available to sample and purchase throughout the day right at the cooking stage. Many chefs will be incorporating the line of Cloister Honey into their recipes and  in the 12:30 time slot this day, I’ll be cooking with Cloister and Randall and Joanne will join me onstage to talk about raising bees, how they came to build a hobby into a company and we might even get  Joanne to share her secrets ( well some of them) on how she develops her delicious honey blends and flavor infused varieties. Cloister will be giving away samples as a part of each prize package during each of the chefs demos throughout the day  – its going to be a sweet way to wind up this first weekend of fun and local flavor on the SavorNC Cooking Stage at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show.

On the SavorNC Cooking Stage Sunday, February 26, 2017:  

10:30 am
Sunday Brunch Fresh from the Farm

Chef Kevin Woods cooks with  Two Moons Family Farms

11:30 am
The Art of Japanese Cuisine From Yama, Yama Izakaya and Baku Restaurants

Chef and Sake Specialist Birdie Yang

12:30 pm
Catch the Buzz – Cooking with Cloister Honey

Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto with Cloister’s Randall York and Joanna de la Rionda

1:30 pm
Jamie’s Favorite Top Chef Recipes

Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church and Top Chef Charleston contestant

2:30 pm
Donuts: Not Just for Breakfast
Courtney Buckley, Your Mom’s Donuts

3:30 pm
Wine Pairings with Local Favorites 
Josh Villapando, Assorted Table Wine Shop

So Many great local GotToBeNc products to feature on the Savor NC Cooking Stage this first weekend of the show, and so many chefs to help create the show. I’m proud to say we have a truly great line up of award winning and nationally recognized chefs here in Charlotte and our surrounding areas and  I am thrilled to promote them on the SavorNC Cooking Stage this weekend and next.

charlotte-living-winter-2017-coverIn addition to recipes and samples and all the fun you’ll have at the Savor NC Cooking Stage, remember to also pick up a copy of the new issue of Charlotte Living Magazine. That beautiful dish on the cover was prepared by Chef Thomas Marlow of Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte.

As many of you know, In addition to this blog, I also am the food editor at Charlotte Living and this first issue of the year is our annual food issue. So excited to see my “100 + Restaurants Worth Your While Restaurant Guide” finally done and printed up in living color. A TEN-PAGE spread of great places to eat in Charlotte and a word or two about many chefs who make this such a wonderful food-centric city. Pick up a copy of the magazine at the SavorNC Cooking Stage and enjoy the guide, articles on Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte and Highland Avenue Restaurant in Hickory as well as a piece on local Moorseville woodworker Jeffrey Mathews of Old World Moulding Company who creates incredible cutting boards for chefs around the world; and  a section on 6 ways to open a package, box, bottle or jar to Eat Local and more. Can’t wait – you can check out the Restaurant Guide and some of these other articles online at CharlotteLiving.com

 

 

 

Cooking Classes with Heidi Billotto

img_7806More Fabulous “At Home with Heidi” and “On the Farm” Cooking Classes coming up soon… 

Get ready to slice, dice, simmer and saute as you make plans to join in on the fun at any one of my exciting hands-on classes cooking classes taught as the name suggests, “At Home with Heidi ”  in my home kitchen; or  come and experience one of my unique On the Farm Classes are held at various farms in and around Charlotte. Each On The Farm class includes a walking Farm Tour and then we settle into the farm kitchen to cook with whatever is in season. You really just have to experience these classes for yourself, there is indeed something quite special about being on all these local farms…

Classes are a perfect  for a fun date night, night out with the girls and a great way to meet new people or host a team building event.  Don’t see a date that fits – Plan Your Own Private Cooking Class email me and lets plan your own private class with work associates or with friends or family.

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Registration links are at the end of each class descriptive.  Make your reservations by simply sending me an email. Payment confirms your reservation and you may pay by cash, check or credit card. As soon as I gets your email, I’ll be right back in touch to confirm your payment and to give you the  address and details for each class.

Looking forward to seeing you at one (or more) of these “At Home with Heidi”  or “On The Farm” Cooking Classes soon…

on-the-farmSOLDOUT On the Farm Cooking Class at Proffitt Family Cattle Company – Saturday June 24, 4-8pm THIS CLASS IS SOLD OUT BUT WE HAVE PLANNED ANOTHER FOR SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 4-8 PM AND ARE ACCEPTING RESERVATIONS NOW…. So excited to be back working with my friend Shelly Eagan at Proffitt Family Cattle Company for another wonderful On the Ranch farm tour, class and dinner. Proffitt is located in Kings Mountain and is a certified organic grass fed cattle ranch. Come join us to meet the herd and the dogs and the chickens, tour the ranch and find out what exactly goes into raising the kind of beef you need to be eating. Class participants will also be able to purchase beef after class if you would like. Josh Villapando will. of course. be on hand with wine pairings – it’s going to be spectacular. Cost is $85 per person.  For reservations email Heidi Here and then check out the blog post I wrote about Proffitt earlier this year – the post included some tasty NC Beef recipes I know you’re gonna love!

imgres-2SOLDOUT Sunday, June 25, 2-5 pm – At Home With Heidi – North Carolina Seafood & SeaSalt with special guest Amy Gaw from OuterBanks SeaSalt
This class was inspired by a recent media tour I took of the NC coast where I met a tremendous group of North Carolina fisherman and farmers raising and harvesting fresh seafood and offering incredible local product. I was inspired and now I want to share it all with you!   Turns out my friend Amy Gaw of Outer Banks SeaSalt will be in town, so the stars aligned to put together this “Fresh from Carolina Waters” cooking class.  Hands-on as always, but to celebrate Amy joining us we’ll start with a special round of appetizers upon arrival and then follow with four fabulous courses of seafood and Outer Banks SeaSalt! Wine pairings for each course by Josh Villapando at Assorted Table Wine Shop, gift bags for each participant  and tons of sea salty fun!!
Cost is $85 per person. For Reservations Email Heidi Here
IMG_3056Tuesday June 27, 6:30-9pm – At Home with Heidi – Vegetarian & Gluten Free  
With so many summer veggies at hand and a host of local North Carolina miso and tempeh products on the market ( from Miso Masters and Smiling Hara brands) I thought it was time to plan a course without the meat and dairy. As always the class will be as hands-on as you would like to be. We’ll prepare 4 courses including a trio of from scratch veggie burger recipes ( one easily adapted into a from scratch veggie dog as well!), rice and noodle bowls, a simply delicious stir fry master recipe you can adapt through the seasons and a spectacular dessert. We will use some local pasture raised eggs as well as some fun egg substitutes  as it turns out these recipes are all delicously Gluten Free as well!!
Cost is $75 per person.For reservations Email Heidi Here

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Monday July 17 – 6:30-9 pm – At Home with Heidi | Food and Wine of France –

With Bastille Day on the 14th, it seemed the time to celebrate with a bit of French flair and flavor. All local ingredients as always and its an entire meal from start to a fabulous flaming finish! Cost $75    Email Heidi To Make Your Reservation! 

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Saturday July 22 – 5-8 pm| On the Farm at Windcrest Farms| Its Tomato Time!!

Farmer Mary Roberts grows more varieties of local certified organic tomatoes than you can shake a stick at! On the menu in this season’s second On the Farm class at Windcrest – all things tomato from homemade ketchup to tomato pie and then some! ‘Tis the Mater season – c’mon and join us! –  Cost $85 Make your reservations by emailing Heidi Now

Sunday July 30, 2-5 pm – On the Farm at Fading D Farms in Salisbury – 

downloadFading D Farms is a unique Water Buffalo Ranch and Dairy in Salisbury NC. Faythe and David DiLoreto are our hosts as we cook with the lean water buffalo meat and the deliciously rich cheeses to make a four course meal. Between courses, well also enjoy a cheese making session/demonstration,  fascinating stuff – don’t miss it!!  Cost is $85 Email Heidi to make your reservations  

Sunday September 24, 2-5pm – On the Farm at Dancing Bees in Monroe,NC –

db_logo116sHoney, Honey – Just Follow the Buzz and learn all about the Business of Local Bees with Master Beekeeper Jeff Knight. Robin Knight will be there too to share with us how she makes all the wonderful bees wax candles, lotions, bath scrubs and more. 5 honey-centric courses make this class extra sweet – Can’t wait to see you there!  Cost $85 For Reservations Email Heidi Here

 

And. last but not least, here are All the Details and the Fine Print on my regular series of cooking classes, both At Home with Heidi and On the Farm….

Living the Loving Local Mantra: In my classes and catering I cook for clients as if I were cooking for my family. It is important to me to use the healthiest, freshest product so I shop Local and cook with produce, proteins and products sourced primarily from local farms and vendors, using certified organic or product that is grown by organic standards when I can’t find what is needed from a local source.

Wine Not?  I partner with my friend Josh Villapando of the Assorted Table Wine Shop at 7th Street Station to provide wine ( and sometimes beer) pairings at each class (with the exception of the cocktail and appetizer class), so you’ll not only leave with some great recipes, but you’ll know what beverages to pair with them as well.

The Take Away: Everyone participates in the preparation of each dish and each class participant leaves with a packet of recipes, wine notes and coupons and other fun party favors.

Class size is limited: Your advance reservations via email gets you on the class list and advance payment confirms your space in class. Once I hear from you with a reservation I will contact you with specifics on how to pay. I will send out directions and any other details you might need, several days prior to  the class date.

Cancellation Policy: I try hard not to cancel events; but reality is. There is a three person minimum for my At Home With Heidi Classes and if weather is a problem we try hard to reschedule. If you need to cancel  more than 7 days prior to class I am happy to provide a full refund of your advance payment. If you cancel 6 days or less before the class date I know you will understand that I will have already started making plans and purchases and am glad to offer you a refund of half of your original payment.

I Heart You! Happy Valentine’s Day!

blog headerIts a little heart-shaped kiss of everyone’s favorite seasonal sweet… and its on my  list of “Things That Make You Go Mmmmmm…

Whether you are planning on saying “Be Mine” or “See Ya” to your sweetie this Valentine’s Day, there’s no easier way to put your thoughts together than through a few Conversation Hearts.

These heart-felt talkative treats are enjoyed by millions of Americans each year. In fact, Americans have been enjoying the candy we now call Conversation Hearts since the 1800s.

wafers-boxMade by several companies, the leading manufacturer of Conversation Hearts is the NECCO/Sweethearts brand. Its  my favorite brand of any heart shaped candy and  shares a history with another longtime favorite of mine,  the much loved NECCO Wafers. Daniel Chase created the idea for the first conversation hearts in 1866 by devising a machine that would press food dye letters onto the candy lozenges made famous by his brother and NECCO founder Oliver Chase. The Conversation Hearts we know and love today came to be in the early 1900s. hearts 2Today NECCO manufactures 8 billion Sweethearts year ’round to meet consumer demand.

From mid-February to January NECCO produces about 100,000 pounds of the iconic candy hearts each day, which adds up to billions of candy hearts—more than enough for everyone in the world to have one, so buy several packs and be sure to share the love .

Through the years, the sayings on Conversation Hearts have been an edible reflection on how our culture has changed, but it is good to know that some of the original sayings are still in rotation, including “Be Mine,” “Be Good,” “Be True,” “Kiss Me.”

In honor of NECCO’s 150th anniversary in 1997, the original phrase “The One I Love” also reappeared in the mix. In the early 1990’s, NECCO’s then Vice President Walter Marshall began an initiative to update the sayings each year, retiring some while adding others. The first new phrase, in years was “Fax Me” which met with a bit of controversy from diehard Conversation Heart fans; but now you can find hearts that suggest a would be lover “email me”, “text me” and “tweet me”, too!ChocolateSweethearts

And they come in Chocolate and  are Gluten Free…Gotta Heart That!

While all Conversation Hearts have been certified Kosher and  gluten free from the beginning, the flavors have made changes with the times.  It all started with the original eight familiar flavors customers found in the company’s Necco wafers: orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. Now there are just six different flavors of hearts in box.

dazzledsweetheartsWhile the classic flavors are mixed and boxed together, the Necco company also produces  separate boxes of chocolate Conversation Hearts,  and they are, like the rolls of chocolate NECCO wafers, this food writer’s personal favorite…just sayin’

But if you’d like something different, instead of enjoying the classics, you can also now buy sugar-free Sweethearts and for those of you who really like to pucker up, enjoy the Dazzled Tart Sweethearts this season in Pink Lemonade, Wild Berry Grape, Sour Apple, Watermelon, Extreme Tangerine and Blue Raspberry

Here’s how it rolls…

To make this sweet candy confection,  six simple ingredients -sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gum, colorings and flavoring –  are blended together into a mixing machine, one color and flavor at a time, until they turn into a soft dough.  The dough is fed into a machine that presses the dough until it is flat, a process called sheeting. The sheeted dough moves on to the cut and stamp station where  the sayings are applied on the dough and  a large machine cuts the dough into 100s of little  hearts. Next, the sheets of cut hearts go into a drying tunnel for about 30 – 45 minutes. The finished hearts are lightly dusted with cornstarch and moved to a drying area where they cool and harden during a twelve hour resting period. Once the hearts have cooled and dried, the starch is dusted off and flavors are mixed together to provide the assortment we find in each box or bag. Each year NECCO reports that they receive hundreds of saying suggestions from romantics, candy lovers and school kids, alike. 

Think you have a good conversation heart phrase to add to the collection?  Sweethearts NECCO is happy to accept suggestions for sayings from their consumers. Each saying can be no longer than two lines of four letters on the small hearts and two lines of six letters on the large motto hearts. You can either e-mail your suggestion to the company via their website at Necco.com,  or mail it to Sweethearts, NECCO, 135 American Legion Highway, Revere, MA 02151.

#TellThemHeidiSentYouWhy not surprise your sweetheart  or your best friend this Valentine’s Day with a box of conversation hearts and reservations at any one of my upcoming At Home with Heidi  cooking classes. The list is on the home page of my blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com – just shoot me an email  to make your reservation and I’ll be back in touch to confirm the delicious details.

Weekend Eats Atlanta: Restaurants to Put on Your Radar

2-where-to-eat-in-atlantatellthemheidisentyouAtlanta has a lot of great restaurants  – and, not to pick sides this close to the Superbowl, one pretty good football team.   And its just a three to four hour drive from the Queen City – in fact, many say its faster to drive to Atlanta than it is to fly down, once you consider negotiating the parking and TSA wait time. Can you say Three Day Weekend? 

fox-theatre-altantaLots of reasons to head south and visit this bustling city, football not withstanding of course. Plan to check out the High Art Museum, The Fox Theatre, Centennial Park, and the World of Coca-Cola. Tour CNN headquarters, stroll through the Atlanta Botanical gardens and visit the historic birthplace of Martin Luther King.

And then, there are  all the places to eat. Impossible to cover them all in a weekend or just one blog post. Tom and I made a quick 3 day jaunt down a week or so ago with friends  to check out what’s new at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart and Gift Show and made it a point to go in search of some good eats.  The result? This quick little restaurant round up of several great places to eat in Atlanta, places you simply should not miss.   

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Heidi Billotto and Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte,  Charleston and Atlanta

Of course there is 5 Church. Atlanta was the group’s third home away from home and executive chef Chef Jamie Lynch, now of Top Chef fame, oversees the operation in Atlanta as he does in Charleston and Charlotte. But honestly, if you are going to eat at 5 Church – and you should – go in Charlotte to the  first and original location in Uptown at the corner of Church and Tryon, where we have bragging rites and  can say, we knew  him first.  Enjoy the great bar – even better food and open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

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Butternut Squash Agnolotti from 5 Church Charlotte

 

 

 

On the dinner menu, we love the Autumn salad, the charred octopus and the tuna poke to start – or combine several for a dinner of apps. Favorite entrees include the butternut squash agnolotti, the lamb burger and the herb and citrus encrusted whole fish.  In Charlotte  you’ll find all the detes and reservation info at  5 Church at 5churchcharlotte.com; and just in case, in Atlanta, look them up at 5churchatlanta.com.

Now back to Atlanta, First and foremost you must stop for drinks in the  bar in the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Its warm and charming and the service is spot on. With a recent buy-out, things may change but I am hoping not.  Word has it the hotel is undergoing a 5 million dollar upgrade to the bar area and putting in a cafe as well. Only time will tell, but for now its one of our go-to’s to unwind from the day and start the evening off, for sure.

img_8279Also in Buckhead, a stone’s throw from the Ritz, don’t miss St. Cecilia. Enter the lobby for the Pinnacle Building and you’ll be greeting by a beautiful glass Chihuly sculpture hanging in the lobby. The restaurant is the anchor tenant just off the lobby and its massive dining room is  gorgeous. Despite the size and the oh, so high ceilings, the restaurant has a warmth that makes you feel welcome. Look for wonderful Italian fare, an excellent wine list and if you are in town for the weekend, be sure to book reservations for Sunday Brunch.

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Cauliflower Soup at St Cecelia

Our favorites: Well, we couldn’t resist starting with an order of Crispy Punched Potatoes for the table to share – dressed with a cacio e pepe aioli and fresh grated parmigiano cheese it was the perfect pairing with the Italian red wine. We were so intrigued by the starters and pasta, that we didn’t get to the fish and beef entrees this time, but will most certainly come back for more of Chef Craig Richards fine food on the next trip. For now, the cobia tartar with salt & vinegar chips, lemon  puree and trout roe was a great way to start the evening as was the Cauliflower soup; ditto for the wood grilled octopus with brown butter, pickled onions and a hint of citrus. The cacio e pepe – homemade pasta with pepper and parmigiano was every bite as good as we remember from a trip to Italy several years ago and we loved the gnudi bathed in hazelnut brown butter as well. For more info, check it all out on their website at stceciliaatl.com

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Cheers to Centro Storico, Atlanta’s own Little Italia

Next , more Italian but this time a bit more – well, a lot more laid back, bring your own wine and enjoy Antico-Pizza Napoletana . This is the best pizza around and when the dough is gone, they are done for the night and there is no making a reservation,  so plan to go by early in the evening. All pizzas come well done and slightly charred and therein lies their beauty. The restaurant with its tiny counter and large dining room with family style tables is  smack dab in the middle of its own 4 building little Italia called Centro Storico on Hemphill Avenue –  for dessert check out the gelato and coffee across the street, at Cafe Antico Gelateria and Pasticceria;  in season the open air Bar Amalfi  and don’t miss  the Maccheroni Naoletani or the chicken dishes right next door at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano as well!  

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Spicy Maccheroni Arrabbiata at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano

Gio’s may win the award for the most for less – pasta and salad and bread for two – with enough to share or take home for lunch the next day was just $14 per person for the maccheroni or $17 per person for the chicken. Fantastico! The one website, highlight in this paragraph include info on all the restaurants and bars I mentioned.

 

For some of the best vegan/Asian food yu might ever have – don’t miss Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen located at 565 Peachtree St. NE in Midtown.  

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Steamed Buns at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

The restaurant is huge with several private rooms upstairs and an adjacent bar and lounge. The menu all looked so good when we went for lunch, that we relied on our server’s suggestions and ,as she promised when she said, “Just trust me”, she didn’t steer us wrong.  Tom and I ordered several dishes and shared and it was the way to eat here – after all its always much more fun when you get to taste a bit of everything, don’t you think?  

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Sticky Rice with Shiitakes at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

We’re talking  a creamy rich Organic White Bean, Root Vegetable and Pumpkin Bouillon;  Sweet Pea Ravioli inCurry Jus with Leeks & Assorted Mushrooms; Crispy Purple Yam Cakes; Steamed Buns with crispy Soy Duck, Cucumber & Cilantro; Sticky Rice fused with Shiitake Mushrooms and Taro; Sesame Ginger Soy Chicken & Shiitake Kebabs; and Aburaage (the same flat fried tofu used to wrap inari sushi) stuffed with radish, cucumber, tomato and seaweed noodles.  I cannot begin to desrcibe the deliciousness. For anyone who thinks vegan means uninteresting or lacking in flavor, add Atlanta’s Herban Vegan Fix Kitchen to your Must-Eat-Here list and allow the chefs here to prove you wrong.

 

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Warm chips and Salsa – a great way to start the evening

Mexican seems to be a hard find in Atlanta. We asked several locals, Uber drivers and the people at our hotel for suggestions and everyone seemed to come up “sin pan ni pedazo” (a Spanish expression which means empty-handed.) Finally we did as any good tourist would do and turned to the magazine in the hotel, it was an advertisement but it seemed worth a shot – winner of the “Best of Atlanta” Awards since 1992  and promising the “Salsa that ends your search” we decided to give Nuevo Laredo Cantina a try.  Located at 1495 Chattahoochee Avenue NW, it is definitely off the beaten path and as we had expectations of margarita’s and cerveza with our tacos and tamales, we opted to Uber.

img_8326Nuevo Laredo is a charming cantina pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The place is hustling and bustling and again no reservations, so you can sometimes expect to wait. We went early in the evening and were seated within a few minutes and immediately presented with warm chips ( yes!) and salsas that did not disappoint. My plan was to order the Chile Relleno, that was until I saw this: Holy Tacos or Tacos Sagrado, served 2 to a platter, these are white corn tortillas stuffed with mashed potatoes, white cheese, onion and cabbage and topped with a green sauce. The menu says these are “as sold on the corner of Igelsia del Santo Nino, Ocampo y Victoria, Nuevo Lareda, Tamps, Mexico”

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Holy Tacos at Nuevo Laredo Cantina

How could we not? What the steaming hot platter lacked in color – white potatoes, white cheese, white flour tortillas – you get it; the dish more than made up for in flavor. If a mashed potato taco isn’t your bag, there are  about 100 other offerings including chicken, beef  and seafood specials, and the expected assortment of enchiladas, faijtas, tacos and tortillas all of which we will try on our next road trip down – I’ve since read the lobster tacos are life changing… I’ll keep you posted, until then suffice to say, the menu offerings are authentic, simply prepared and worth the drive. For more information visit nuevolaredocantina.com


img_7806Feeling Hungry?
If this post as whet your palate for more why not subscribe to my  blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com and each post will come directly to your in box as soon as I hit the “Publish” button. I post about restaurants in Charlotte, across the Carolinas and as in the case of this post in food-centric travel blogs as well. As always, remember to #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Don’t Miss my great new series of Cooking Classes !! If you’d rather cook yourself than eat out – check out my all new list of 2017 February and March cooking classes – now on the home page of this blog and under the Cooking Class tab as well. Registration is easy – just email me with the class or classes you’d like to attend and I’ll email you right back to secure payment and confirm your reservations. 

Heidi Billotto’s 2017 Cooking Classes Start February 1

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Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

In the words of my great culinary hero, Julia Child, from her book My Life In France, ”

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook. Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

So, I too, encourage you all to Be Fearless and get set for all the Fun as you prepare  slice, dice, simmer and saute at any one of the  first few months of the exciting 2017 season of hands-on classes cooking classes At Home with Heidi.
The links to my direct email to make your reservations are at the end of each class descriptive.  Make your reservations by simply sending me an email with the name of the class you want to attend and your phone number. I will contact you as to how you would like to pay. Payment confirms your reservation and you may pay by cash, check or credit card.
Living the Loving Local Mantra: In my classes and catering I cook for clients as if I were cooking for my family. It is important to me to use the healthiest, freshest product so I shop Local and cook with produce, proteins and products sourced primarily from local farms and vendors, using certified organic or product that is grown by organic standards when I can’t find what is needed from a local source.
heidi head shot 1 -Wine Not?  I partner with my friend Josh Villapando of the Assorted Table Wine Shop at 7th Street Station to provide wine ( and sometimes beer) pairings at each class, so you’ll not only leave with some great recipes, but you’ll know what beverages to pair with them as well.
The Take Away: Everyone participates in the preparation of each dish and each class participant leaves with a packet of recipes, wine notes and coupons and other fun party favors.
Class size is limited: Your advance reservations via email gets you on the class list and advance payment confirms your space in class. Once I hear from you with a reservation I will contact you with specifics on how to pay. I will send out directions and any other details you might need, several days prior to  the class date.
Cancellation Policy: I try hard not to cancel events; but reality is. There is a three person minimum for my At Home With Heidi Classes and if weather is a problem we try hard to reschedule. If you need to cancel  more than 7 days prior to class I am happy to provide a full refund of your advance payment. If you cancel 6 days or less before the class date I know you will understand that I will have already started making plans and purchases and am glad to offer you a refund of half of your original payment.
cooking clip artThat’s all the detes, now on to the descriptives.  Stay tuned for info on Cooking Classes for Kids and be sure to Save the Date for the Southern Spring & Garden Show’s Savor NC Cooking Stage taking place Feb 24-26 and March 3-5, more info to come in another blog post soon.

Looking forward to seeing you at one of my At Home with Heidi Cooking Classes soon…Here we go….

Wed. Evening Feb 1, 6:30-9pm – Asian-Inspired Appetizers Coming off the heals of the Jan 28 Lunar New Year and heading into SuperBowl weekend,  why not plan to serve your favorite armchair quarterback a spread of Asian-inspired appetizers and small plates. Make-your-own eclectic eggrolls and steamed dumplings with a duo of dipping sauces,  sweet and spicy sesame honey-ginger wings, moo shu pork with pan fried pancakes & mushroom & micro green stuffed steamed buns kick off this evening’s starting line up.  Cost $75 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
heidi with Julia Child tomatoesSat. Afternoon Feb 4 – 2-5 pm – Fresh from our local Winter Farmers’ MarketsHard to plan an On the Farm class this time of year, but who says you can’t shop local in the Winter months? Our local farms produce all year round and this day I’ll shop 3 or 4 favorite markets in the morning – Matthews, Waxhaw, Atherton and Yorkmont and come back to cook with you that afternoon with recipes using chicken, pork, beef and lots of local vegetables as well, making a great seasonal meal with all of our fabulous farmers’ market finds. Cost $75 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
Wed. Morning Feb. 8, 10 am -1 pm – You Won’t Miss the Meat – A Daytime class featuring  some of my favorite vegetarian recipes and  YES, These recipes are all Gluten Free, too!! (We will be using nuts and eggs in this class, but I am glad to show you how to make substitutions) On the menu: Debbie’s Delicious Veggie Burger or MeatlessBall hoagie with mushroom sauce, Chana (Chickpea) Masala, Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli Brown Rice Ramen Noodle Salad, and scrumptious Pistachio Blondies! Cost is $70 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
Sat. Evening Feb. 11 – 6-9pm – That’s Amore!  This Valentine-inspired class is full of fun and flavor! The premise of this  Food & Wine of Italy cooking class is an Italian dinner for two with traditional Italian recipes that feature ingredients legend and long-time lore consider to be aphrodisiacs. Come and enjoy the fun as a couple, a single or with friends, as you would like. We’ll cook a four course meal, share Italian wine pairings and celebrate this season of hearts and flowers. Cost is $75 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
Thurs. Evening Feb 16 – 6:30-9pm – Cooking with Local Mushrooms – We are so lucky in Charlotte to have locally harvested mushrooms available at local markets each week. Urban Gourmet Mushrooms, available at the Atherton and Matthews Community Farmers’ Markets offers a variety of mushrooms that we’ll use to cook up a marvelous meal from appetizer to…wait for it…yes, dessert! Just you wait and see!  Cost is $75 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
heidi-teaching-at-proffittSun. Afternoon Feb 19 – 2-5 pm – Tapas and Wine of Spain – The small plates of Spain, known as Tapas are a fun way to enjoy a dinner with an accent on the Spanish side of things… look for seafood, sausage, saffron, tomatoes, capers and orange flavors to all play a big role as we prepare 6 little plates. Each a different recipe, but all with the same Spanish flair. Ole! Cost is $75 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
Thurs. Morning Mar 9 – 10am – 1 pm  French Country Cooking   featuring a lovely dinner or luncheon menu perfect for family and friends – French green lentil salad with homemade vinaigrette, Pan d’Epices ( a gingerbread like toasted bread from Burgundy France), oven baked, grilled chicken Dijonniase, roasted potato salad Provencal and a lovely sweet mocha macaroon tart for dessert. Cost is $70 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
Sun. Afternoon Mar. 12 – 2-5pm – Try A Little Thai – In every Thai dish experience the flavors of sweet, hot, spicy and sour. In this class we’ll make some of the most popular Thai dishes from soups to seafood, a curry, a noodle dish  and sticky rice and coconut cream with mango for a sweet finish. Cost is $75 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
Wed. Evening Mar 15 – 6:30-9 pm – Pot Pies – Over and above the classic chicken pot pie, these pastry-covered one-dish meals are perfect for the family or when ever you want to entertain a crowd. Menu includes Classic chicken pot pie, Phyllo wrapped Greek Spinach Pie, a roasted root vegetable spin on Shepard’s Pie and for dessert – why Southern fried pies, of course!  Cost is $75 per person.

For reservations email Heidi here.

cooking class for Samantha Foreman - March 2011 010Tues. Evening Mar 21 – 6:30-9 pm – Food and Wine from the Land of Down Under – To start the Spring season, a class full of traditional Aussie favorites. Each dish will be paired with one of a line up of great wines from either Australia or New Zealand.  Combined, the menu makes a fun dinner for four and will include: Balmain Bugs ( read that as lobster and shrimp) in Pawpaw (that’s Aussie for papaya) and Mango sauce, Macadamia nut crusted  lamb and roasted leeks, Damper – the traditional bread of Australia, and a cream and fruit filled meringue – Kiwi Pavlova – for dessert. Why we might even throw in some Lamingtons – (chocolate and coconut laced bar cookies) for everyone to enjoy and take home. Cost is $75 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.
Sat Afternoon Mar 18 – 2-5 pm  – Bread Baking 101Nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the kitchen and nothing more fun than cutting into a warm loaf and serving up slices slathered with butter or cheese, oh my! This class covers all the basics for baking yeast breads and rolls with recipes for a  three-cheese loaf,  an egg-based challah, a sweet swirled poppy seed loaf and a class Baguette recipe that doubles as a delicious pizza crust as well.   Cost is $70 per person. For reservations email Heidi here.

video graphicAnd now a cooking video bonus and a special offer from the Olive Crate in Waxhaw!

My  blog post last week featured North Carolina Beef-centric recipes with the spotlight for me on Proffitt Cattle Company in Kings Mountain and their delicious and good-for-you-too certified organic grass fed beef. In the post itself are links to several other blog post by North Carolina bloggers featuring additional beef recipes and the stories of North Carolina Cattle ranches. be sure to check them all out!
I was fortunate to have a cooking segment booked on WBTV’s Morning Break  the morning the beef article posted and used the air time to share my recipe for the Beef Pot Roast recipe I shared in the post. This was originally my mother’s recipe for Brisket, but I amped it up a bit, added some North Carolina flavor ( ie: tomato chutney instead of chili sauce and the wonderful addition of cocoa nibs) and viola!
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ICYMI ( That’s abbreviated speak for In Case You Missed It) here is the link to the video, and if you’ve an interest in the wonderful Kores Estate Bottled Extra Virgin Greek Olive Oil I used to start the recipe, you can order it directly from the Olive Crate Website. Check out their Certified Organic Greek vinegars as well – Use the code HeidiB20 when you place your order and you’ll enjoy a 20% discount on your purchase. Cheers!  

Proffitt Cattle Company: GotToBeNC Organic Grass Fed Beef

Agriculture is by far the largest industry in the state of North Carolina. And when I say agriculture, I’m not just talking produce, but proteins as well. I am pleased to have been asked by the NC Department of Agriculture to write this  post  in conjunction with a team of food bloggers from across the state, each writing about a different North Carolina cattle ranch with the purpose of promote the awareness and availability of all types of North Carolina raised and locally sold beef.. After you’ve read my post and recipes that follow, look for more great  beef recipes and info about several other North Carolina  cattle ranches, by clicking on the  links to all of the other participating blogs are at the end of this post.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has in part sponsored this post; but the opinions, recipes and choice of  local cattle ranch to feature in the post are my own.

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There was a time when it was all but unheard  of for a consumer to think about buying any sort of meat at a farmers market, but happily those times have changed. At nearly every regional and local farmers’ market large and small, consumers can find pasture raised poultry, pork and grass-fed beef.

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Proffitt’s Shelley Eagan with the herd

I first met family rancher Shelley Eagan of Proffitt Cattle Company at the Charlotte Regional  Farmers’ Market on Yorkmont Road. She was at a table all by her lonesome with a big white cooler, representing her family farm in Kings Mountain and selling what she thought to be some of the best beef available in the area. Turns out lots of other people, including this food writer, agreed and as one thing led to another and it wasn’t before long that I started featuring the Proffitt certified organic grass fed beef in my cooking classes. Wasn’t long before other people started to discover the fine quality and wonderful taste of the Proffitt beef as well. Shelley went from one cooler, to five or six and a line waiting for her early each Saturday morning.

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Heidi Billotto in action, teaching one of her “On the Farm” series of cooking classes at Proffitt Cattle Company

The ranch sold certified organic beef at the regional market and at their farm store for several years, but today all of the Proffitt’s beef is sold exclusively in Charlotte to Whole Foods  and is available in the meat case at the chains’ SouthPark location.

A whole cow’s worth of fresh primal cuts of beef are delivered to the stores on Friday mornings and the butchers at Whole Foods, cut product as is needed. Trimmings and a nice mix of healthy fat to lean hit the grinder  very four hours to insure the very best quality of ground beef. Needless to say, The Proffitt Cattle Company beef continues to enjoy immense popularity in and around the Charlotte area – the quality and the taste, just can’t be beat.

As the years have passed more and more people who care about what they eat and what they are feeding their families, have turned to buying grass fed beef, as they do chicken, pork, rabbit and lamb from local farmers and ranchers – for the very same reason people buy locally raised produce. Its good to know the person who stands behind the food we eat and even better to know where your food came from and how it was raised. As a consumer, I try to buy as much local product as I can, not only is it the healthier choice, I consider supporting a local farmers to be the better choice for our local economy as well.

You are what you eat

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Grazing on the high grass and loving every delicious bite!

Grass Fed beef is better for all of us – people and cattle alike. To eat grass without additional supplements or additives is just the natural course of things for the herd. But it is important to point out that the terms “grass fed” and certified “organic” are not synonymous.

For me, the certified organic label on the Proffitt Cattle Company beef is the icing on the cake. Not just because, like all grass fed beef it is lean and contains a high percentage of  fats that are good for us such as those much sought after Omega 3’s; and not just because grass fed beef is also a source for tons of beneficial antioxidant vitamins and minerals.  That it is certified organic means that the herd at Proffitt Cattle Company was raised without any antibiotics or growth hormones. Everything used on the ranch is organic, GMO free and totally untreated.

Shelley explains it, “Our animals don’t get sick, so there is no need for any sort of preventative antibiotics. Cows get sick when they are stressed.  One way they get stressed is by being confined.  Our animals are never confined and they rarely get sick.  If one should become ill we remove them from the herd and treat them to keep them healthy. If that means they must receive antibiotics, we do so and they are no longer a part of our program.  They are never ever fed antibiotics like  commercial feedlot cows.”

The Grass is always Greener 

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Baling Hay at Proffitt Cattle Company

So you’ think that cattle ranching was all about cattle, but turns out it isn’t just about raising cattle, its also about growing grass. If you were to decided to go into ranching as was the case with Shelley’s dad Steve Proffitt back in the year 2000. You might think about the cattle, about horses and about how much land you would need. But you probably wouldn’t have realized that a big part of your time each season would go into  growing grass and making hay. Its a big part of the job and this year, for ranchers across the state, it has been a job that has been more difficult than ever. With devastating flooding in Eastern North Carolina and drought conditions for the fourth quarter in Mid and Western North Carolina, raising grass fed beef has had its challenges.

At Proffitt  the herd of 200 or so head of cattle is raised on a rotation at four different certified organic properties  – 2 pastures in King’s Mountain, one in Shelby and one just over the state line in Blacksburg, SC. Not only is the herd moved from pasture to pasture as they grow; but as the cattle mature, the pastures are divided into sections so the grass fed herd, only grazes one section at a time. As they eat, they also naturally fertilize that part of the pasture so that new grass will grow. When the herd has munched the current pasture down to the ground, they are gently moved onto the next section – like an never ending salad bar. Then as the grass grows, they circle back to graze the first section again. Generally when weather is good, it all goes pretty smoothly and  the farm looks to the fall and spring grass growing seasons to make hay for the winter months.

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Brian Eagan unrolling a bale of hay

Hay is just the pasture grass that is cut then allowed allowed to dry.  The certified organic grass  grows tall and then is cut.  Timing is critical here. If the hay is on the ground for too long, it will begin to loose its nutrients, something a grass fed cattle rancher can’t afford to have happen. At Proffitt they have the flexibility to set aside a couple of pastures  in the fall solely dedicated to hay production. When the hay is dried to just the right state, the family comes in with big balers to roll the hay into huge round bales which are reserved for feeding the herd through January and February when the grass naturally doesn’t grow as fast. The happy herd at Proffitt Cattle Company is 100% grass fed so the winter hay is an important park of the organic diet plan. This  year, due to the drought, the Proffitts will have to purchase certified organic hay to supplement what they were able to make on their own. Hopefully sunny skies and moderate rain this winter and early spring will put Mother Nature’s normal grass growing cycle back on track.

Let’s Get Cooking

Once you try the beef at Proffitt Cattle Company, I dare say you will have a tough time going back. Over the years, I have prepared lots of cuts from Proffitt’s London Broil to meatballs, from short ribs to chili. Today I share three of my favorite recipes featuring Proffitt Cattle Company certified organic beef. As the beef is organic it is important to me that the other ingredients in the recipe are too – so shop for locally raised or organic vegetables, herbs and canned product as you prepare to cook – after all your finished dish is only as good as the ingredients that go into it..

Which brings me to olive oil.  Often beef recipes call for a roast or steak to be seared. As grassfed beef is lower in fat, recipes often call for the addition of an oil or other animal fat. I have recently discovered what I consider to be one of the best olive oils on the market and I wanted to share it with you here. It is important to note that the Olive Crate in Charlotte is also a sponsor of this post, but this is a brand I believe in and use regularly, so I am happy to welcome them has a partner in this post.

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Kores Estate Bottled Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Olive Crate

This unblended single variety estate grown extra virgin Greek olive oil  is locally distributed by the Kostouris  family in Waxhaw, NC.  Their company is  Olive Crate and this wonderful organic  late harvest extra virgin, eco-sustainable Kores Olive oil comes from Greek Manaki olives grown by their family in Greece. The oil as well as a selection of vinegars can be found at the Saturday morning Waxhaw Farmers’ Market and the Atherton Farmers’ market in Charlotte as well as at the charming little farm store at Grace Roots Farm on Providence Road, less than a mile from the Waxhaw market location. The flavor of this Greek oil is superb – do check them out – just #TellThemHeidiSentYou

I used the Kores olive oil in each of the recipes below. Here is a great little tip to add flavor to any recipe where you brown beef, particularly before a braise. Instead of using butter, bacon fat or canola oil to sear your beef or saute the veggies; use the Kores oil along with several sprigs of fresh rosemary at the start of the dish. Gently warm the oil and the rosemary together and you’ll be adding a ton of flavor and keeping it  healthy with all the fabulous polyphenols  only a current harvest estate olive oil can offer.

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

Want to try this wonderful Kores estate bottled extra virgin olive oil for yourself? Make your first purchase online using the code HEIDIB20 at the Olive Crate website and you will save 20%!

GotToBeNC Proffitt Family Farms Grass Fed  Organic Beef Pot Roast

img_81241 ( 2-3 lb) GotToBeNC Proffitt Family Farms grass-fed, organic chuck roast

Coarse grain sea salt and Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend to taste – a ground mix of black lampong, pink reunion and  black malabar peppercorns ( available at the Savory Spice Shop)

2 Tbsp. Kores Estate Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Olive Crate in Waxhaw

2 springs fresh rosemary

3 organic onions, peeled and thin sliced

2 stalks organic celery with the leaves, chopped

1 (10-ounce) can organic whole or diced tomatoes

½ cup tomato chutney or chili sauce

2 cups full bodied red wine

¼ cup Cocoa Nibs ( My secret ingredient here – available in Charlotte at the Savory Spice Shop or the new Vin Master Wine Shop ( formally Queen City Pantry)

2-3 bay leaf

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 sprig rosemary

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2-3 organic yellow potatoes, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Sprinkle the sea salt and Heidi’s hot pepper blend to taste over the Proffitt Family Farms Chuck Roast. Heat the Olive Crate’s Kores Estate Greek extra virgin olive oil with 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary over low heat in the bottom of an oven to table casserole. There is no need to brown the roast first, but for added flavor,  add the sliced onions and celery in the warm Kores olive oil and toss until well coated..

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the seasoned roast over the onions and celery. Top roast with the tomatoes, red wine, tomato chutney or chili sauce, cocoa nibs, celery, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and parsley.

Cover and bake in the oven for about 3 hours, basting often with the pan juices; and turning the roast over in the pan of juices and vegetables about half way during the cooking time.

Add the potatoes ( and carrots if your would like) and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes more, or until the potatoes are cooked.

Remove the roast from the pan of veggies and pan juices. Slice the meat against the grain ( that is the muscle line of the roast) and cut into slices. Place the slices back into the casserole dish, basting with the pan juices and keep warm until ready to serve.

img_8128Braised Proffitt Cattle Company Short Ribs

2-3 Tbsp. Kores Estate Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Olive Crate in Waxhaw

3 lbs. boneless or bone in Proffitt Cattle Company Short Ribs

Sea Salt & Heidi’s Hot Pepper blend to taste

Flour

2 organic onion, minced

2-3 whole organic carrot, minced

1-2 Parsnips. Minced

2-3 stalks of organic celery, minced

3 cloves Garlic, crushed

2 cans whole organic tomatoes, crushed

2 Tbsp. Savory Spice Shop Tomato Powder or organic Tomato Paste

8 oz Dark Beer or Red wine

2-3 cups Beef Stock

3-4 sprigs mixed oregano, thyme and bay leaf

Heat the Kores estate olive oil in a deep cast iron skillet over medium high heat.

Season the short ribs with the salt & pepper and dust with the flour.   Sear the ribs on all sides in the heated oil, then remove them from the pan.

In the same pan, saute the onion, carrot, parsnips, celery and garlic.    Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir to blend. Cook until heated and then add the beer or wine.

Return the beef to the pan, adding enough stock to nearly cover. Bring to a boil; Cover the pan and allow over a medium heat for about an hour or so.

OR,  Place in the preheated oven covered and cook for two hours.

To serve: Place the ribs on a deep platter.   Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce and serve over mashed potatoes or grits

Now we’ve talked a  lot about healthy in this blog post, but I’m not going to lie to you here – this next recipe is a bit higher in fat. Don’t compromise. Treat yourself,  and for the best flavor and texture here, use the heavy cream. Go for an organic brand, or a local product if you can find it. I like using Homeland Dairy’s heavy cream available for sale at the new Vin Master wine Shop at Atherton Mill in Charlotte’s Southend neighborhood. Serve a wedge of the tart with a crispy green salad dressed with the Olive Crate’s Kores Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil and any one of their flavorful  balsamic vinegars.

img_8165PARMESAN, CARMELIZED ONION and PROFFITT CATTLE COMPANY GROUND BEEF TART

refrigerated dough for one pie crusts – I like the organic  Immaculate Baking brand

For filling:

1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 Tbsp.Kores Estate Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Olive Crate in Waxhaw

1-2 cups caramelized onions

½ lb. local Proffitt Farms ground beef, browned

1 local  or pasture raised organic egg

1 local or pasture raised organic egg yolk

img_8148Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a circle just an inch or two larger than a 9-12 inch French tart pan. Fit dough and pan and trim as shown in class. Press dough into pan. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

For the filling:

Warm cream over medium heat and stir in grated cheese, stirring until smooth.

In another bowl, whisk together whole egg, yolk, and salt and pepper in a bowl until combined. Add cream mix; whisk until smooth.

Scatter caramelized onions and ground beef evenly in tart shell and pour custard over. Bake in a 350 preheated oven until custard is just set and golden in patches, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack at least 20 minutes. Freeze if you would like. Cut into wedges to serve.

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Like what you’ve read? I was pleased to prepare the pot roast recipe in this post on the morning Jan 20 at 9 am on Charlotte’s own WBTV’s Morning Break with hosts Kristen Miranda, Chris Larson and Coach LeMonte Odums. In Case You Missed it – LeMonte is a big beef lover and he absolutely fell in love with the Proffitt Cattle Company Pot Roast recipe. Just click on the pink television on the left to see the segment!

Meanwhile, do check out the NC Beef posts from a number of other bloggers across the state. Its GotToBeNC Grass fed beef for sure and you’ll love reading about these wonderful NC cattle ranches and trying out these scrumptious recipes.

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Part of the happy grass fed certified organic herd at Proffitt Cattle Company in Kings Mountain NC

Got To Be NC Beef Farm Tours

And What To Make with Your NC Beef

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I am delighted to partner with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services in Raleigh and the Olive Crate in Waxhaw NC to make this blog post possible. Thanks to to Steve and Diane Proffitt and Shelley and Brian Eagan of Proffitt Cattle Company for all of their help in making this post possible.   #BrandsIBelieveIn    #DelightedToShareTheStory

Charlotte NC Chefs head to James Beard House in NYC

james-beard-dinnersCharlotte, North Carolina chefs continue to take the James Beard house in NYC by storm and 2017 kicks off with several big dinners featuring Queen City-based culinary talent. Last night it was my pleasure to be a guest at a practice run of a collaboration dinner between 2 of Charlotte’s finest, Chefs Luca Annunziata of Passion 8 on Elizabeth Avenue and Chef Sylvain Rivet of Renaissance Patisserie on South Blvd.

While I love seeing and tasting what chefs do in their restaurants on a regular basis, it is always nice to take advantage and attend special dinners like this to see what happens when chefs think outside the box. I particularly enjoy collaborative dinners  – there are lots on the calendar in Charlotte. I suggest you take advantage and make reservations as you see them pop up!  It is always a fun and unique experience every time.  No matter the chefs involved, their culinary talents challenge each other and play off of one another to truly bring it to the table.

 

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From left, The Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert; The Baker, chef Sylvain Rivet; and The Chef, chef Luca Annunziata

The Charlotte chef and the pastry chef were joined in the kitchen last evening as they will be next week in NYC by Baltimore based Master Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert of the Four Seasons Hotel.

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Chef Philippe Haddad

Rounding out the culinary team in New York will also be Atlanta-based chef Philippe Haddad of the Cape Dutch Restaurant in Atlanta. Haddad was unable to attend the dinner in Charlotte last night, but his contributions will only add to the excitement in New York. Also lending a helping hand at the New York event ,the Carolina’s own chef Joe Bonaparte of the Myrtle Beach Culinary Arts Institute.

 So, a butcher, a baker, and a chef  (or two) walk into the Beard House kitchen—but as was experienced by a supportive and happy crowd last night, this dinner is no joke.  In New York, these culinary compatriots will demonstrate the exceptional art of whole-animal butchery in a collaborative French–Italian feast celebrating their combined heritages and crafts.

The  trial run, if you will, evening in Charlotte started with a round of passed hors d’oeuvres – creamy chicken liver pate profiteroles with berry coulis, savory beef short ribs, skewered a la plancha, spherical chicken croquettes in bamboo boats and crispy dirty rice arancini with tomato jam.

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And for me, a “HoneyBunny” and orange/vodka/honey infused craft cocktail from the Passion 8 bar.

An assortment of fresh baked rolls hit as soon as we  were seated – nothing better to me than a course of delicious bread and butter and I was glad it arrived first with time to enjoy.

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Dinner  officially started with a beautiful plate of dinner co-sponsor Springer Mountain Farms Chicken in a duo of savory bites: a tender and delicious chicken porchetta with fennel salad, extra virgin olive oil powder, and  a drizzle of vincotto; paired with a melt-in-your-mouth braised chicken scarpariello topped with shishito peppers and  house-made pork sausage – things were off to a fabulous start….

 

img_8386Next course, a charcuterie platter of sorts – duck three ways or in French, Canard Trois Facons.  On the plate, a “Yes, please I believe I will”  foie gras torchon with onion jam;  a scrumptious duck confit with apple–frisée salad; and sliced duck prosciutto with a small round of made-in-house burrata and a crisp toasted slice of fresh baked pan de mie.

 

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With such a wonderful Italian chef on the team it stood to reason there would be a pasta course. This night the small plate of tiny but tender gnocchetti verdi  ( small green gnocchi) were tossed into a tomato-y rich lamb ragù. The crunch of fried Rappahannock oysters, added texture and a thin slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano served as the perfect slightly salty finish.

 

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All of this led to the beef course where the French butcher showed his chops. So tender and perfectly grilled grass fed beef tournedos, cut from the tenderloin of beef served atop a celery root puree, garnished with  with brussels sprout leaves, and finished with a grilled half of Charlotte’s own Urban Gourmet Farms king trumpet mushrooms, and au jus – perfect!

And then there was dessert – two courses of dessert, in fact, and a take home box as well – gotta love having a French pastry chef on the team!

img_8396For me the blood orange crème brûlée echoed the cocktail I had enjoyed at the start of the evening. It was sweet but not too sweet and creamy enough to provide the perfect finish after the course of rich savory beef. The surprise here was the accompanying tuille – made  with crispy almonds and believe it or not, bacon fat..,

 

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img_8406Then, for the table (and as this photo shows, the chefs to share) a  secondary dessert course of  three types of wonderful petits fours:  miniature chocolate brownie bomb; popcorn macaroons; and petit Grand Marnier–vanilla puffs – Yes!  And as a take-home for  the-day-after-dinner breakfast ( or to eat in the car on the drive back home) a chocolate truffle and two sweet bite-sized cakes. what a fabulous finish!

 

And then this happened….Big News from Passion 8

jessicaandlucaTalk last night after dinner was not just about the Beard House ,but of some big changes to come to Passion 8 as well. In February, look for the husband and wife team of Luca and Jessica Annunziata to take their passion for all things Italian to a whole new level. Passion 8 will be changing names and styles and while Jessica and Luca will remain at the helm and the Elizabeth Avenue location will remain the same, the new restaurant name and concept will be LUCA, Modern Italian Kitchen. This talented couple will still offer a menu that is locally inspired with a focus on Farm-to-fork product, but recipes and menu features will all hail from Chef Luca’s Italian heritage.  I am proud to say I was the first food writer to ever write about Passion 8, when the restaurant was located on HWY 51 in Ft Mill and I’ve kept you up to date on everything this talented couple has done since – stay tuned… I can’t wait to tell you about it all as the new menu is revealed and name changes occurs, so that you can make your reservations at LUCA soon and, in the process, #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Want to go to the Beard House or at least see it for yourself?

img_8414The  dinner last night, billed as practice round, gave the guests an opportunity to give feed back, so that the team of chefs can tweak as needed before the big dance in New York.  Its no small production – Luca will load up all the local product and drive to Baltimore two days before the dinner. He and Marc will prep in Baltimore the day before then drive to New York for a day of cooking in the infamous Beard House kitchen the day of the dinner. Thanks to the magic of digital technology, you can follow each of the chefs involved on their individual social media streams and the night of the dinner, Friday January 27, you can stream the action from the kitchen live via the James Beard Kitchen Cam – check it out on the Beard House website 

If you’ve a mind to go, see, taste and enjoy it all in person, tickets for the Butcher, Baker & Chef dinner in NYC are still available – make your reservations here.  

charles-grill-678x1024Mark your calendars as more Charlotte-based chefs participate in upcoming Beard House dinners as well.  Chef Charles Semail of Chef Charles Catering in Charlotte will also cook at the James Beard House the end of this week, in fact,  at a separate dinner with a team of five other chefs. Chef Charles dinner will focus on The Art of Charcuterie. The dinner in New York is on Jan 20. If you can’t get to NYC for the dinner Chef Charles is participating in, then head to the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market on Saturday to buy and for a taste what Chef Charles Catering does so well.

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Then, save the date in February as Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte, Charleston and Atlanta (and Top Chef fame) present a “Take Me To Church” dinner on Feb 5, 2017.  

 

 

heidi head shot 1 -Heidi Cooks | Heidi Writes | Heidi Teaches

If this post about some of our fabulous Charlotte-based chefs inspired you – I want to know where you are eating and what you are cooking. Remember  Charlotte, Queen’s Feast: Charlotte Restaurant Week  kicks off on Friday Jan 20 – where are you going to eat?

Post  your photos and then tag me on your social media posts – @HeidiBillotto and @HeidiBillottoCooks on Facebook; @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram   Food is always so much better when you share it with friends!

Consider me your go-to-gal for info on chefs, restaurants, recipes, cooking tips, trends and food-centric travel.

I invite you to join me in all my culinary adventures, by signing up to follow this blog. You’ll get my recipes, reviews and articles as soon as they  post, directly to your in-box.

Almost here, Stay Tuned…my list of Jan, Feb and March 2017 hands-on cooking classes posts on Monday January 22, 2017 – can’t  wait!

The Sugar (& Cinnamon) To Sprinkle on Your Snow Day

make-it-a-cinnamon-rollDateline: January 6 2017 , Charlotte NC.

So they say its going to snow. That’s #SnOMG or #Snomageddon for those of you anxious to share the excitement on social media!

Although I’ve been Charlotte-based since 1975, I’m still enough of a Florida-raised girl that, for me, the words, “Snow Day” run synonymous with the term “Free Day”

Snow in Charlotte, and often the accompanying ice, cause a run on the bread and milk aisles in local groceries and a bit of a local panic. Truth is, in 2-3 days its usually all melted and gone. So, while the “free” time does provide an unexpected opportunity to take a deep breath and to catch up on cleaning and paperwork, I’d prefer to  look at it through adolescent rose-colored glasses and take is as a day off to play, make footprints in the snow,  drink hot chocolate and in the case of today’s post make cinnamon rolls.

Snow or not, you’ll find this recipe makes for a fun morning of winter’s baking, filling your home with the sweet strong scent of cinnamon. Traditionally I make cinnamon rolls for all of our neighbors and local family and deliver the warm pans of rolls tied up with a holiday bow to those on the cul-de-sac on Christmas Morning. But, you don’t have to wait for the holidays to circle back round, cinnamon rolls are a fun treat for yourself and your friends any time of the year.

img_7817What you will need:  Keeping the recipe as local as I can, I now love using Carolina Farmhouse Dairy plain or vanilla organic yogurt in place of the sour cream that I originally called for in this recipe. This yogurt, made in Bahama NC just north of Durham, gives a creamier lighter taste to the finished rolls; and as its local and organic I know where the milk that turns to yogurt come from and makes me feel better about what I am feeding my family and friends.  Same goes for the local eggs. In this case I used chicken eggs from Rowland’s Row Farms, but local duck eggs work equally as well and add a richer taste and texture.

Where to buy? Both Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Yogurt and Rowland’s Row eggs are available at the all new Queen City Pantry/ Vin Masters at Atherton Mill!  That’s right, Vin Master is not just a wine shop any more. Recently purchased by Queen City Pantry’s Rochelle Baxter, Vin Master now carries all the local product that Queen City Pantry has been know for as well as a terrific variety of wine and beer. (Note to self: in light of the upcoming snow, might want to  pick up a couple of bottles of wine while shopping for yogurt and eggs)

As far as the remaining ingredients go, if I can’t find a locally raised or produced option, I turn toward organic choices whenever I can. In this case, the sugar I use in the recipe is organic, as is the butter; and the flour is local Southern Biscuit Flour,  brought to you by Renwood Mills in Newton NC. This trio of ingredients is available at almost every local grocer.

imgres-2My personal preference in yeast is SAF Red Instant Yeast. The Healthy Home Market  with three locations in Charlotte usually carries this yeast in 1 lb. bags – which, in my experience, will last till you use it all, if you keep it in a sealed container in your freezer. if you can’t find it locally you can order it from the fine folks  at King Arthur’s Flour.  

Here’s the How-To when using yeast in a recipe. Proof the yeast ( to make sure it is good) when you first open the vacuum sealed bag , by stirring the prescribed amount into water that is tepid. That is no hotter than 110 degrees F. You can use an instant-read thermometer if you’d like, but if you want to go by feel, tepid water  is not as cold as what you would pour for a glass to drink; but not as hot as what you would use to wash your face. Think room temperature.  Stir the yeast in and wait for a bit of foaming of bubbling action to occur on the water’s surface, once that happens you are good to go. Store the remaining yeast in an airtight container in the freezer and use it as needed. Further directions in the recipe below…

 

img_7831Now about the cinnamon. My go-to spot for spice is the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte. Run by Amy and Scott McCabe and an incredibly knowledgeable staff, Charlotte’s South Charlotte Savory Spice Shop now enjoys new digs at the Atherton Mill & Market. Located right around the corner from their former location, between O-Ku Restaurant and Big Ben’s, they’ll set you up for success, making it easy for you to keep fresh fragrant and flavorful spices in your pantry of spice drawer all year long.

No more buying big jars and then having them grow old and stale between recipes. It’s always good to keep basics on hand, but for specialty items, buy as is needed and know that you may purchase as much or as little as you’d like. While the Savory Spice Shop in Southend carries several varieties of ground cinnamon and cinnamon chips ( ooh, wouldn’t those be a great addition to these rolls!) my favorite cinnamon for sweet and spicy culinary endeavors alike is the piquant, rich ground Saigon Cassia Cinnamon. Before you cook, go in and taste all the varieties on the shelves ( this is one of the pleasures of shopping at Savory Spice,  you may taste before you buy) and find the one that works best for you.

So there you have it – all that’s left is the fun that’s to be had in the baking. I fill my cinnamon rolls with a mix of the organic white sugar, cinnamon and my homemade brown sugar ( the how-to here is in the recipe) Be generous as you sprinkle for extra ooey-goo-iness. If you’re feeling adventurous, mix it up a bit with the addition of chocolate, cinnamon or butterscotch chips,  or cocoa nibs ( Black Mountain Chocolate cocoa nibs from Winston-Salem, NC are also available at the new Vin Masters, as well!)

Heidi’s Homemade (SnowDay) Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup organic sour cream or (preferably) organic yogurt – Carolina Farmhouse Dairy is my Go-to brand

½ cup organic sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup melted butter

½ cup tepid water

2 Tbsp. SAF Red Instant yeast

2 local chicken or duck eggs

4 cups organic or local unbleached flour

For the cinnamon roll filling:

generous amounts of melted butter
, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar*

*Here’s the Brown Sugar How-To: Make your own brown sugar by using 2 1/2 cups of organic sugar and 1/4 cup of local NC Sorghum Syrup molasses ( Forget the commercial blackstrap molasses and go local here – it really makes a delicious difference! I love the sorghum syrup molasses from Harrell Hill Farms in Bakersville, NC and you will too; but any NC sorghum syrup works well) Blend the two ingredients together  by using quick on-off pulsing motions in a food processor until the sugar dissolves into the sorghum and viola! – Your own homemade brown sugar – yum!

 

img_7819For the dough: Dissolve yeast in warm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir and when a foam forms on the surface it is ready. If no foam appears within five minutes, then either your water was too hat or your yeast was old. Start again with cooler water and another package of yeast. 
Once the yeast starts to foam or proof, combine it with the other dough ingredients to form a soft but sticky dough.
 Let rise 1 hour. Turn out onto a floured worksurface. Knead until smooth then roll dough out into a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick.

For cinnamon rolls: generously spread the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugars and cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut the log of dough into 1 ½ inch thick slices. Place the slices in a buttered pan, cut side up. Drizzle with additional melted butter. 
Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

img_7806Heidi Cooks | Heidi Writes | Heidi Teaches

I can’t wait to see and hear how your cinnamon rolls bake up!  Post photos and then tag me on your social media posts – @HeidiBillotto and @HeidiBillottoCooks on Facebook; @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram

Consider me your go-to-gal for info on chefs, restaurants, recipes, cooking tips, trends and food-centric travel.

I invite you to join me in all my culinary adventures, by signing up to follow this blog. You’ll get my recipes, reviews and articles as soon as they  post, directly to your in-box.

Stay tuned…my list of Jan, Feb and March 2017 hands-on cooking classes posts this weekend – can’t  wait!

On Your Charlotte Restaurant Radar: 5 Asian Restaurants you must not miss!

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Plating and setting up the line up of Asian Flavors featured in my December Restaurant Round up for Charlotte Today

After all the holiday trimmings, visions of sugarplums, Hanukkah candles and potato latkes have come and gone this holiday season, lets take a break and head out to enjoy some of Charlotte’s delicious Asian cuisine.

There was a time, not so many years ago when all the Charlotte  Asian offerings were Chinese-American options, but times have changed and as our community has grown, our Asian food alternatives have as well.  No matter the country of origin, Asian food is all about flavor and with so many excellent choices, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share  five of our favorites. It gives me even greater pleasure to say that these spots are all family owned, local business. All but one are family friendly  and all provide dine in and take out options, too.

In my December Restaurant Roundup segment on the WCNC Charlotte Today program I shared all five of these restaurants as well and talked about three different dishes from each of them. In case you missed it, here is the video segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson. Take a look, then scroll down for more photos and all the delicious details.

Thai Orchid Restaurant

In classic Thai recipes the flavors of sweet, sour, salty and hot are featured in each dish. The team at Thai Orchid has been serving up delicious plates of classic Thai Cuisine for years, in fact, in 2005 this restaurant was on my Top Ten List.  It has recently come back on my restaurant radar and I am delighted to report that things are better than ever! Open for lunch and dinner.  Pictured below – from right, Classic Pad Thai; The Mee Krob, a Thai lettuce wrap, to start; and finally my new Thai Orchid Favorite: Pad See Ew – each finished with a beautiful edible purple orchid!

Thai Orchid, 4223 Providence Road, In the Strawberry Hills Shopping Center, 704-364-1144. Eat In, take and out and delivery, too! Holiday hours:Closed for Christmas weekend Dec 24-26 – open again regular hours Dec 27.

Doan’s Vietnamese

What I love about Vietnamese food is the light fresh  flavors. Some hot and spicy, some sweet or sour -all of it delicious. Hands down my favorite Vietnamese dish is Pho, the big bowl of noodle soup with fresh herbs, veggies and often beef or tofu. Time for true confessions here. The television segment that paired with this post, aired on Wednesday, and so usually I drive around the night before picking up all the food I will showcase. With all the holiday hubbub, I forgot that Doan’s Restaurant, one of my favorite Vietnamese places is closed on Tuesdays, so for the show for these photos we have my interpretation of the Make-your-own Spring Roll Plate at Doan’s. Fresh cilantro, mint and basil with rice noodles, lettuce, sprouts and your choice of protein ( we love it with tofu). Dip the crisp Vietnamese rice papers in water and they take on the texture of a soft noodle,  so you can wrap all the fresh flavors up inside. Other not to be missed dishes at Doan’s – the Vietnamese Pancake, the hot pots and the fried crispy quail. For more, do check out the article I wrote about Bone Broths and the fabulous Pho at Doan’s in the spring 2016 issue of Charlotte Living Magazine 

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All the makings for the spring rolls at Doan’s come to your table on a large platter and then you have the fun of rolling your own!

Doan’s Restaurant,5937 South Blvd near the corner at Archdale, 704-733-9077. Eat in and take out

88 China Bistro

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88 China Bistro’s Kim Lam poses with the first article I wrote about this wonderful spot for Chinese Cuisine back in 2005. I am proud to be framed and on the wall!

I first wrote about  88 China Bistro in 2005 when I had the great pleasure to meet owners Kim and Chung Lam. Prior to opening their own place, Chung was the chef at Baoding in Charlotte’s SouthPark neighborhood and Kim worked the front of the house at Wan Fu just off of Hwy 51 near Pineville. Both restaurants were then owned by Robert Lee, a front runner in Charlotte’s restaurant community. In 2005 the Lam’s opened their own place on 4th street near uptown and have been going strong since. Look for the classics here with the traditional  slightly thicker Chinese sauces than you will find in most Asian cuisines

For the television segment we showcased three of 88 China Bistro’s most popular offerings: Pineapple Chicken, beautifully presented in a carved half pineapple; Salt and Pepper shrimp with stir fried veggies and Singapore Noodles with shrimp and chicken. The Singapore noodles are a thin vermicelli seasoned but essentially served unsauced – all three delicious ways to enjoy what 88 China Bistro has to offer.

China 88 Bistro, 1620 E 4th Street ,704-335-0288. Open regular hours through the holiday weekend. Eat in and take out. Private dining room as well!

Baku Restaurant

Used to be, when I wrote for a weekly publication, I published a Top Ten list of restaurants I had enjoyed over the year during the week between Christmas and New Year. Now, I find there are just too many great restaurants in Charlotte and surrounds to narrow it down to a list of ten. That said, if I was going to pick a restaurant of the year this year, it just might have to be the next spot on the list for this roundup:  Baku.

Interestingly I might not have said that two months ago. Recently Baku was purchased by Birdie and Janine Yang, also owners of Yama in the Southpark area and Yama Izakaya in PlazaMidwood.  Birdie talks the talk and walks the walk and has, seemingly overnight, taken Baku up a huge notch.

img_7682Now, with much more of a focus on traditional  high end Japanese cuisine, the food at Baku is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. Look for Waygu Beef, specially ordered seafood offerings, as well as a host of excellent sushi. There are Robata bar specialties grilled over imported Japanese wood charcoal and without a doubt the best and most inclusive list of high-end Japanese  Sake in town, maybe in the state.

If there is something you want, Birdie Yang is determined to make it happen! Plan to enjoy tasting dinners, wine and sake specials and more. The bar is still upstairs and with the new year, there is still a focus on spectacular sushi, but Birdie is transforming the sushi bar downstairs to serve sushi and Omakase, a chef’s choice of traditional small plates as well.

For the televised segment and this blog post, just a taste of all that is happening at Baku – classic Kamameshi pots -sweet Japanese rice cooked to order and topped with a variety of proteins – here we have a rosette of salmon and Ikura or salmon roe; two fabulous sushi rolls, one a spicy tuna with yuzu cream and tobiko; and the other King salmon, bruleed with a torch just before serving; and a starter of Alaskan King crab, charred over the coals at the Robata bar then cracked, bathed in butter, sprinkled with black sesame seeds and served. My oh my!

Baku , 4515 Sharon Road, 704- 817-7173. Open for dinner only;  you’ll see me for sure at the Tuesday night sake flights – $10 gets you an unstructured tasting of three incredible sakes and a special pricing should you wish to by a bottle of your favorite

The Korean Restaurant

Finally our Asian restaurant travels across the city of Charlotte takes us to Korea. Charlotte is  still building a series of good traditional Korea restaurants in the city, but with time they will come. Meanwhile you should check out The Korean Restaurant in the Super G Mart in Independence Blvd. The Korean Restaurant is the anchor tenant is a food court of sorts in the back corner of Super G. Korean flavors center in tastes that are hot, salty and fermented and dishes are rustic, and I say that in the very best home-style cooking, sense of the word.

I am relatively new to Korean Cuisine and so I just keep going back and tasting different dishes and am sharing two of my favorites here: the classic Bibimbap ( as much fun to say as it is to eat!) Served with or without meat, in a platter to go, or in a hot pot on site. This is  rice, served with sautéed and seasoned veggies, chili pepper and fermented soy bean paste all topped with a fried egg. Stir it up before you eat to get a taste of all the flavors in one bite.

I also enjoyed the simply but delicious Galbi ( pronounced Ka-bee) that is short ribs seasoned, seared and served over rice. To round out each plate, enjoy any version of The Korean Restaurant’s Kim Chi a spice fermented vegetable served as a condiment with almost every dish – here I showed the fermented baby bok choy – hot, spicy and delish!

The Korean Restaurant in the Super G Mart , 7323 E. Independence Blvd.  Open Christmas Eve till 6 pm, Closed Christmas Day and Dec 26. for the New Year Holiday The Korean Restaurant is Closed at 6 on New Years’ Eve and closed Jan 1 and 2. 

heidi-billotto-2017-headshot#IllHaveWhatHeidisHaving   If you love hearing about all the Charlotte restaurant scene in general and other great spots across the Carolinas that really should be on your dining out radar, stay tuned, because there is a lot more to come in 2017. Three day weekend jaunts, recipes, great ways to Eat Local and more, all on the docket as well.

Why not subscribe to this blog and  be among the first to be in the know as each and every post comes straight to your in-box just as soon as I finish writing it. Subscribing is easy, just follow the prompts on the home page. Then you can join with all the food-centric folk who can say, #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Easy to Eat Local: Open a Package, Jar, Bottle or Box

you-cant-buy-happiness-but-you-can-eat-local-and-thats-kind-of-the-same-thingIf you follow me on social media, this blog or have watched me cooking on television or have come to any of my cooking classes, then you know I am a big supporter or eating and shopping local. “Local” can mean many things, from supporting local farmers, ranchers, and fisherman at area markets to buying from local independently owned shops. Today I’m tossing a whole new spin in on things.

Did you know you can shop local at many North Carolina big box grocery stores as well as the smaller independent chains? I recently went on a search for local product available at some of the larger area chains and you will be amazed at the North Carolina goodness I found. I shared my resources with viewers of the Charlotte NBS midday show “Charlotte Today” a couple of weeks ago, so today I share  the recap and details of that video and LOTS of recipes.

In case you missed it, here is the video segment with Charlotte Today, original air date Dec 5, 2016.

 

And here are all the where-to-find  details plus photos and below the listings,  recipes of what do to with each of these fabulous North Carolina made products after you open the package, jar, bottle or box.

Parla Pasta

Drake’s Fresh Pasta Co.
High Point, NC 27262

img_7234Simone and Rick Drake, owners of Drake’s Pasta in High Point, North Carolina and their team of pasta makers have been making fresh pasta for 30 years and Parla is their relatively new retail line. Boxed and frozen, you may select from an assortment of ravioli, manicotti and tortellini direct from your grocer’s freezer case to your table.  Rick and Simone started this local business with a small hand-cranked pasta machine. Now they have big automated pasta machines that churn out thousands of stuffed pastas in just minutes. The pasta is flash frozen, boxed and delivered to your local grocer. This delicious stuffed pasta is made from extremely high quality ingredients from the dough to the filling, just like you would make it from scratch at home, but now, thanks to the pasta makers at Parla, you don’t have to. When you open a box of Parla, in the time the pasta boils to perfection, you can create  a quick sauce or pesto ( or buy a jar of a local sauce) to toss with the stuffed noodles and enjoy in just minutes. We love the cheese tortellini in Pasta e Fagioli – a great cold weather soup to keep on the stove and enjoy for lunch or dinner.  Parla Pastas are available in the freezer case at area Harris Teeters, Lowes, Publix and Fresh Markets. For more info visit ParlaPasta.com

Renwood Mills

Locally sourced flour and cornmeal since 1935

img_7071While the name Renwood Mills, may not ring a bell, the names of Renwood’s popular brands will. These are the makers of Southern Biscuit Flour, Tenda Bake Pancake mixes and Tenda Bake cornmeal mixes all coming to you from Newton, North Carolina. One of the wonderful things about this local mill is that they source local North Carolina wheat to mill for their products just as they have done since the company’s beginnings! You can read more about the Tenda-Bake Pancake mixes here in a blog post I did several months ago. I make it a point to keep a package or two on hand in my pantry. My new Renwood love now though, is Renwood Mills/Southern Biscuit Flour  “Formula L”.  This is biscuit mix blend perfect for making easy high rising biscuits, sausage cheese biscuit balls and more – just add milk and let this local mix do the rest. Keep a supply in stock for all of your baking needs – Southern Biscuit Flour comes in all purpose and self-rising varieties. For more information visit RenwoodMills.com

Carolina Farmhouse Dairy

Organic Cream Top Yogurt and Kefir

Bahama, NC

img_7130North Carolina is a big dairy state and I am thrilled to introduce you, my readers to Cindy Hamrick and her family, owners of Carolina Farmhouse Dairy – the first Yogurt Dairy of its kind. Located just outside of Durham North Carolina, they are doing it right – its just like cream top milk, but this is cream top yogurt as yogurt was meant to be. Its all organic and I am in love with the yogurt and kefir this dairy produces. The yogurt comes in plain and vanilla and a variety of fruity flavors like coconut, strawberry and blueberry.  The Kefir, a yogurt based drink, also comes in flavors from their Golden Milk variety packed full of good-for-you-and-your-joints ingredients such as organic turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and coconut milk as well as fruit flavors like Blueberry and Strawberry kefir and plain kefir – perfect as an healthier option as an ingredient in cream based salad dressings like the Green Goddess dressing below.  Enjoy the yogurt and kefir as they are or use them to up your mornings smoothie game by blending them you’re your favorite frozen organic fruit or veggies. The plain and vanilla varieties are wonderful to cook with in recipes like the coffee cake I have shared in this post. Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Yogurts and Kefir are available in Charlotte at the Queen City Pantry at the Atherton Mill and Market on South Blvd.. For more info visit CarolinaFarmhouseDairy.com

Cloister Honey

Artisan Honey, Charlotte NC

img_7216Cloister Honey in Charlotte North Carolina is owned and operated by my friends Joanne de la Rionda  and Randall Young. Randall keeps the bees and Joanne works on the flavors of the infused honeys and honey spreads – its a talented team for sure. This product starts with the work of the bees and the rest is handcrafted from jar to jar without the addition of any artificial ingredients. I’ve seen this  artisan business develop since the beginning  and I’m thrilled to see Cloister Honey taking the nation by storm!!! In  2016 Cloister Honey was nationally recognized as the winner of Southern Living’s national food awards – getting top honors in the jams and spreads category and also received a Sofi award by the Southern Specialty Food Association ! Cloister Honey comes in a variety of guises – traditional honeys, whipped honeys and my favorites, the infused honeys and the honey spreads.  The newest member of the Cloister family the Power Seeded Honey  was the one I talked about in this segment – wonderful on yogurt or a peanut butter sandwich or used as a finishing sauce simply spread on skewers of Chicken Sate, you’ll find the recipe for the sate later on  in this post. And if you’re looking for a quick and easy appetizer recipe, just grab a jar of Cloister Honey Salted Honey and you are on your way , more details below, sa-weet! For more info visit CloisterHoney.com – if you stay on the site for anytime at all, a little customer service icon will pop up for a  chat and you will see Randall’s head pop up in the window – #TellHimHeidiSentYou

Goodnight Brothers Country Ham

Dry Cured Country Ham  Boone North Carolina

img_7229The Goodnight Brothers company, based in Boone NC has been  in the business of curing, aging, de-boning, slicing and packaging country ham since the company’s beginnings in 1948. My favorite Goodnight Brothers product is in the company’s All Natural Country Ham line sold in Charlotte at Whole Foods and Earthfare stores. Some chefs call it North Carolina prosciutto, I just call it delicious! This paper thin sliced ham is cured without any artificial nitrates, only those occurring naturally in sea salt and celery; and it is beautifully packaged with a thin sheet of butcher’s paper between the thin slices of ham so that they are easy to pull apart.  I’ll love this ham in something as simple as a charcuterie platter or a ham biscuit with spicy mustard – its also great to wrap around shrimp asparagus or scallops for a flavorful first course or appetizer. More recipes below. For more info visit GoodnightBrothers.com

OuterBanks SeaSalt 

img_7220In this world of automation and face paced technology it is hard to believe that much food production is done by hand any more, but it is. I am delighted to introduce my friend Amy Gaw  at OuterBanks SeaSalt, who leads the charge in harvesting and packaging 100% all natural sea salt in small batches using artisan and heritage practices. No preservatives, no anti-caking agents just all natural sea salt from the Atlantic Ocean. Use the OuterBanks sea salt as a culinary finishing salt,  or in any of your favorite recipes. Today I share two sweet and salty recipes  – one for candied sea salt ginger. Beside the recipe, you’ll see the salt and the candied ginger displayed in beautiful handcrafted salt cellars made by OuterBanks artist Antoinette Mattingly of Kinnakeet Clay. The final recipe for this post is for a sea salt ginger caramel sauce, repurposing the syrup from the candied ginger. In addition to their well know culinary salts, Amy also makes OuterBanks  Sooo Salty bath products, Check it all out at their new Etsy store: OuterBanksSeaSalt . For more info visit their Facebook page @OuterBanksSeaSalt

….The Start with a Package, Jar, Bottle or Box Recipes….

Parla Pasta e Fagioli

1 can organic cannellini  beans, drained

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 leek, chopped

1 tsp. fresh minced rosemary

1 tsp. fresh minced thyme leaves

1 (28-ounce) can organic fire roasted tomatoes and liquid

water, if needed

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 Tbsp, tomato paste (or tomato powder from the Savory Spice Shop)

dried red pepper flakes to taste

1 or 2 rinds of real Parmesan cheese

1 bay leaf

1 box Parla Pasta Cheese Tortellini, cooking according to package directions

chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Grated Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling

img_7074Heat oil over medium heat in a large, heavy casserole or Dutch oven and add chopped leek. Cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add rosemary and thyme and stir together until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, drained beans, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down and the mixture is very fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add beans, tomato paste, hot pepper, Parmesan rinds, and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Add water or broth if the liquid is too thick. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Season with a pinch of sugar if you would like.

10 to 15 minutes before serving, stir in the cooked Parla Pasta. When it is heated through, serve in shallow bowls garnished with chopped parsley and Parmesan.

Parla Pasta  with Black Olive and Artichoke Pesto

1 box of your favorite Parla Pasta – choose from ravioli, tortellini or manicotti

FOR THE PESTO:
2 cups whole pitted black olives, drained
1 cup pine nuts
1 ½ cups Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 cloves garlic, minced ( optional)
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts

img_72601 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
2-3 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves
dash of dried red pepper flakes
¼ -1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook your favorite Parla Pasta according to package directions. In the 6-8 minutes it takes the pasta to cook, you can make this wonderful winter pesto.

Make the pesto by combining all of the ingredients except the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to chop fine. Drizzle olive oil through the feed tube with the machine running until the mixture has formed a smooth paste. Taste for seasoning. Toss with your favorite hot Parla Pasta and serve. Its just that each

 

Renwood Mills/Southern Biscuit Flour Formula L From-the-Farm Sausage and Cheese Biscuits

3 cups Southern Biscuit Flour Formula L

1 lb. your favorite local cheese, shredded

img_72111 lb  of your favorite local mild or hot bulk pork sausage

1 stalks local or organic celery, sautéed with 2 Tbsp. fine chopped onion and 1 tsp. sage leaves

1 cup whole milk or buttermilk

Mix Southern Biscuit Flour’s Formula L, with shredded cheese, bulk sausage, milk and sautéed celery onion and sage in a large bowl. Blend well. Pat the dough out into a large thick round and cut small biscuits. Place the sausage and cheese biscuits side by side, but not touching on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 300 degree 20-25 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold.

Keep Southern Biscuit Flour in the pantry for all of your baking needs. I used the Southern Biscuit Self Rising Flour in the Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Coffee Cake that follows.

Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Vanilla Yogurt Coffee Cake

1/4 lb butter

1 cup organic sugar

2 organic or local eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Vanilla Yogurt

2 cups Southern Biscuit Flour self rising flour

for the topping:

img_72361/2 cup organic sugar

2 Tbsp. cinnamon ( I like the Saigon cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop)

1/ cup of your favorite chopped nuts, optional

Cream together butter and sugar with a hand or stand mixer/ add the eggs and vanilla. Blend well. In another bowl, sift together dry ingredients and add alternately to the butter and sugar mixture with the yogurt. Spoon half of the batter into a buttered angel food cake pan and sprinkle with half of the topping mix. Add the rest of the batter and sprinkle with the rest of the topping mix . Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. cool, unmold and enjoy topped with an additional dollop of Carolina Farmhouse Yogurt drizzled with your favorite Cloister Honey.

img_6948Use Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Yogurt makes a great start to the day when combined with organic oats, your favorite local jam and a dash or two of  Crude orange bitters – yes bitters for breakfast!

Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Kefir

Green Goddess Dressing

2 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and coarsely chopped

1 medium clove organic or local garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2 cup organic mayonnaise

1 cup Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Plain or Lemon Kefir

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves

1/4 cup loosely packed fresh tarragon leaves

2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives

2 Tbsp, freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more as needed

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender with a rubber spatula as needed. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate in a container with a tight-fitting lid for up to 1 week.

 

Cloister Honey Power Seeded Honey Chicken Sate

2 Boneless organic or local chicken breasts and 4 boneless chicken thighs

img_7217For the marinade:


1 clove organic or local garlic

2 Tbsp. Sorghum Syrup Molasses


2 Tbsp. organic sugar

¼ cup lime juice

1 Tbsp. fish sauce


2 Tbsp. Tamarind sauce

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


For the peanut sauce:


3 cups dry roasted peanuts or cashews ( or mix them half and half)

4 Tbsp, orange infused olive oil

2 Tbsp, tamarind sauce

1 Tbsp. red chili flakes


1 (1/4 inch thick slice) local or organic ginger

¼ cup fish sauce (Nam Pla)

½ cup mushroom flavored soy sauce ( I love Healthy Boy Brand)

1 can organic Asian coconut milk


¼ cup minced cilantro or 2 Tbsp. dried cilantro leaves

lemon or lime juice to taste

1 jar Cloister Honey Power Seeded Honey

img_7238Cut raw chicken into bit sized pieces and toss with all the marinade ingredients. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours of overnight.

Remove chicken pieces from marinade and pat dry, Skewer the chicken on fat smooth wooden skewers. Grill the chicken skewers in a grill pan on top of the stove for 2=3 minutes on each side. Remove from heat. This part may be done ahead so you can now hold the grilled skewers in the fridge for a day or two or proceed with the recipe.

Prepare the peanut sauce by combining peanuts and olive oil in a food processor and grind until you have peanut butter. Place the fresh ground orange scented peanut butter in a saucepan and add tamarind sauce, chili flakes, ginger, fish sauce, mushroom soy sauce, and cilantro. Add enough coconut milk to give the sauce the right consistency for a dipping sauce. Cook until thick and smooth ( except for the small pieces of peanut)

Dip the grilled chicken skewers in the peanut sauce or spread the sauce across the chicken and place the coated chicken skewers on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until the peanut sauce glaze has browned slightly. Spread the shot skewers with Cloister Honey Power Seeded Honey and baked 2 minutes more. Serve hot or at room temp.

Cloister Honey Salted Honey Blue Cheese Toasts

img_6875Cloister Honey Salted Honey

Creamy blue cheese

Toasted slices of French Bread

pistachios

Orange Zest

Spread the toasted slices of French Bread with the creamy blue cheese. Drizzle with the Cloister Honey Salted Honey and top with chopped Pistachios and orange zest. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

 

Goodnight Brothers Country Ham and Bechamel Biscuits

For the Béchamel:

¼ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup  all purpose Southern Biscuit Flour 

1½ cups whole organic milk

2 Tbsp. whole grain mustard

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the Biscuits:

Make 8 biscuits with whole milk or buttermilk according to the package directions on the Southern Biscuit Flour “Formula L” Package

2 packages Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Dry Cured Country Ham

1 -1 ½ cups shredded Gruyère, cheese

1 tsp dried Herbes de Provence

For the Bechamel: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When butter is hot and all melted, add flour and stir cook, until  all the raw flour has been absorbed in the butter and the mix is a golden brown about 3 minutes. Add the whole milk and whisk continually to thicken over medium high heat. Season with the nutmeg and mustard. Remove from heat and reserve.

img_4993Place the slices of bread on a baking sheet, cut side up and toast lightly in a preheated 375 degree oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove toasts from the oven and turn up the heat to a broil. Meanwhile assemble sammies by placing the toasts on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Top each toast with a a slice of  Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Country Ham and then a generous sprinkling of the gruyere. Top each with a spoonful of the béchamel and a little bit of the herbes de provence. Run sammies under the broiler until golden brown. Serve hot with a little side salad of lettuce, eggs, Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Country Ham and ripe pears and you’ve got the perfect brunch.

Sweet and Spicy Goodnight Brothers Country Ham Wrapped Shrimp

img_761124 large local shrimp, shells removed, tail intact

1 package Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Country Ham, cut into thin strips

3 Tbsp. chili powder

2 Tbsp. ground cumin seed or powder

3/4 cup brown sugar

Peel shrimp, then rinse and pat dry. Carefully wrap the body of each shrimp with a strip of the Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Country Ham. Place the wrapped shrimp on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Sprinkle first with the chili powder and cumin and then with a generous amount of the brown sugar. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or so until the sugar has caramelized and shrimp have turned pink. Best served hot or warm.

OuterBanks SeaSalt Sweet and Salty Candied Ginger

img_72501 hand of local or organic ginger root -you can peel it or not, totally up to you

2 1/2 cups organic sugar

2 cups water

1 Tbsp. OuterBanks SeaSalt

Slice into rounds about 1/8 inch thick.  Mix sugar and water in a large sauce pan and bring to boil. When sugar is dissolved, add ginger slices and boil for 45 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ginger slices to a cake rack and let dry for 20-30 minutes. To keep the syrup that drips from the ginger slices contained, place the cake rack over a baking sheet with sides. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar over the ginger slices. The sprinkle them with the OuterBanks SeaSalt. Let the coated ginger dry overnight.  Keep the leftover syrup in a covered container in the refrigerator and use it to make the next recipe for a goat cheese salted caramel sauce. 

OuterBanks SeaSalt Goat Cheese Salted Caramel Sauce

img_72241 cup of the syrup left over from making the candied ginger ( recipe above)

6oz. your favorite local goat cheese or Chevre

OuterBanks SeaSalt to Taste

Place the ginger syrup in a saucepan and allow to boil down until the mix has reached one half its original volume. Stir in the goat cheese or chevre. Stir until the goat cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Take off the heat and allow to cool, or serve the sauce warm over ice cream, pound cake or over a slice of the Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Yogurt Coffee Cake recipe in this post.

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

For more recipes to help you eat local by opening a package, jar, bottle or box featuring all of these wonderful North Carolina products and more visit each company’s individual website for recipes, to order product and to see all the retail locations for each company in Charlotte and across the state.

 

 

 

 

3 Day Weekend: Durham NC

center-city-bull-for-the-bull-cityWhadaya say, time to get the heck outta Dodge and plan a relaxing 3Day weekend?

Consider a visit to the Bull City – just an hour and half way its an easy drive and you won’t believe what you’ll find there.   You probably know that Durham, NC is a part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle region and that it is home to Duke University; but did you know that included in this city’s rich history is the fact that it is the site if the largest surrender of Confederate troops, effectively making it the city in which the Civil War ended or that it is now the happy home to Burt’s Bees?
bull-durham-tobaccoDurham is a great food-centric town and the perfect destination for a relaxing fun and flavorful 3 day weekend!

Known as the Bull City ,due to the fact that the first brand of Tobacco sold and shipped out of Durham was Bull Durham brand, Durham is home to many old textile mills and tobacco factories. A cast bronze bull now sits in the center city square and many think it good luck to give the bull a rub on the head. When Durham’s last producing textile mills closed in the late 1980s and  a decade later the last of the city’s working Tobacco factories closed. But instead of planning the demolition of these large mills and factories, or letting them sit empty to decay, city planners have wisely repurposed most to be shopping and entertainment  venues and malls.

thedurham-hotel-outsideTwo of my favorite hotels in the center city are repurposed properties as well  The Durham Hotel, with mid century modern interiors and a beautiful rooftop bar.

21c-hotel

 

 

 

 

And 21c Museum Hotel Durham, a  hip boutique hotel featuring funky art exhibits throughout. Both properties were originally banks and have since been repurposed and a grand places to call home during your Bull City visit.

 

the-durham-hotel-lobby-restaurantBoth hotels offer on property dining and while I have yet to eat at 21c Museum Hotel Durham, I enjoyed a fabulous meal at The Durham and would go back again, no matter if I stayed there or not. It’s no wonder the food was so well done, the restaurant in The Durham Hotel, serves a delicious locally-inspired menu designed by the Triangle’s  James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing.

img_9940

Durham is a walker-friendly city divided into districts that all offer shopping, dining and entertainment venues. and as you walk looks for these fun informational signs  that direct you to even more fun to be had and sites to be seen,

Cute funky little shops are all over town head to the Ninth Street shopping district or Brightleaf District where you will find your self wandering in and out of the shops at Brightleaf Square – have a blast.

scratch-bkery-2Start the day with Breakfast and delicious baked goods at Scratch Bakery or the Ninth Street Bakery. From pies to cookies, and more to enjoy on site or take to go, both of these places will make for a great start to your day. Check out the made-in-house tonics at Ninth Street Bakery and don’t miss a slice of pie at Scratch.

 

 

watts-groceryIn fact there are lots of great restaurants in the Durham area, many of them with menus that center around locally farmed or produced proteins, produce and product, so those of  you who know me, know I love that! Among don’t miss farm to fork spots to stop for a midday or evening repast: Piedmont, home to the talented Chef John May and Watts Grocery, the brainchild of chef Amy Tournquist.

img_3867Also make plans to enjoy a trio of restaurants and more to come by chef Matt Kelly, Currently Kelly owns or is a partner in  Mateo, a terrific Spanish tapas restaurant doing it right; an Italian Trattoria called Mothers & Sons and a classic deli known as Lucky’s Deli. By the Christmas holiday Kelly also hopes to have a seafood restaurant to add to his harem of well-know, well-done eateries – I’ll keep you posted!

fullsteam-on-tapLooking for a bit of night life then head to the Central Park District where you will find all sorts of repurposed automotive workshops and former gas stations. The Central Park district is home to Fullsteam Brewery – a front runner of the pack of uber popular North Carolina brews. The Plow to Pint is their motto as they incorporate local farmed goods, heirloom grains, and seasonal botanicals in each of their brews. The tap room is open every day from late in the afternoon to the wee hours of the morning.

parts-labour-1Across the street from Fullsteam is Motorco and the adjacent Parts & Labor. MotorCo is a popular music venue while Parts & Labor a bar and restaurant offering incredibly well done street food to enjoy at tables inside the bar out in good weather, outside at a host of picnic tables lit with twinkling white lights strung overhead.

Looking for coffee – lots of shops around town, but don’t miss a stop in a Cocoa Cinnamon – located right around the corner from Motorco.

220th_sm_0vb5sblmuhAnother fun area to explore is the American Tobacco Campus the former home to the American Tobacco company. This area is interestingly enough now a smoke-free campus with restaurants, office space, shops and entertainment venues.

heidi-with-burts-beesIt is also home to the headquarters for Burt’s Bees and the largest visible bee hive. The center of the factory  building is now a beautiful park, with tables and chairs for al fresco dining lined on either side. In the center a stream of running water, once used in conjunction with the factory now adds a wonderful water feature.

heidi-on-tobacco-tractor

Throughout the campus,  bits an pieces of Durham’s tobacco industry pay homage and tell the story of this city’s history. Check out this photo of me on a tractor once used to plant tobacco!  The American Tobacco campus sits next door to the Durham Bulls stadium and an Aloft hotel is adjacent to the property as well

duke-lemur-center

Of course the Duke University campus contributes to a major part of the Durham skyline. Take the family to enjoy one of the most hidden treasures in the Bull City, The Duke Lemur Center. This research sanctuary is dedicated to helping this endangered breed to thrive and grow and repopulate. It is the  largest lemur sanctuary in the world. Interesting and informative tours are available by appointment.

#TellThemHeidiSentYouIt was my pleasure to share all of this info on my monthly 3 Day Weekend travel segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today. The show originally aired at 11:45 on Wed Nov 14. Want to see for yourself? Simply Click here , then for more info visit http://www.durham-nc.com/                 #TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

 

 

 

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

imgresIt was a tremendous afternoon on Sunday Nov 6 in Charlotte! It was the first time I attended an Order/fire screening, but I can assure you it won’t be my last.

img_6319

From Left, Chef Greg Collier, Chef Marc Jacksina and Photographer Peter Taylor

The Web series, done in an exceptionally well thought out, casual documentary style, of sorts,  is a series of filmed interviews of Charlotte area chefs and farmers and is the brain child of Charlotte’s own videographer and award winning photographer, Peter Taylor and chef and on screen host Marc Jacksina.

img_6323

Greg and Subrina Collier

 

The screening this day was an afternoon of new and old friends all from and in support of Charlotte’s culinary community – chefs, farmers, media and more attended the Order/fire screening of Episode 3  of the series’ second season, featuring chef and owners of The Yolk in Rock Hill and @Dawn in Charlotte, chef Greg Collier and his wife Subrina.

Both places are wonderful breakfast joints  with lunch and sometimes dinner options.  I personally love that  menus at The Yolk and @Dawn are always changing. Greg is an exceptional chef and always has something new and different up his sleeve that he is anxious to try out on his regulars. The wait for a table at The Yolk, the first and more established of the Collier’s two restaurants is sometimes long, but always worth it. Both places should be on your Must- Go-To-Soon list #TellThemHeidiSentYou

This Sunday, the afternoon family friendly  event in Greg and Subrina’s honor, an O/f viewing party  and benefit chicken dinner took place at Free Range Brewing in NODA.

imagesFree Range brewing is a great place with something for everyone. Have to admit it – I am not a beer lover at all – seems I am missing the beer-loving gene altogether, but I am thrilled that Free Range had other local options in addition to their line of lovely local brews.

img_6342

Old North brand shrubs – 2 bottled and one on tap at Charlotte’s Free Range Brewing

And its thanks to Free Range Brewing that I am now officially obsessed with farmer Jamie Swoffords seasonal Old North brand shrubs on the menu.

A shrub is an artisanal drinking vinegar often flavored with other ingredients. For Swofford that, of course, means local ingredients, often directly from his farm.The shrub is concentrated and may be used in cocktails or thinned with carbonated water for a good-for-you thirst quenching beverage.  The non alcoholic, fresh and fizzy muscadine and rose hips shrub is on tap NOW at Free Range and is simply delicious!  Two others, in the concentrated form, are available in bottles at Free Range Brewing. (You’ll be hearing more from me on these delicious drinkables these soon.)

The A Bao Time food truck in the parking lot on Sundays was a great addition as well. Note: you can learn more about all the events that take place at Free Range Brewing and all of their local brews here;  follow A Boa Time via the truck’s social media and learn more about Jamie Swofford , “The Chef’s Farmer” on his website and in his own Order/fire documentary on the O/f website.

For the Nov 6 event, chefs Geoff Bragg, Marc  Jacksina, Greg Collier and others hosted a Chicken Pickin’ for guests to enjoy.

 

img_6325Whole chickens were rubbed with Collier’s own Tennessee Rub, then smoked and served in quarters with a nap of Alabama white sauce – Wow. Sides of Mac and cheese, vinegar based slaw, baked beans and rolls were prepared by  the talented faculty and students team from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte – a real Charlotte treasure! Stop by the school to taste for yourself for breakfast or lunch or hire their team at Encore Catering to help with your next event!

img_6341

Life is short -I just had to taste the cookie first!

Yummy sugar glazed Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies from 300 East made for a sweet finish to a delightful afternoon.  Chickens for the event were graciously donated by Springer Mountain Farms so that the proceeds from the event could all go to benefit the programs at the Community Culinary School of Charlotte.  

Not sure when the next screening for Order/fire  will be, but follow this blog and my social media and I’ll be sure you hear all about it. Meanwhile catch up on other episodes from this season and last  online at http://orderfireclt.com/  #TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

 

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater: The Story of Seasonal Squash

Thought it would be fun  in the week before Halloween to serve up an update of a seasonal post on cooking  with pumpkin and winter squash. Plus, here is your advance notice to be sure to tune into Charlotte Today on WCNC on Monday Oct 31 for a special edition Pumpkin-Driven Restaurant Round-Up along with an accompanying blog post so you can see – and go to taste – what Charlotte area chefs are doing with this seasonal squash on their fall menus.

But before you can cook though, you must carve… learn all the tricks of the trade this weekend Oct 31, 4-7 pm at Lenny Boy Brewing Company from some of Charlotte’s finest chefs and farmers, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild who will be putting on their annual fund raising event for the fall season…Carved…

carved-2016-facebook-ogThe fun begins right at 4pm and runs through till 7 on Oct 31, 2016.  You and your family will watch pumpkins be transformed into clever and creative, sometimes ghostly and ghoulish  works of art.

I can promise you these aren’t your mama’s triangled-eyed Jack-O-Lanterns!  The photos I’ve posted here are from a Carved event a couple of years ago,  I took some of them, and some are thanks to the Piedmont Culinary Guild, but as incredible as these photos are, know the event just keeps getting better and better, so make it a point to make Carved a part of your family’s pre-Halloween festivities.

And, to add to the fun,  you’ll help add to the excitement by casting your vote for what you deem to be the best carved entry and your ticket will serve as your raffle number to possibly win one of the Carved creations! The lucky carver of the  winning creation gets the 2016 bragging rites and a custom-created leather knife roll and apron, crafted by Guild Member Brad Todd of Lucky Clays Farm.

In addition to the seasonal squash on display this year, Carved-goers will enjoy  fresh shelled popcorn-on-the-cob, courtesy of PCG Member Brent Barbee of Barbee Farms; fresh cider pressed on site from  North Carolina apples, courtesy of PCG Member Eric Williamson of Coldwater Creek Farms; and an antique John Deere tractor “ice cream machine” that will be set up to sample and demo fresh ice cream, courtesy of PCG member Bo Sellers of Allee Bubba Farms.

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Emily Russell from Zone 7 Foods at the 2015 Carved event

But wait theres more: Magic and balloon creations by Scott Link; Artistic caricatures created of you and your family on site by Sarah Pollack; Tin-type photographs developed on site by Jeff Howlett; and a Silent auction

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Chef Dave Feemster – Fahrenheit with his chili pepper pumpkin

There will be a separate Kids Competition on the Carving front. Kids, ages 11 and under who bring a pumpkin they carved themselves get in FREE and will be eligible for special prizes. Plus, PCG Member Megan Lambert of Johnson and Wales University will have a table of sugar skulls for kids to decorate, plus there will be games and other activities for children to enjoy.

Two options during the event  to purchase  food on site:  PCG Member Tara Diamante will have her Bleu Barn Bistro food truck at Lenny Boy – offering dishes created from locally-sourced meat and produce. While PCG Member Courtney Buckley will  be serving up sweets from Your Mom’s Donuts cart on site – offering all local product made from Got ToBeNc locally  milled flour, pasture raised dairy, and eggs.

Your ticket includes entrance to the event, a souvenir Carved 2016 cup, one Lenny Boy beverage (with supplied ticket) ( You may purchase more to drink on your own) and one voting ticket – which doubles as an entry to the Carved raffle to win one of the carved pumpkins created at the event.

Cost is  Adults: $18 in advance or $22 at the door; Kids – 11 and under: $5
(Remember – Kids who bring a pumpkin they carved themselves get in FREE)  Advance tickets are available online here and advance sales end on Friday, October 28. 

How to carve your pumpkin and eat it too!

Like the chefs and farmers participating in the Carved event,  most of us do not hesitate to go out and choose a real pumpkin for our Halloween Jack-o-Lantern, but when it comes to actually cooking this seasonal squash, we tend to forgot that “Eat Local” mantra and all the possibilities of using fresh versus canned. This year, I suggest you shop from local farmers, rather than the canned veggie aisle of your local grocer and make some puree you can freeze and use for months to come.

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Local Pumpkins from Dover Vineyards spotted at The Asbury booth at this year’s Dilworth Southend Chili Cookoff

It’s easy to put up your own pumpkin puree this season and I am happy to use this post to show you how its done. Fresh pumpkin, like all other varieties of winter squash is abundant in this area and makes for some very fine eating not only in pie, but in custards, ice creams, breads, cookies and muffins as well as savory recipes like soups, salads, pastas, tempura and pureed or baked as a side with grilled or roasted meats and is great for juicing, too.

Whew! Pumpkin is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served with raw veggies and your favorite dip.

These seasonal squash are low in calories, yet abundant in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin is a great source for vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E all are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties. Health benefits aside,  legend and folk lore has it that this grandest of gourd’s is also an aphrodisiac…so all of a sudden, pumpkin season could take on a whole new meaning … I’ll leave it at that and let you draw your own conclusions.

pumkins in the fieldPumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big brusiers for winning awards at county fares and for carving contests. Nothing like a large Jack-o-lantern set out and lit up on the porch designed to welcome treat or treating seasonal guests. Keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of ants and other creepy crawly things may take up residence, to say nothing of the melted wax. That’s all fine, if the plan is to keep the carved pumpkin outside, but if you were planning to cook and eat the pulp after the 31st, then best to buy another pumpkin or two or three for all  your upcoming culinary endeavors this season.

For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh.  Like any other winter squash – butternut, acorn, golden and Hubbard – the skin should be free from blemishes and the pumpkin or squash heavy for its size. Store whole any winter squash, pumpkins et al, at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.

To easily get inside the tough outer shell, place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete – this might be one fun and good way for the kids to help with the process.. The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Remove the pumpkin pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside pumpkin shell. Boil, steam, bake or fry the chunks of pumpkin as you would potatoes, or oven roast by placing the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, cut side down in a large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or an hour and a half or so, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop is of the cooked shell.

For pumpkin puree, mash or process the roasted, boiled or steamed chunks in a processor, blender or by hand. Season to be sweet or savory, as you choose and then use as directed in your favorite recipe. Cooked pumpkin pulp will keep in your freezer for six to eight months.

In addition to being used as a base for many sweet and savory recipes, pumpkin or winter squash puree may also be served on it’s own as you would mashed or creamed potatoes. Simply add a little butter to the puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.

From Little Seeds, Big Pumpkins Grow

pumpkin heirloom-seeds-740x493The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked. Because you will remove them before setting your Jack-o-lantern outside, you can bake and eat the seed from pumpkins you carve as well as those you cut up and cook.

First, rinse the seeds well, removing all of the pumpkin pulp. Then, pat the seeds dry between several layers of paper toweling. Spread the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a lightly oiled or buttered baking sheet. Season them generously before baking with your favorite spice or spice combination. Use something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or go for a zestier blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin. Toast the seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning them over halfway during the baking time. When the seeds are dry and toasted with a crunchy consistency, remove them for the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy over the course of the next several weeks and months.

Pumpkin pairs well with other veggies of the fall season including locally grown carrots. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for oven roasted pumpkin and carrots – serve it up in carved out small pie pumpkins in place of bowls for an extra touch of something special. Enjoy!

 

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Heidi Billotto gets into the act at the 2014  Piedmont Culinary Guild’s Carved event several years ago – tons of fun for all!

Pumpkin and Carrot Soup

Recipe from Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

1 medium sized pumpkin or 2-3  butternut or acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise

3-4 whole organic carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

2 shallots, minced

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Water or broth to cover

1 cup heavy cream or fat free half and half, more if needed

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Place the pumpkin or squash on a parchment paper lined baking sheet cut side down. no need to scrape the seeds out first unless you’d like to go ahead and roast those separately. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the outside of the pumpkin or squash begin to brown. When the pumpkin is  cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds, then gently scoop the pulp from the skin. Reserve.

In a stockpot, Heat olive oil for a minute, till it becomes aromatic. Add carrots and shallots or leeks and saute until they start to brown. Add butternut squash, cover with water or broth; bring to a boil and allow to boil until carrots are tender.

Use an immersion blender or a food processor to puree the squash and carrots and stir into broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the heavy cream or half and half for a creamier soup if you would like. Adjust seasonings.

Serve hot, freezes well. Thin with additional broth or water if desired.

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Stay tuned for another pumpkin centric post on Monday Oct 31, as a share how local Charlotte chefs are serving pumpkin on their fall menus and be sure to tune in to see 5 of my favorites on Monday’s Halloween edition of Charlotte Today on WCNC in Charlotte.

If you’d like to be the first to see each of my blogs posts as they appear on this site, then simply subscribe to the blog as prompted and each and every post will come right to your inbox.

Greensboro, NC Getaway Plan A 3Day Weekend this Fall

 

heidi head shot 1 -In Need of a little getaway this fall season? Might I suggest that you look no further than North Carolina’s Triad region connecting three major cities all within a half hour drive of each other and about a hour and half in travel time from Charlotte, making a trip to any of the Triad cities –  High Point, Winston-Salem and Greensboro – worthy of a three day weekend status.

Fun to do my October 3 day weekend segment for WCNC’s Charlotte tOday on the city of Greensboro, NC. The details are all here in the post, but if you want to watch the video, scroll to the end and simply click on the link.

Greensboro, home to the sit in protests of the 1960s, Harlem Globetrotter “Curly” Neal and the place where Vick’s VaporRub was invented, is also know as the Gate City due to the heavy flow of railroad traffic that went in and out of the city in the late 1800s. Today Greensboro is still a major Amtrack  hub with trains arriving and leaving from The Greensboro Southern Railway Depot, now known as The Depot, originally built in 1899.

gro_stationinteriorHow to get to Greensboro, Nc

While Greensboro is an easy car ride from Charlotte, a fun nod to our state’s history would be to take the train for your three day weekend visit, and then uber or bike around the city as needed. Amtrack tickets from Charlotte start at just $19 one way and you can book a reservation for your bike as well. While the original Greensboro Depot is now the home to all sorts of transportation, a portion of the original train station still remains and makes for a fun and historic way to kick off your trip.

What to do in Greensboro

imagesOnce you get off the train at The Depot in downtown Greensboro, you are a quick walk or bike ride from the Greensboro Children’s Museum, a great place to spend some time with the kids.

One of the most fascinating exhibits for kids and adults alike is Greensboro’s Edible SchoolYard Garden, the only sanctioned Edible Schoolyard garden to be a major exhibit in a museum.

This working hands-on garden is used to teach kids about growing and planting, raising crops taking care of farm animals – the garden includes its own family of laying hens for fresh eggs, as well as taking care of and feeding the hungry in the community.

The garden is used as a major source of product for adult and children’s cooking classes taught year round int he museum kitchen. And chefs around town also teach at teh museum and use produce from the garden in their seasonal menus. For more information about regular events at the museum as well as the schedule of cooking classes, here’s where to find  the details.

Agriculture is king in North Carolina and there are lots of farms in around the Greensboro area with lots of fun events coming up this fall season – any one of them would be a great anchor around which to plan your three day weekend Greensboro getaway.

images-4Among them High Rock Farm, in Gibsonville, NC. The farm house on High Rock Road was originally used as a stage coach stay in the 1800s and has also been a tavern and a post office. Now it is home to High Rock Farm owner Richard Teague, who planted the first chestnut tree on the property in 1991. High Rock Farm is now the largest working and producing chestnut orchard in the mid-Atlantic Region. The farm celebrates it harvest each year with an annual Chestnut Roasting Festival, this year on Nov 6, from noon – t5 pm. Admission is just $8 per person. The fun includes hay rides through the orchard, music, food trucks, tours of the historic home and more. Kids under 10 are free. For more info HighRockFarm.com 

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Goat Lady Dairy in Julian, NC, a stones throw away from Greensboro is home to a large goat cheese making operation and the dairy offers monthly cheese-centric 5 course Dinners at the Dairy as well as farm and dairy tours. The remaining dinner dates for this year are Nov 11 and 12 and December 2 and 3, so make your reservations now. For more information visit GoatLadyDairy.com

If you, like me love to shop for housewares and china, old and new and find the fun is int he hunt for that can’t live without piece; then you simply cannot miss a trip to Greensboro’s own Replacement’s.

Located at 1089 Knox Rd. in McLeansville, NC, just outside of Greensboro, Replacement’s is  the world’s largest supplier of old and new china, crystal, silver, and collectibles.

great-wall-of-china-in-replacementsThe 500,000-square-foot facilities (the size of 8 football fields) house an  inventory of 12 million pieces in more than 425,000 patterns, some more than 100 years old. You can order from Replacements online, look for a missing piece to your grandmothers good china or browse through the inventory online, but there there is nothing quite like being there and to my mind this one of kind shopping extravanganza is worth the 3 day weekend jaunt in and of itself. For more info, or to buy or sell your favorite china pieces visit the website here

unknown-2Where to stay for the trip?

Lots of choices from the historic, charming  and said to be haunted 1903 era boutique Biltmore Hotel in the downtown area  – an easy walk from the Amtrack station. Visit the website for more info or reservations

unknown-1To The O’Henry,  an elegant hotel located a short and easy 4-minute walk from the Shops At Friendly Center.  Beautiful guest rooms have tall ceilings, unique furnishings, plush beds and en suite bathrooms with soaking tubs and separate dressing rooms. Your reservation includes a free Southern-style breakfast is served in the pavilion or the garden, while afternoon tea and pre-dinner cocktails are available in the lovely Craftsman-style lobby. For reservations and more info visit the website here

proximity-hotel-photos-exterior-hotel-informationThe Proximity , the sister property to the O’Henry, may be one of my favorite hotels in the area. Its the first green LEED hotels in the country with strict sustainable practices designed to save energy and help the environment while still offering a luxurious place to stay. 100 sun panels on the hotel roof, heat the water in the hotel and the energy the elevators create going down, allow them to go up as well. Bicycles are available for guests to ride on the nearby five-mile greenway that extends to over 75 miles of trails and routes throughout the Greensboro area. For reservations and more info visit the website here

Where to eat in Greensboro

Once you have your hotel reservations and have honed in on what you want to see and do in the area, you’ll need to decide what and where to eat. The restaurants at both The Proximity Hotel – Print Works Bistro , fresh local ingredients used to create fabulous comfort food;  and at the O’Henry Hotel – Green Valley Grill – informally elegant interiors serving seasonal favorites in a Mediterranean style-  are both excellent choices.

4213690For burgers, beef, vegetarian and otherwise, Hops Burger Bar  with two locations in Greensboro, is a popular local favorite you won’t want to miss. Parking is tight and there is often a wait, but its worth  each and every juicy bite-o-burger! If Mexican is more your style, go eat where nearly every chef in the Greensboro area sent me – El Camino Real – an understated Mexican joint in a strip center  at 4131 E. Spring Garden Street.

undercurrent-outside-gsoFinally for more white table cloth dining, check out Undercurrent Restaurant in downtown Greensboro, Listed as one of the “Top Ten Restaurants in Greensboro” by USA Today, the focus at Undercurrent is farm to fork. Sourcing all sorts of local ingredients from farms large and small, Chef de Cuisine, Michael Harken­reader  and the Undertcurrent’s team will wow you for sure. Open for lunch dinner and brunch, Don’t miss the opportunity to eat at Undercurrent soon!

Here is the link the to segment I did on Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson sharing a couple of reasons why you need to think about visiting Greensboro this fall. Enjoy!

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

For more info on all that is happening in Greensboro, North Carolina, visit the Convention and Visitors Bureau   #TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

October Restaurant RoundUp: 6 Restaurants That Should Be on Your Radar

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Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto in the WCNC Charlotte Today studios with all the dishes featured in her October Restaurant Roundup lined up and ready to roll.

Updated Blog post to go along with my October Restaurant Round Up segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today originally airing this morning (Wed., Oct 19) at 11:47.

A link to the video from the show appears at the end of this post and I’ve updated each restaurant’s section with photos of the featured food and several shots from the show. Always great fun to share my thoughts on chefs, restaurants and food that really should be on your radar.

In addition to the photos posted here, I’ll also post them all on all of my social media with links back to the blog and to the video.

To be the first to see them, Friend me at Heidi Billotto or like my page at Heidi Billotto Cooks on Facebook; follow me on Twitter at @HeidiCooks and Follow me on Instagram @HeidiBillotto.

The segment on Charlotte Today  featured five restaurants that, if they aren’t already, really should be on your radar. The sixth, included in this post relates to a dinner I attended last night.

Check those social media feeds now and you’ll see photos from a fabulous dinner I attended last night at The Asbury in the Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte.

The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel

img_5423It was the last Collaborative chefs dinner of the 2016 series and it was an extraordinary evening. A pairing of the culinary talents of The Asbury‘s culinary team led by executive chef Matthew Krenz and guest chef John May from Piedmont Restaurant in Durham. This dynamic duo turned out 9 plates of fabulous fall flavor, each course paired with a wine especially selected for the evening by Josh Villapando of The Assorted Table Wine Shop also located in uptown Charlotte in Seventh Street Station.

If you haven’t eaten at The Asbury yet, don’t wait a second longer to make reservations. With a focus on all that is local and seasonal, and a nod to our Southern roots, Chef Matthew Krenz is really doing something special and the new fall menu is now up and running. And when next you visit Durham, be sure that a dinner at Peidmont Restaurant, home to chef John May, is a part of your plans!

There were nine courses at the dinner last night so can’t picture them all here – and its hard to pick a favorite, but if pressed I would have to say it would be John May’s salad with a poached egg and Matt Krenz’ roast lamb with stewed white beans and bitter greens. Both truly outstanding. My favorite wine of the evening  – this is another hard pick, but I think I’d have to say the rose paired with May’s salad. After nine plates and nine wines, the name escapes me so just call Josh at The Assorted Table Wine Shop and ask – he’ll be glad to tell you all about it!

Look for more on Krenz,  The Asbury and the fall menu in my culinary section of the new issue of Charlotte Living Magazine out soon – Subscribe to this blog and you’ll be among the first to know when the fourth quarter issue hits Charlotte newsstands!   Now on to the five restaurants featured on air this morning.

Dunkin’ Donuts in Concord, NC  30 Raiford Drive