Pumpkin Prowess

How to Pick the Perfect Pumpkin; Plus Recipes for Toasty Pumpkin Seeds, Protein Packed Pumpkin Toast and a New Spin on Fresh Baked Pumpkin “Pie”

Its October and its finally pumpkin season in the Carolinas!

It is possible that you thought pumpkin season started months ago.  It would be a honest mistake as for many big box stores and markets it did.

In the all too commercial world, the one that operates from “hallmarked” holiday to holiday… you know, those people who try to push us our of our white slacks and into all things pumpkin spice as soon as Labor Day weekend hits…imitation flavored pumpkin lattes and pumpkin-spiced just-about-everything-you-can-think-of  hit the shelves before we even flipped the calendar page from August to September.

Don't rush the seasonBut local produce, grows in its own time. To everything there is a season, don’t you know and we can’t rush it even if we wanted to.

As as we all know, this year, in particular, weather has been wonky, and the change in our usual seasonal climes has affected the growth and harvest of our local produce. As the calendars shifted from late August beach trips to early September Labor Day cookouts we were still slicing and dicing local heirloom tomatoes and Kirby cukes – no one was thinking about eating pumpkin.

As the weather (in theory) cools, apple season comes first; then we start to see leafy greens, sweet potatoes, root veggies and then and only then,  do we start to see the harvest of local squash and pumpkins.

Now with several weeks still to go before Halloween, the holiday that put plump pumpkins on the map, its time to think about how to cook with the real thing, not the artificially spiced powdered wanna be.  Pumpkins, and other winter squash, are delicious veggies, available locally in dozens of varieties, shapes and sizes is as delicious to cook and bake as it is fun to carve.

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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.  Pumpkin is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served alongside other 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.

Pumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big bruisers 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  creepy crawly things may take up residence, which is fine, if the plan is to keep the carved pumpkin outside.

But, if you were planning to cook and eat the pulp before the holiday or 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. You’ll finds lots of locally grown pumpkins at local farmers’ markets this weekend. Buy several to enjoy from now till the end of the year and freeze to keep them even longer.

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.

Because they are fresh and haven’t been warehoused since picking, locally harvested pumpkins and squash will be easier to cut into, despite the still thick skin, than will commercially purchased ones.

Heidi's Tips and TricksIf you are wary of wielding a big chef’s knife to cut apart your seasonal squash, take this easy and, lets face it, fun way out: Place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete.

The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Back in your kitchen, 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.

OR, know that you don’t have to  cut or break apart the pumpkin before you cook it – you can cook it whole – you just need to provide several slits so that the steam that will build up inside as  the pumpkin cooks will have a place to escape. ( see the photos below)

This approach works best when working with a small to moderately sized pumpkin.

Forget the big knife, instead use a small sawblade pumpkin carving tool to cut off the top. Leave the seeds inside and invert the open topped pumpkin onto a parchment or silpat covered baking sheet. Use the small saw once more to cut five or six small steam “holes” in the bottom of the pumpkin – just as you would on the top of a pie crust.

Bake the pumpkin in a preheated 400 degree over for 35-40 minutes or until the pumpkin starts to brown slightly and just starts to give a bit to the touch.

Invert the warm baked pumpkin on a wire rack and let it cool.

Use a medium-sized pumpkin, baked according to my process outlined above to make…

IMG_7772Heidi’s Crustless Fresh Baked Pumpkin “Pie”

Start with a baked pumpkin as directed above. While the pumpkin is cooling, make the  topping and whip the cream.

For the topping: While the pumpkin is cooling, you can mix up a sweet and spicy topping for each slice. Simply combine 1 stick of butter; 2-3 Tbsp. of local Sorghum Syrup Molasses or your favorite local honey; 2-3 (1/4 inch slices) of fresh local ginger root, minced; 1-2 Tbsp. of cinnamon and 1/4 cup of organic sugar. Heat all of these ingredients together in a microwave or on top of the stove and stir until the mix is thick and syrupy.

Once the pumpkin is cool, you may easily scoop out the seeds and the stringy stuff that holds the seeds inside. Rinse the seeds and save for toasting.

Sprinkle the inside of the now seedless pumpkin with some salt.  I love using OuterBanks SeaSalt here for the very best flavor – it doesn’t taste salty, it just tastes more pumpkin-y!

IMG_7773Place the pumpkin on a cake stand… to serve cut it into wedges and top each wedge with a generous drizzling of the warm syrup, some freshly whipped cream and a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds.

And here’s a cool variation on the theme...Once the pumpkin has cooled and you’ve salted it slightly, stuff it with softened vanilla or caramel ice cream. Freeze the stuffed pumpkin for several hours; then cut into wedges, top with the warm syrup and enjoy your fresh baked pumpkin ice cream pie!!

Heidi's Tips and TricksTo make your own pumpkin puree for use later on, 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.

Heidi’s Toasty Pumpkin Seeds

The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked.

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.

My husband Tom loves Bojangles fried potato wedges – and so while I usually season pumpkin seeds with something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or sometimes a  blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin; this year I decided to use the Bojangles seasoning on our pumpkin seeds and I have to tell you it is delicious!

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Jars of the seasoning blend are available at your local Bojangles or, if you don’t live near a Bojangles, its also available in a four-pack gift box at the company’s online store .

Toast the seasoned 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.

IMG_8006.jpgHeidi’s Protein Packed Pumpkin Toast

A little sweet and a little salty way to start the day or enjoy as an afternoon snack

2 slices whole grain or seeded organic or locally baked bread, toasted to your desired doneness

1/2 cup of your own baked pumpkin ( unseasoned) mashed with 1 Tbsp, butter and salt to taste

1 Tbsp. bloomed Chia seeds – to bloom the seeds combine 1 Tbsp. dry seeds with 2 Tbsp. water; stir and allow to sit for a minute or two. Unused bloomed seeds will hold in the refrigerator for a day or two.

1/2 firm but ripe banana sliced

A drizzle of your favorite local honey –  I have several favorites, but in this case I used Dancing Bees Sourwood Honey from Monroe, NC ( available at several stores around town and directly from Jeff and Robin Knight at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Market on Saturdays)

Toasted pumpkin seeds, seasoned with your favorite slightly spicy seasoning blend

IMG_8003While your bread is toasting, mash the unseasoned baked pumpkin with the butter and salt. Remove from heat and stir in the chia seeds. While it is still warm, spread half the mix on a slice of toast. Top with sliced bananas, a drizzle of honey and the toasted pumpkin seeds.  Enjoy open faced or top with another slice of bread and eat as a sandwich.

 

Make + A + Reservation

If you liked these seasonal recipes for all things pumpkin, then you will love all of the recipes you’ll enjoy in one of Heidi Billotto’s At Home with Heidi or On the Farm Cooking Classes. Check out the list of upcoming classes here, call your friends and make your reservations now. You may make reservations by contacting Heidi directly via email or follow the links and register online here.   #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Fresh from the Farmers’ Market: Pork Chops and Sweet Tater Tots

I love shopping at farmers’ markets and eating local. For those of you who have read the stories I share on these digital pages, or the words I write between the covers of Charlotte Living magazine; and for those of you who follow me on my social media feeds, you already know that each and every Saturday morning finds me at a local farmers’ markets stocking up for cooking classes, catering jobs and the food my husband Tom and I eat every day.

UPDATED - NCDASo when an opportunity popped up to work  for my friends at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture promoting locally raised North Carolina pork at local regional markets, I jumped at the chance to be involved.

While I am being compensated for this post, the words, recipes and opinions and the choice of the farmer featured here are my own; and am delighted to be representing Charlotte as one of five bloggers from across the state in this sponsored promotion featuring North Carolina farmers who raise pork and sell at Regional State Farmers’ Markets.

This promotion affords me an opportunity  to share the story  of North Carolina farmers Jamie and Sara Jane Davis of A Way of Life Farm in Bostic NC – a regular Saturday morning stop for me at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market.

As luck would have it Jamie and Sara Jane not only raise pork, but a slew of certified organic veggies as well, making their booth at the market a one-stop-shop and a quick answer to the question of whats for dinner tonight?

This time of year, the list of seasonal certified organic vegetables at A Way of Life Farm includes a half dozen or so varieties of sweet potatoes! One variety in particular, “Sunshine” is a species specific to their farm and I’ve used these certified organic sweet potatoes in a fun family favorite recipe for sweet potato tots to go with the chops or to enjoy as a snack all on their own!

 

IMG_3615My recipe for Molasses and Mustard Marinated pork chops has become one of my favorite local pork recipes – you’ll find it at the end of this post.

It’s a recipe I shared on television recently with Charlotte Today hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson in Charlotte on October 6, 2017.   It’s a crowd pleaser for sure and its been time tested and taste approved  with my cooking class students and catering clients as well!

It all starts with the delicious pork from A Way of Life Farm and my hope is that it will inspire your menu planning for this season and for the seasons to come, as local pork like all local meat are available all year round.

Before I share a bit about the farm, the details of the pork chop recipe and a fun side dish for sweet potato tots – I thought you’d like to see the video from the segment on Charlotte Today…

 

On the Farm at A Way of Life

For Jamie and Sara Jane, the way they raise the pigs is important, as is the way they raise all the certified organic crops they cultivate, feed their family and sell to consumers. It is their belief that pigs raised on pasture and woodland,  able to root, dig, and run, are healthier and happier animals; and the fact that these animals have access to sunlight, fresh air, exercise, and wild nutrients make the resulting meat more nutritious than many conventional products.

IMG_1262At any one time you’ll find a dozen or so pigs and piglets roaming the woods up behind the cultivated certified organic fields at A Way Of Life. The pigs wander the woods eating acorns and bark and their natural diet is supplemented with soy-free certified organic feed.

The result is pork with truly exceptional flavor and texture, so marinades such as the one I offer today are only needed to provide flavors to enhance the already spectacular  taste and the melt-in-your-mouth texture.

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Shop Regional and Local North Carolina Farmers’ Markets all year long…

With the change in seasons, many consumers forget that farmers don’t just produce in the spring and summer. Local farmers and ranchers farm and ranch all year long, through snow and rain and wind and hail.

At A Way of Life Farm, Sara Jane and Jamie live on the farm, and the “yard” that surrounds there home is all farm land yielding seasonal crops that range this time of year from all sorts of leafy greens, ginger, turmeric, broccoli, and more to a half dozen varieties of sweet potatoes.

Every week they work the land and take care of the pigs on the farm; then they regularly  harvest produce on Friday and load up the truck to ready themselves for the Saturday morning 5 am start time to head from Bostic to the Charlotte Regional Market. The market opens at 8 am and Jamie and Sara Jane and their crew are there until 1 or so in the afternoon, but the best selection of pork and veggies from A Way of Life are to be had before noontime.

IMG_3617-1The Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market is one of four regional Farmers Markets owned by the State of North Carolina and operated by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. These regional Farmers Markets are strategically located across the state to serve North Carolina farmers, both large and small and make shopping local easy for area consumers who support North Carolina agriculture, our state’s largest industry.

The Charlotte Regional Farmers Market is located at 1801 Yorkmont Road and is easily accessible from South Tryon Street, Tyvola Road, I-77, and I-85. Farmers and vendors at the market are spread out in four different buildings and you’ll find A Way of Life Farm in Building A, on the right hand side just as you enter from the parking lot. You’ll see all the seasonal veggies, but go to the table set up in front of their truck for the pork.

Meat is much harder to display than all the colorful produce – Its all frozen in coolers behind the counter and at A Way of Life Farm it is portion packaged, so you have your choice of cuts, sizes and quantities.  Don’t leave the market without purchasing enough pork for at least one meal, believe me, after you taste, you will thank me for the sound advice.

The selection of  available pork cuts at A Way of Life Farm, varies each week as do the seasonal vegetables. When you are at their booth, sign up for their weekly newsletter to help keep you in the know and up-to-date with what you will find at the market each week.

And now, thanks to a grant from Farmers Market Coalition, A Way of Life Farm is set up to accept SNAP benefits at the Charlotte Farmers’ Market and for on-farm sales. This makes it possible for even more people to enjoy the benefits of eating local. Jamie and Sara Jane asked me to help spread the word and I hope you will as well.

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In the recipe below I’ve featured the chops; but this recipe will also works well with a loin roast, boneless loin chops, pork shanks and a pork shoulder roast – those cuts will just take a bit more time to cook.

I hope you enjoy my recipe for what I think are some of the most delicious pork chops you’ll ever eat, and the accompanying recipe for my homemade sweet potato tots to go with…

But wait, that’s not all…

If my recipes whet your palate for more ways to eat local pork, then visit these other blog posts featuring recipes using more North Carolina Pork from farms around the state…

Got To Be NC Pork at Your Local NC Farmers Market

 

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Heidi Billotto’s Mustard & Molasses Marinated NC Pork Chops from A Way Of Life Farm

4-6 local bone-in pork chops from A Way of Life Farm in Bostic NC available at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market on Yorkmont Road on Saturday mornings

For the marinade:
1 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2  bay leaves
1 cup of your favorite whole grain mustard

1 cup local molasses
6 juniper berries, lightly bruised or 1/4 cup gin

Marinate the chops for up to an hour at room temp or longer in the refrigerator, turning it occasionally. Remove from refrigerator and bring to room temperature before cooking.

Transfer the chops to a roasting pan and bake, covered in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or so.

Uncover and broil  just to crisp the outside of the chops, taking care not to burn the marinade.

And because man and woman cannot live on pork chops alone (although it is tempting to try)…. I offer a fun sweet potato side to the chops…

chops and tots

A Way of Life Farm “Sunshine” Sweet Tater Tots

 

2 lbs. A Way of Life Farm “Sunshine” Sweet potatoes or any other dry flesh variety, peeled

1/4 cup self rising flour

1 Tbsp. sweet paprika

1 tsp. granulated garlic

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. sugar

Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend ( a mix of pink and black peppercorns) to taste

1 cup organic Canola oil

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until parboiled, about 6-7 minutes; drain well and let cool.

IMG_7722Using a hand grater, finely shred potatoes. Using a clean dish towel, gently pat the potatoes dry, removing as much water as possible. Gently spread the grated potatoes on the dish towel and sprinkle with the flour; then season with the granulated garlic, paprika, onion powder, seasoning salt and pepper, to taste. The mixture should be soft but dry. Gently scoop up the seasoned potatoes, place the mix into a bowl and then gently shape into  “tots” , taking care not to squeeze them too put as you mold them into shape.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.

Add tots to the oil, 5 or 6 at a time, and cook until evenly golden and crispy, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to drain, re-season if you would like and enjoy!.

 

 

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For more great all local recipes come and join in the fun at one of Heidi’ Hands-on cooking classes – including a Pork 101 Cooking Class see the complete schedule of classes for Oct and Nov; then call your friends and make your reservations today! #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Fall into Fun: Heidi Billotto’s 2017 October & November Cooking Classes

cropped-heidi-billotto-food-blog-logo-not-compressedAnyone can cook, let Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto show you how to make it fun!!

Each of Heidi’s cooking classes  classes include  the preparation of 4-5 different dishes centering around a main topic, using as much local and organic protein, produce and product as possible.

Each class is  a hands-on experience (as much or as little as you would like),  printed recipes, servings of each dish we create, wine pairings from our friends at Assorted Table Wine Shop, gift bags, coupons and, of course, tons of fun.

 

bb585753-46b1-4feb-8810-4297445b3655So now, the next step is yours…Call Your Friends, Save the Date and Make your Reservations now, to confirm your place in any one of the following October and November 2017 cooking classes. Never too late to make a reservation… Hope to see you soon!

For your convenience, visit the  “Heidi Billotto Food” shop  where you can make your reservation and pay in advance for the cooking classes you would like to attend all at once time – gotta love one stop shopping!

 

simply-email-heidi-to-make-your-reservationsAfter you make your reservation, Heidi will personally  follow up with an email giving you any details and directions you’ll need to know before class.

And if you would rather register by email and pay with a check, then by all means feel free to contact Heidi directly at HLNC@carolina.rr.com!

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Here’s the updated list of October and November cooking classes. Keep checking  back as we are adding in new classes all of the time!

 

Sun October 22, 1-4 pm  – At Home with Heidi  – Getting Sauced

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Even with great local proteins, its a wonderful well done sauce that often really makes the dish. In this hands-on class we’ll cover all there is to know in terms of basic technique for making the five “mother sauces” as  outlined in French culinary technique and then create an all local dish with each one.   Wine pairings with each course by Assorted Table. Cost is $85 per person. Make your reservations here

 

Tuesday October 24, 6-8pm    Like Cheerwine? Then you will love this special cooking class I am doing as a part of the YELP Charlotte Made series of events this fall.

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My “Cooking with Cheerwine” YELP class is free and promises to be tons of fun, but to make a reservation, you have to be signed up as a YELPER which is super easy to do… Here is the link for the class registration  ( which will also take you to the YELP website) once you are registered as a “Yelper” you can sign up for the class; but hurry,  The class is limited to 25 participants and is sure to sell out – its going to be tons of fun!  We’ll start with a little appetizer upon arrival and then I’ll be sharing 4 recipes using the iconic soft drink. We will also have a make-it-yourself Cheerwine Ice Cream Float station and then you’ll be able to photograph your creation for a posssible post on Cheerwine’s social media!! Plus the folks from Cheerwine will have swag, four pack bottles and Cheerwine syrup for sale at the class; and we have fun take home gift bags for everyone in attendance as well. Hope to see lots of familiar faces in the crowd!

Saturday October 28,  4-7pm – At Home with Heidi – Local Pork 101

chops and tots

A “Back to Basics” presentation with great recipes and big time flavors and a focus on locally raised pork from several of my favorite farms. We’ll braise pork shanks in a rich tomato sauce, sear crusted pork tenderloin, sauté or grill bacon topped pork burgers and bake tender stuffed chops plus have a couple of other surprises on hand, like the easiest way to cook bacon ever!!… Its a class you won’t want to miss and with wine pairings by my friends at Assorted Table Wine Shoppe, this late afternoon event becomes a wine dinner of sorts! For more great local pork recipes, Check out this blog post done in coordination with a promotion run by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture

Cost for Pork 101 cooking class and wine dinner is $95 per person.  Make your reservation now 

Saturday November 5, 2-5 pm – Soups On – At Home with Heidi

Soups On Cooking ClassNothing speaks to calm and comfort like a great bowl of soup – perfect for a first course for guests,  an easy family dinner or quick heat and serve lunch.  On the menu for this class four of my personal favorites – The real deal French onion soup with a thick cheesy crust; Local Kale and white bean Ribolita just like like they serve in Tuscany;  an elegant vegetarian Potato and Leek soup with parslied pumpkin seed pesto and a totally from scratch real chicken noodle soup ( with your own bone broth and fresh made noodles) everyone in the family will love.

Cost is $75 per person. Click here to make your reservation

 

Saturday November 11, 5-8 pm – A Classic Steakhouse Dinner – At Home with Heidi

6428184741_c34a4ba8ca_mobileFor this class the focus is on a meal just like the big steakhouses made but I’ll show do it all at home. Recipes include from-scratch blue cheese dressing; creamed local spinach; killer scalloped potatoes with local spuds, and a braised garlic steak spread plus all the basics of cooking a steak – we’ll do local grass fed fillets, ribeyes, t-bone and a New York Strip all locally raised from Proffitt Family Farms – and then, for dessert a classic chocolate souffle. of course! Wine parings for each course offered by my friends at Assorted Table Wine Shop.

Cost is $95 per person. Make your reservations here.

bb585753-46b1-4feb-8810-4297445b3655Wanting Something More?? A Little More Personalized perhaps, or maybe one of these same classes, but a different day and time?

In addition to these regularly scheduled cooking classes, just a reminder that Heidi teaches tons of private classes for  company team building events, for birthday parties or Girl’s Night Out gatherings, supper clubs, couples date nights or just as fun gathering of friends.

Email Heidi to Plan a Private Class all your own…Start with a cocktail hour complete with appetizers and a wine tasting from our friends at Assorted Table Wine Shop; then move into the kitchen for a hands-on class to cook and enjoy!

 

Save the Date! Don’t Miss the Fun at Heidi Billotto’s Cooking Classes

Two fabulous On the Farm classes on the calendar as September rolls into October; plus we’ll be cooking with local product in the At Home with Heidi classes on tap in the next several weeks as well…

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.

Make + A + Reservation

Now it is super simple to make your reservation for any of my cooking classes. Simply click here to shop my online store and reserve your spot or spots in class! As soon as your payment is confirmed I’ll send you an email with all the class details and directions!

 

90a40f2d-b135-4501-b4b7-64c102593be3Sun Oct 8, 2-5pm – At Home with Heidi – Gluten Free Gourmet    

This class features an entire Gluten free menu from  appetizer to dessert; plus we’ll make a delicious gluten free pistachio cake with North Carolina’s own chestnut flour from High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, NC and Japanese milk bread gluten free dinner rolls that will freeze perfectly and are ready to reheat when you are. Wine pairings with each course by Assorted Table Wine Shop. Cost for the class is $85 per person.  Click Here to Make Your Reservations

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Sun October 22, 1-4 pm  – At Home with Heidi  – Getting Sauced

Even with great local proteins, its a wonderful well done sauce that often really makes the dish. In this hands on class we’ll cover all there is to know in terms of basic technique for making the five “mother sauces” as  outlined in French culinary technique and then create an all local dish with each one   Wine pairings with each course by Assorted Table. Cost is $85 per person. Click Here To Make Your Reservations

 

 

 

cropped-heidi-billotto-food-blog-logo-not-compressedPlan a Private Class all your own as a team building event or to enjoy with friends. Start with a cocktail hour complete with appetizers and a wine tasting from our friends at Assorted Table Wine Shop; then move into the kitchen for a hands-on class to cook and enjoy!

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? Email me and lets plan your own private class with work associates or with friends or family.

 

Don’t Miss These September & October Nibbles and Sips

Tons of fun Food & Drink-centric Events In and Around Charlotte – Don’t Miss a single one!

Do you find yourself in transition from the carefree vacation-full season of summer to what can become a more hectic, more scheduled back-to-school season that starts with September and October and before you know it its November?  Whoa! Let me help you put on the breaks for just a second…

Make + A + Reservation

It’s time to make some plans to keep the fun stuff going. So today I offer you a list of ” and Sips”, a round up of 17 different food and drink events you can attend in the next two months.  Save the dates, Call Your Friends, Make your Reservations, Have Fun this Fall and keep checking  back for more Nibbles and Sips as new fun food-centric events hit the calendar! 

 Don’t forget to #TellThemHeidiSentYou….

imagesSeptember is North Carolina Wine Month!! So plan to spend September sipping, stomping and celebrating North Carolina’s many outstanding wineries and vineyards. With an entire month dedicated to tasting our wine, it’s the perfect time to pair your winery or vineyard visit with harvest festivals, grape stomps, special wine tasting tours and more. There are events at wineries across the state – too many to individually list here, but you will find a list of fun festivals on the NC Wine website here

4462defff12cf8d1eea3160c6d7ffbb0Thursday – Sunday, Sept 7-10 – The 2017 Yiasou Greek Festival, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox cathedral, 600 Eat Blvd. in Charlotte.  Charlotte’s Yiasou Greek Festival began in 1978 and since then has become one of Charlotte’s largest cultural events. It is eagerly anticipated by the Charlotte community each year. The Yiasou (the Greek word for Hello, Goodbye and Cheers) Greek Festival features Hellenic cultural exhibits, authentic Greek cuisine and homemade pastries, entertainment, live music and dancing, wine tastings, art, shopping and more. Experience the sights and sounds of Greece when you visit the 40th Annual Yiasou Greek Festival. It’s a time of the year when everyone can be Greek! Hours: Thurs., 11am – 9 pm; Fri/Sat., 11am- 10 pm; Sun., Noon-8pm For more info…

Order-Fire_S3E1-poster-663x1024Sunday Sept. 10th, noon  – The season premiere of Order/fire at Free Range Brewing – Chef Matthew Krenz of The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel is hot off of his NCRLA NC Chef Showdown Chef of the Year award, is the focus of Order/fire’s Season 3 premiere. These events are always a blast – Free Range offers a cash bar with beer and my friend, farmer and local producer Jamie Swofford’s non-alcoholic shrubs; while chef Matthew is making Krenz Ranch beef tacos – my oh my! The doors open at noon, the social hour begins at 1 pm and the screening starts at 2. No admission fee but there is a great raffle to enter, if you would like – generally $10 a ticket, $$ goes to a charity important to Chef Krenz.

downloadSeptember 13, 2017, 6:30 pm – Portuguese Wine Dinner – Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen, SouthPark. Chef Jim Noble and his team always do it right!  Look for this special evening to start with passed hors d’oeuvres followed by four courses of food paired with fabulous Portuguese wines. Cost $70 per person. Call 704.366.8688 to make a reservation. Seating is limited.

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September 17, 2017, 6:30-9:30 pm – 5 course Mushroom menu at Heirloom Restaurant –   In celebration of the health department approved foraged mushroom consumption in a restaurant setting, Chef Clark Barlowe has prepared a 5 course tasting menu featuring some of his favorite finds and mushroom farming friends. Click here to reserve your seats

21034608_1541902652497378_4269546947028118295_n13091953_1344016235612340_6126695405623522528_nMonday September 18, 6:30-9:30 pm – Southern Beer + Southern Food –  The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel and Chef Matthew Krenz welcome Sean Lilly Wilson, owner and chief executive optimist at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC and Chef Kyle McKnight, Fullsteam’s Director of Food Operations all reunite once again to bring you a fabulous dinner of food and beer. I attended the dinner this talented trio did last year ( see the photo on the right with Sean and my friend Susan Dosier) and even though I am not a beer drinker ( with apologies to Sean), I had a fabulous time! This year  Raleigh entrepreneur and founder Steve Mangano of CurEat joins in the fun. CurEat is  the new restaurant-finding app you will all want to download to find out where your favorite chefs and foodies are eating out!

Cost of this Southern food and beer extravaganza is $65 per person. For reservations, call The Asbury at 704.342.1193

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Sept 21 -24 in Greenville, SC Its time for another big annual gathering of foodies – Euphoria 2017!! Founded in 2006 by platinum-selling singer/songwriter Edwin McCain and restaurateur Carl Sobocinski, euphoria educates, entices, enlightens and entertains. The four-day event includes exclusive tasting events, intimate musical experiences, cooking demonstrations and wine seminars, as well as multi-course dinners and live music concerts and many  Charlotte area chefs such as Amy Fortes, Ashley Boyd, Blake Hartwick, Bruce Moffett, Scott Hollingsworth, Thomas Marlow, Clark Barlowe,  Matthew Krenz,  and more are taking part! Dedicated to excellence, euphoria features domestic and international wines, award-winning chefs, master sommeliers and renowned singer/songwriters. For more info, tickets, etc…

db_logo116sSunday September 24 , 2-5 pm – Heidi Billotto’s Hands-On On the Farm cooking class at Dancing Bees Farm in Monroe, NC.    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 perfect for family dinners and entertaining too, make this class extra sweet. Assorted Table Wine Shop will be on hand to provide a wine pairing with each course.  Can’t wait to see you there!  Cost $85 Simply Email Heidi to make your reservations 

17098240_1659386481022112_7978105722794810790_nTuesday, September 26 at 6 PM – 9 PM –  A Caribbean Voyage –  Soul food sessions CLT – a dinner series featuring a group of very talented African American chefs and mixologists in Charlotte, Including Greg Collier, Michael Bowling, Sam Dotse, Jamie Barnes and DiSean Lamar Burns, just to name a few. Their goals are “to promote minorities in the hospitality industry, reclaim the ingredients of our heritage by redefining “soul food”, and donate to charities that help causes that directly affect our communities”   This Soul Food inspired dinner  will be  a progressive culinary journey to the Caribbean with 6 courses  The evening will be coupled with amazing beverage pairings and fantastic music! All of the proceeds from this dinner (like all Soul Food Sessions) will be donated to a local Non Profit that is making a positive impact in our community. This evening’s event will benefit Project 658 and their efforts in serving the refuge, immigrant, and poor of our City. Check out www.project658.com to find out  more. Cost is $80 per person. Link to get your tickets here. For more info visit the Soul Food Sessions CLT page on Facebook.

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TOTN LOGO-1Wednesday, September 27, 2017 – Charlotte’s 22nd Taste of the Nation® for No Kid Hungry 2017 will  at the Fillmore Charlotte, 820 Hamilton Street.  Ensure that no kid goes hungry, whether in Charlotte or across the nation, by joining the city’s finest chefs, sommeliers and mixologists for a remarkable night of dining in support of No Kid Hungry’s work to end childhood hunger in America.   for the fourth year running, guests will have the opportunity to purchase a $20 raffle ticket which will correspond to one of over 100 bottles of wine!  The Wine Grab – always a popular part of this annual event – will be set-up in the bar closest to the Fillmore’s front doors so stop by when you first arrive because these bottles will go quickly!  Each donated bottle of wine ranges in retail value from $20 to over $100!  At the event itself,  mix, mingle, and enjoy food and drink prepared by more than 30 of Charlotte’s top chefs and mixologists.

VIP Admission : $120,  6:00pm – 9:30pm.  General Admission : $85, 7:00pm – 9:30pm  For more information, visit the website and follow Taste of the Nation Clt on all of their social media.

 

8112e840-ea24-4e43-8e44-1237232945f0September 29 & 30, 2017 – Time for a road trip to enjoy a great annual festival – The Carolina Jubilee, a two-day music festival in Harmony, North Carolina at VanHoy Farms.  The fun features local and national music acts, celebrity chefs including Executive Chef Clark Barlowe from Heirloom Restaurant, Carolina breweries, wineries and distilleries.   This is a family friendly event with kid’s activities provided by Discovery Place Kids and the option to camp on-site at VanHoy Farms. There is an a 5k and 10k the morning of September 30.      Tickets to one day of the festival are $35. Both days are $55. Both days and camping is $65. Children under 12 are free. Parking will be $10/car and cannot be paid in advance. Proceeds from the event benefit the Carolina Farm Trust. For more info…

HRG_ChefSaturday, September 30, 4pm-10pm – 25th Anniversary Bash at Harpers’ Restaurant, SouthPark Location. Seems just like yesterday I was writing that the doors opened at Harpers’ Restaurant and now it seems that 25 years have flown by! The restaurant is celebrating all month long with lots of specials you’ll enjoy, but don’t miss the fun when they throw their 25th Anniversary Bash on the 30th on Harper’s outdoor patio. There will be plenty of food and drink specials, like 25% off Bar Bites ALL day and a Tap Takeover by Winston Salem’s Foothills Brewery. Look for some of Foothill’s best sellers, such as Torch Pilsner, Jade IPA, Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout 2015 & 2016, plus a couple other surprises. Larkin & Gary Dodgen will supply live music from 4pm-7pm and Scott Smith will continue with entertainment on the patio, 7:30pm-10pm. Party-goers will be treated to gift card giveaways and great door prizes from Foothills Brewery. 

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Thursday, October 5, 2017, 3PM “Outstanding in the Field” regional dinner at Renfrow Farms in Matthews
Host Farmer: Pressly Williams, Renfrow Farms, Matthews, NC (Charlotte)
Guest Chef: Adam Reed, Santé of Matthews, Matthews, NC

Adam Reed is one of farmer Pressly Williams’ favorite chefs and a longtime friend. That relationship bodes well for eaters in the field. Chef Reed’s Santé restaurant is across the street from Renfrow Hardware (est. 1900), and has been in the same spot since Adam answered an ad in the New York Times placed by a North Carolina lady looking to hire someone to run her restaurant. Adam moved his family down from NYC and changed the local food scene for good. The rest is accolades and good times. Before we sit down, Pressly will show us around her fields filled with okra and chard, figs and radishes, flowers and happy honeybees. Cost $215 per person Click here for reservations

upStreamFriday Oct 6, 6:30 pm – Upstream Restaurant’s 9th Annual Oyster Bash  Half-shell connoisseurs can reserve tickets now for this all-you-can-eat party that includes oysters from  around the world and pairs them with fabulous, interesting wines and sparklers.  Here’s what’s on the menu: raw oysters paired with incredible wines; Live entertainment; Fire roasted oysters—prepared New Orleans-style; A chance to Win a case of wine in a raffle to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry. Tickets:  $125 per person, inclusive. Reservations are limited and pre-payment for the event is required. Make your reservation online here.   For more info:  704.556.7730

first harvest of baby ginger - Windcrest farmSaturday Oct 7, 2017 – Heidi Billotto’s Hands-On On the Farm  Ginger harvest cooking class at Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC, 3-6 pm – This class kicks off with an ginger-centric appetizer and aperitif and a toast to the season of all things ginger! Then the group is off on a walking tour of Windcrest Farm as we explore the lay of the land and visit all the greenhouses to see what is growing for the season. Most of our focus will be in the greenhouse filled with rows of ready to be dug ginger and turmeric. Class participants will learn how to harvest their own and can try a hand at digging if they would like.  Once we learn the farming and harvesting side of this year’s ginger season, we’ll head back to the garden shed where I will have a makeshift kitchen  all set up for all of use to work together to prepare 4 courses of  “Ginger-liciousness” with all of Windcrest’s fine local, USDA certified organic produce and the local protein and products of other producers as well. our friends at Assorted Table wine shop will provide wine pairings for each course.  Cost of the class is $85 per person. Simply email Heidi at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com to make your reservations.

90a40f2d-b135-4501-b4b7-64c102593be3Sunday Oct 8, 2-5 pm – At Home with Heidi Cooking Class – Gluten Free Gourmet – If you are tired of not being able to eat the pizza crust or pie crust, or the stuffing or the bread, then be tired no more. In this hands-on cooking class, we’ll work together prepare an entire meal – all of it gluten free from the appetizers right down to dessert and the bread in the bread basket. As always its as hands on as you would like to be – or if you want to watch, take it all in and eat and enjoy that’s fine too! Assorted Table Wine Shop will provide our wine pairings for each and every course. Cost is $75 per person Email Heidi at Heidi@Heidicooks.com to make your reservations. 

WineandTapasWeek-just-charlotteOct 13- 22, 2017 – Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week – Fall Edition . The first Charlotte Wine & Tapas week took place last spring and was a huge success – you can read about it in an article I wrote for Charlotte Living Magazine – The concept is a delicious one, its all about little plates, sharing and pairing food and wine. Many Charlotte restaurants participate with special menus and for $30 or $35 you get a trio of little plates to enjoy on your own or share with your friends. You’ll be hearing more from me as the event gets closer – just pencil these dates on your calendar so you won’t miss a single bite!

DI_wEiCWsAIweIjMonday October 16, 2017 at Heirloom Restaurant. My friends photographer Peter Taylor and Chef Marc Jacksina have done it again… Don’t Miss, Order/fire’s first ever ordertogether dinner!  Tickets are $125 each and includes a 7 course dinner from 14 of Charlotte’s best chefs and beer pairings from Free Range Brewing. Plus the promise of other special guests in the kitchen! The evening also includes a silent auction, a grand raffle and the sharing of some great stories.

 

download-1October 18-21, 2017 – Terra Vita Food & Drink Festival  in Chapel Hill, NC – The Chapel Hill, NC-based nationally noted festival of food & drink, now in its eighth year, offers exceptional dinners, tasting events, after parties, chef demos as well as the “Sustainable Classroom” – educational experiences featuring renowned chefs, authors & national media. Many Charlotte chefs and food-centric folk are involved including Clark Barlowe, Matthew Krenz, Joe Kindred, Keia Mastrianni and Bruce Moffett just to name a few. Detail on all the dinners, workshops, and seminars as well as reservation links are all on the very informative Terra Vita website.

https-cdn.evbuc.comimages348776111395543578761originalSaturday Oct. 21, 3-6 pm – The annual Carved event sponsored by the Piedmont Culinary Guild.  This is an annual pumpkin carving extravaganza with lots of local chefs and food-centric folks in the mix! Its a family-friendly fall festival and pig pickin’ and included in the $20 ticket purchase price , you will enjoy a delicious plate of locally sourced food, created by Piedmont Culinary Guild chefs, a beverage from Lenny Boy Brewing Co. ( with the option to buy more), entry into the public pumpkin carving competition, and more. For more Info and tickets… 

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Save the dates, Call Your Friends, Make your Reservations, Have Fun this Fall and keep checking  back for more Nibbles and Sips as new fun food-centric events hit my calendar! 

All Things Ginger-licious

Its that time of the year, when  the summer heat starts to give way to the cooler days of fall. If you are Mary Roberts at Windcrest Certified Organic Farm in Monroe NC, the first week or two of September means that the official start of ginger season is less than a month away!

Heidi_s Ginger Sesame Tuna Burgers with Ginger Slaw

Mary planted her first crop of certified organic ginger using organic seed from Hawaii in 2011. I am delighted to say I was there the day they dug up that first hand of ginger and was as delighted as anyone in the greenhouse that day to see the success of that harvest. I couldn’t be more pleased to see how Mary’s ginger business has continued to grow. That first year the harvest was small, it was an experiment to see if it could be done and if there was a market – Yes and Yes!

To help people learn how to use the baby ginger I have teamed up with Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton to teach on of my On the Farm cooking classes at Windcrest each October to celebrate the ginger harvest.

cropped-heidi-billotto-food-blog-logo-not-compressedHeidi Billotto’s 2017 On the Farm cooking class is on the calendar for Saturday Oct 7, 2017 from 3-6 pm. 

We work hard to make these class as much  fun as they are informative. To that end, the class will kick off with an ginger-centric appetizer and aperitif and a toast to the season of all things ginger!

Then the group is off on a walking tour of Windcrest Farm as we explore the lay of the land and visit all the greenhouses to see what is growing for the season. Most of our focus will be in the greenhouse filled with rows of ready to be dug ginger and turmeric. Class participants will learn how to harvest their own and can try a hand at digging if they would like.

IMG_6423Once we learn the farming and harvesting side of this year’s ginger season, we’ll head back to the garden shed where I will have a makeshift kitchen  all set up for all of use to work together to prepare 4 courses of what I like to call “Ginger-liciousness” with all of Windcrest’s fine local, USDA certified organic produce and the local protein and products of other producers as well. our friends at Assorted Table wine shop will provide wine pairings for each course.

Cost of the class is $85 per person. Simply email me at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com to make your reservations.

A Hand of Ginger to Call Your Own

IMG_6431With Nearly 800 lbs of ginger in the ground right now at Windcrest, you’d think there would be plenty for everyone, but this is a coveted crop that goes fast once harvest begins. Chefs and caterers are already placing preorders and you can too!  Preorder your Windcrest certified organic baby ginger now and Mary will call you when it is available for pick up at the Matthews Farmers’ Market on Saturdays in October, or get a jump on the crowd and preorder with your cooking class reservations and you can pick up your purchases at class. Preorder info is all on the Windcrest website and you can place your order by clicking here.

Plus it seems Windcrest Farms certified organic ginger is celebrating this harvest with its own Facebook page, so you can follow along with the harvest and tag photos of your Windcrest ginger recipes by tagging them in your Facebook post at @OurOrganicGinger

How the local Ginger-liciousness begins
IMG_6414Mary plants the seed in January, keeping them warm and comfy in the greenhouses until they are big enough to transplant. The growing season is nearly 10 months long, but about this time of year, the plants begin to really shoot up first just one long main shoot which comes straight up from what as known as the “mother” and then as smaller nodules or fingers of ginger start to develop.

Mary knows when to harvest by the looking at the height of the leaves and the number of shoots coming up from the mother root to form what is called a hand of ginger. The “fingers” may be broken off and sold separately or the hand may be sold in one large piece.

The baby ginger root is tender and pink and not quite as spicy as its older counterpart which will start to develop a thicker brown skin as it ages. Baby ginger and older ginger may be use interchangeably in recipes.

Speaking of recipes, here is one of my favorites recently showcased on WCNC’s Charlotte Today . Watch it through and then scroll down to for the complete recipe for my Sesame Ginger Tuna Burgers and slaw.

Heidi’s Ginger Sesame Tuna Burgers with Ginger Slaw

1 lb. fresh sushi-grade tuna fillet

2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro

2 Tbs. finely chopped red onion or scallion

1 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. sesame oil

2 Tbsp. minced fresh WIndcrest Farm Organic baby ginger

Windcrest Farm Ginger salt and Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend

1 Tbsp. sesame oil + 1 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate EVOO for frying

 

IMG_6440Cut the tuna into 1-inch chunks and pulse in a food processor until just chopped, about 4 quick pulses – so that it looks like coarse ground beef. Gently stir in the cilantro, onion, mayonnaise, sesame oil, Windcrest Farm Organic baby ginger, salt & pepper. Shape the tuna into 4 burgers.

This may be done up to 3-4 hours ahead of time.

 

Heat the sesame and olive oils in a large skillet or griddle.  Cook the tuna 1-2 minutes on each side – finished burgers will bel nicely browned on both sides but still have a pink center

Serve on a bun or on a bed of letter with sliced ripe tomato and Heidi’s Sesame Ginger Slaw ( recipe follows).

 

IMG_6437Heidi’s Sesame Ginger Slaw

½ head organic or local green cabbage

2 organic carrots, cut into Julienne shreds

¼ cup minced parsley

2-3 Tbsp. fresh grated Windcrest farms certified organic baby ginger

 

For the dressing:

3 Tbsp. minced onion

3 Tbsp. sesame oil

2 Tbsp. Olive Crate certified organic strawberry balsamic vinegar

3 Tbsp. finely minced Windcrest Farms certified organic baby ginger

2 Tbsp.  ketchup

1 Tbsp. Mushroom-flavored soy sauce ( Heidi likes Best Boy Brand available at any Asian grocery store)

1/2 clove minced garlic (optional)

Windcrest Farms Ginger salt and Heidi’s Hot pepper blend to taste

 

Shred cabbage and combine in a bowl with the julienne carrot and minced parsley.

Mae the dressing by Combining the onion, sesame oil, strawberry balsamic vinegar, Windcrest Farms Certified organic baby ginger, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and process until combined.

Toss with the shredded vegetables and serve on top of the tuna burgers.

Variations: use shredded Brussels Sprouts in place of or in addition to the cabbage

on-the-farmDon’t forget to make your reservations for my On the Farm cooking class at Windcrest Farms on Oct 7, 2017 – Simply email me at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com to hold your spot. And if you love the idea of attending an On the Farm class and really learning first hand where your food comes from, then you’ll also be interested in my On the Farm cooking class at Dancing Bees Farm , also in Monroe, NC on Sunday Sept 24 from 2 to 5 pm.

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  Email Heidi to make your reservations now.

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!

 

 

IMG_5758

 

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!