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

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

 

 

 

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

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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

video graphic

 

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.

Eat Your Dunkin’ Donuts coffee & doughnuts and cook with them too!

img_5272Did you know that this perfect paring of coffee and donuts isn’t just for breakfast, your next coffee break or a great midday or late night snack any more.  That’s right, now you can drink and eat your seasonal pumpkin Dunkin’ Donuts latte and  donuts and cook with them too!

Today’s recipes are thanks to the chefs in the Dunkin’ Donuts test kitchens at the company’s home base in Canton, Mass.  But once you see how their culinary minds work the application is easy and you, too, can start to shortcut a recipe – for example, substituting ground donuts for graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar in a pie crust and using Dunkin’s seasonal pumpkin latte in place of the milk, sugar, and flavoring for your own fun pumpkin pancakes.

tl-horizontal_mainSame goes for the  Dunkin’ Halloween Reese’s Peanut Butter Donuts – chocolate covered doughnuts with a rich peanut butter buttercream in the middle just as is the candy of the same name. Enjoy this sweet treat as you celebrate the season of ghosts, ghouls and goblins. Simply place 1-2 0f these donuts in a food processor to grind them up; shape the mix into small bite-sized balls – about the same size as a Dunkin’ Munchkin – freeze, dip in melted chocolate or refrigerate and roll in Dark cocoa or chocolate shots and there you have it – quick and easy chocolate peanut butter truffles.

The Dunkin’ Donuts concept began in 1948 with a donut and coffee restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts called “Open Kettle”, then the name changed to Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950. I can almost guarantee that founder William Rosenberg had no idea that his dream to serve guests donuts and coffee to kick off their morning, would one day be over 12,000 donuts shops in 44 countries strong; and I  feel certain he never entertained the idea that customers would buy his famous donuts as an ingredient in their seasonal recipes!

img_5276I grew up eating Dunkin’ Donuts in my hometown of Jacksonville, Fla – coffee and a DD French cruller became my go-to morning break snack when I was in high school. (It was a time when seniors could leave campus between classes. With really no where to go, we all camped out at the DD in the neighborhood, till it was time for class again.) While my personal Dunkin’ Donuts fave is and always has been the light and airy, melt-in-your-mouth French cruller; this time of the year the Apple Croissant Doughnut is a great seasonal stand in. The taste is that of an apple turnover wrapped in a light a fluffy cruller style doughnut. In addition to the Apple Croissant doughnut, another seasonal selection you won’t want to miss is Dunkin’ Donuts pumpkin glazed doughnut. Also available in Munchkin sized bites, this seasonal crowd pleaser is also great for dunking and as you will see, does double duty as an ingredient in your favorite seasonal recipes  as well!

Save the Date | Friday Oct 21, 2016 – Dunkin Donut’s 50th Charlotte area store Grand Opening in Concord NC 

concordstoreoutsideThe first Dunkin’ Donuts in the Charlotte metro area opened in 2004.  This week in Charlotte, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and doughnut fans across the city will be celebrating as the 50th store in our Metrolina area opens for business. The newest member of the Dunkin’ Donuts family  is in Concord NC, at 30 Raiford Drive. The grand opening is on Friday Oct 21 and the festivities start at 6:30 am. Regular hours at the Concord location are 5am – 10 pm.

On Oct. 21, from 7-9 am the new Concord Dunkin’ Donuts will be giving away free cups of coffee. Mayor Scott Padget will be on hand to help serve guests and will help present one randomly selected guests as the lucky winner of free coffee for one year!

At 7-7:30 am, don’t miss the fun as Dunkin’ recognizes several local heros at the new store opening with a Kickin’ Cancer with Coffee Dance-off event. Charlotte’s own Braylon Beam,  the six year old who captured the nation’s hearts a year ago with his Ellen DeGeneres Show appearance and dancing-as-therapy videos promoting his #JustKeepDancing campaign and Charlotte’s hearts as the Panthers’ honorary coach, will lead teams of Concord Fire Fighters and teams of Concord Police in a fun and friendly dance-off.

Also from 7-9 am look for on air personalities from Fox 46 to be on hand, serving free medium-sized coffee and doing love broadcasts, as well ,as a part of the station’s monthly “Free Coffee Friday” promo.

img_5275Across the city every Dunkin’ Donuts will be celebrating the 50th shop opening with 50 cent cups of coffee and 50 cent doughnuts throughout the day on Friday. 

In Concord, the new shop is looking to sell 500 cups of coffee after the free pours Friday morning have come and gone. If the goal is met, as a part of the Kickin’ Cancer with Coffee event, Dunkin Donuts will donate $5 for each cup sold for a total contribution of up to $2500 to the Bring it 4 Braylon Foundation.

 

Before Friday’s celebrations begin, you can stop by your closest Dunkin’ Donuts to pick up Hot Pumpkin Lattes and Pumpkin donuts or Pumpkin Munchkins and The new Reese’s Halloween Donut for more that just a morning or midday treat. Use them as ingredients in your next homemade recipe as well…

Drink your latte and eat it too – Pumpkin Latte Pancakes (See this recipe on Video from Fox 46 Charlotte here)

img_5347Recipe courtesy of the chefs in the Dunkin’ Donuts test kitchens in Canton, Mass.

1 ½ Cups of all-purpose flour

3 ½ Tsp of baking powder

1 Tsp of salt

1 Small ( 10 oz) hot Pumpkin Latte, chilled ( in this recipe the latte takes the place of the milk, sugar and pumpkin flavoring you might otherwise add to your own pancakes)

1 Egg

3 Tbsp. of butter, melted

img_5342Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk them together.

Then, add the remaining ingredients and stir until they are evenly mixed.

Heat a pan over medium/high heat and spray it with cooking spray.

Once hot, spoon the pancake batter into the pan, then flip to make your pancakes. 

I added my own “Keep in Local, Charlotte” touch here by finishing the stack-o-pancakes  with toasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzling of local sourwood honey.

Pumpkin Donut-Crusted No Bake Pumpkin Pie

Recipe courtesy of the chefs in the Dunkin’ Donuts test kitchens in Canton, Mass.

img_53463 Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Cake Donuts, crumbled

1 Package of cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 Cup of pureed pumpkin

1 Cup of powdered sugar

1 Tsp of cinnamon

1/4 Tsp of nutmeg

1/4 Tsp of cloves

2 Cups of heavy whipping cream

1/4 Cup of ground Dunkin’ Donuts Dark Roast coffee

img_5338Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and press the crumbled donuts firmly into a pie pan.  Bake the crust for 15 minutes, then cool thoroughly, just as you would a graham cracker curst.   

For the filling,  combine the cream cheese, pureed pumpkin, powdered sugar, and spices until smooth.  

img_5339In a separate bowl, whip 1 cup of the heavy cream to soft peaks and fold into the pumpkin mixture.   Pour the pumpkin cream mixture into the donut crust and smooth out with a spatula.   Refrigerate overnight.

 

 Just before serving, make the coffee flavored whipped cream to top your pie.  In a microwave safe bowl, combine ground Dunkin’ Donuts Dark Roast with 1/4 cup of heavy cream and heat it for 30 seconds in the microwave.  Strain the Dark Roast out of the cream using a coffee filter and set aside.  Whip the remaining heavy cream in a bowl and once it reaches soft peaks, add in the Dark Roast cream.   Pipe the cream onto the top of the pie and enjoy!

For another variation on the theme, instead of the using the roasted coffee beans to flavor the coffee, try what I did on the Oct 20 broadcast of WBTV’s Morning Break Charlotte. Video Here

img_5488Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Latte Pie Topping – Combine 1 (8 oz) block of cream cheese, 1/4 cup of Dunkin’ Donuts  pumpkin latte, chilled and  1/4 cup of powdered sugar with about 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Blend until light but smooth. Pipe on the pie as your would whipped cream and decorate with chocolate covered coffee beans. Enjoy!

 

#TellThemHeidiSentYouThe 50th Dunkin’ Donuts shop in our Metrolina area is open for business in Concord NC, at 30 Raiford Drive. The grand opening is on Friday Oct 21 and the festivities start at 6:30 am. Regular hours at the Concord location are 5am – 10 pm. #TellThemHeidiSentYou

About the Bring It 4 Braylon Foundation: The mission of the Bring It 4 Braylon Foundation is to help alleviate the burden associated with pediatric cancer by providing comprehensive support to families and individuals who are fighting the disease. Founded on Braylon’s philosophy,  wise beyond his years, calling on us to “Be Brave. Be Positive. Have the Heart,” in the hope that together we can help to face and alleviate the challenges pediatric cancers patients and their families face everyday. For more info on how you can help make a difference visit, http://www.bringit4braylon.com/

Stuffed Squash Blossoms: A New Take on Ham and Cheese

img_5252I’ve been doing a lot of cooking this month on television and for catering jobs and cooking classes. As my regular readers know, I am all about local and cooking in the season, so this month, in particular, I have celebrated the end of the squash season with  several recipes for stuffed squash blossoms. Recently I made a delicious (if I do say so myself) ham and cheese stuffed version of my baked stuffed squash blossoms, originally for a brunch I catered for the Charlotte Food Bloggers.

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Earlier this week, I shared the recipe on WBTV’s new program, Morning Break, in the television kitchen with my friend Kristen Miranda  and you’ll find the video of this recipe prep is at the end of this post, as well as a special bonus recipe from the Charlotte Food Bloggers’ Brunch.

My friends from Goodnight Brothers Country Ham were good enough to help sponsor the brunch I prepared for the Charlotte Food Bloggers and so as a way of saying thanks I wanted to come up with several new and interesting ways to serve Goodnights thin sliced dry cured country ham. You might consider it North Carolina’s answer to Italian prosciutto. This thin sliced ham is locally available in Charlotte at Earthfare and Whole Foods.

dsc_0734What I love about the ham is first is all its a local North Carolina product all the way around. Goodnight Brothers, based in Boone, NC,  doesn’t raise the pigs – they just cure the meat, but they are selective in the meat they use.  The Goodnight products are produced from pigs pasture-raised on North Carolina family farms. These animals were raised in an antibiotic-free environment and when the meat was cured it was done so without the use of added nitrates or nitrites except for those naturally occurring in sea salt and celery. The ham comes thin sliced in 4 oz packages and slices are separated with parchment paper to make using the ham even easier.

 

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Heidi’s Ham and Cheese salad with Goodnight Brothers Thin sliced ham, grilled Bosc Pears, boiled quail eggs, Tega Hill Farm Lettuce and Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese, dressed with Blackberry Ginger Balsamic from Pour Olive in Charlotte

I’ve seen chefs across the state use this tasty ham in multitudes of recipes as Goodnight Brothers products have been featured in many of the GotToBeNc Competition Dining  series battles I have worked; and inspired, I have used it myself to make ham-wrapped everything from shrimp to pretzels, in salads, on biscuits and in combination with another local favorite of mine, Uno Alla Volta feta cheese to stuff local squash blossoms, available from Tega Hill Farms.

As I write this, it is the middle of October, and by the end of the month, squash season will be over in the Tega Hill Farm greenhouses and the vines of beautiful yellow blossoms will make way for pea tendrils and other seasonal greens. But don’t you fret, this wonderful ham and cheese stuffing can still be made and used in many ways – here are just a few suggestions before we get to the squash blossom recipe.

img_4985Cut jalapenos or small sweet peppers in half, scrape out the seeds, fill the pepper halves with the ham and cheese filling, top with a sprinkling of panko crumbs and grated Parmesan and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes or until brown for a great spicy or not ham and cheese popper.

The stuffing can also be piped onto toasts or into small savory pastry shells and baked as you would the peppers, or mix the stuffing recipe here in its entirety with 2 ( 8oz) blocks of cream cheese and then baked in small well greased muffin tins at 375 for about 30 mins to make bite-sized ham and cheese cheesecakes!

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You can also use the ham all by itself to make a mean mini ham biscuit – I particularly like these dressed with a new mustard I just discovered. Its Korean Mustard, produced by a South Carolina based company called Burnt and Salty and is available in Charlotte at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend. The sweet salty taste of the dry cured ham and the sweet spicy taste of the mustard are a match made in heaven and perfect on a one or two bite fresh baked biscuit!

 

 

So many variations -hope you have fun trying them all, but first back to the matters at hand. The Squash Blossoms and the master recipe for my local Ham and Cheese  stuffing.

Heidi’s Ham and Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Honey and Bechamel 

img_5267For the Squash Blossoms:

1 cup Uno Alla Volta feta cheese

3 local eggs, divided

1/2 cup chopped local parsley or spinach

½ cup shredded Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Dry Cured Country Ham

orange zest

12 squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farm

Flour

¾ cup breadcrumbs

For the béchamel

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

img_52571½ cups whole local milk ( I used Hickory Hill Milk produced just outside of Greenville SC and available in Charlotte at Earthfare – its a wonderful cream top milk and – fun fact – is the milk from which Clemson Blue Cheese is made!)

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard ( or you can use the Burnt and Salty Korean Mustard for a nice kick!

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Directions for the blossoms:

Mix together feta, 1 lightly beaten egg, shredded ham and  parsley or spinach and orange zest. Season to taste.

Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the breadcrumbs in another bowl.

Carefully remove the stamen of each blossom and then pipe the  filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.

img_4991Dust the stuffed blossoms lightly with flour. And then dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a wire cake rack. This is the secret – allow the breading and egg to rest for about 5 minutes before placing the breaded blossoms on a parchment paper or silpat lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, in a preheated 400 degree oven until the blossoms are lightly browned.

Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

For a savory dish, top the blossoms with the béchamel. For a sweeter note, drizzle them with local honey from Dancing Bees Honey before serving.

Directions for the béchamel:

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Add flour and stir cook, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes.

Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture is smooth.

Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove the bechamel from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season to taste with salt.

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And now click here to link to the video from my WBTV Morning Break cooking segment earlier this week. As I mentioned on air, the cheese from Uno Alla Volta and the squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farm and the honey from Dancing Bees Honey will all be available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market on Saturdays. The blossoms will only be available through the end of October, so get cooking and enjoy this special taste of the season.

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Chef Wolfgang Puck and Charlotte Based food & restaurant writer Heidi Billotto

Just as a reference, you will hear Kristen and me talking about chef Wolfgang Puck. The evening before my cooking segment, WP Kitchen & Bar restaurant in Charlotte had an event to raise funds and awareness for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. The restaurant used the occasion to kick off the new fall menu and Wolfgang Puck and his brother Klaus were in town to help celebrate. This was the second time I had the pleasure of meeting Puck – he’s a great guy with tons of contagious energy and enthusiasm and is a huge supporter of the Food Bank. “If all of us just do a little,”,he said.” It makes a huge difference.”

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Bonus Recipe… In addition to make the ham and cheese salad and the stuffed squash Blossoms for the Charlotte Food Bloggers brunch, I also made homemade fresh baked Cheese Danish and Sticky Cinnamon Rolls. I promised the recipe and so here tis – enjoy!

Heidi’s Homemade Danish or Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup sour cream

½ cup organic sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup melted butter

½ cup warm water

2 Tbsp. yeast

2 local eggs

4 cups organic unbleached flour

For the cinnamon roll filling:

melted butter
, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar

For the Danish filling:
 1 (6 oz) block cream cheese
, ¼ cup sugar
, 1 egg
 Your favorite jam or fruit spread

For 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.

For the Danish: combine cream cheese, egg and ugar and beat until smooth. Spread the filling down the center of the dough rectangle. Top with your favorite jam or fruit spread. Cut small slits along either side of the dough so that the dough on either side of the filling will resemble fringe. Starting from one end, fold the “fringe” pieces up and over the filling to encase the cream cheese and jam.
Place the finished Danish on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

 

 

 

Seasonally Speaking: It’s Time for Local Organic Baby Ginger

img_4511To every time (and to every fruit, flower, herb and vegetable) there is a season.

Back in 2011, it was my pleasure to join a small but excited group at  Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC for the first harvest of a new crop of  organic baby ginger! Mary  and Ray Roberts-Tarlton, owners and farmers at Windcrest, a certified organic farm, grow all kinds of cool and unusual herbs and veggies, but this first crop of baby ginger was something special. Fast forward these past five years and the annual every growing ginger crop at Windcrest has become an occasion to celebrate!

Roberts and her team start the ginger from organic seed from brought in from Hawaii early in the year and then transferred the tender young plants to their home in the ground in one of Windcrest’s many greenhouses. As the tubers grow beneath the ground, the stalks and leaves shoot up to heights from 4-6 feet tall. The joy here is that the whole plant can be used from stem to stern. The leaves can be dried and crumbled for tea, to add to various dried spice, salt or pepper mixes and the roots can be candied, pickled, stewed, sautéed, simmered – the list goes on and on.

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Heidi Billotto on the cooking set of Charlotte Today with show hosts Coleen Odegaard & Eugene Robinson

 

Each year around this time, I feature the Windcrest organic baby ginger in one of my television cooking segments. This week I was on WCNC’s Charlotte Today and ginger was the star of the show as I used it to prepare one of my favorite recipes for quick and easy local BBQ baby back ribs.

The glaze on these ribs was inspired by one of my favorite cocktails made with bourbon, a ginger-honey simple syrup, orange and ginger ale, and believe me, its a keeper! What I love about it is that its not too thick, so while the gingery glaze adds a fabulous sticky sweet and spice flavor, it doesn’t overwhelm and one can still taste the meat.

img_5026I recommend using local pork – lots of choices at any one of Charlotte’s several Farmers’ Markets, and if you can’t find pork ribs, use chops instead. The key to make the recipe move along faster cut the rack of ribs into double chops. The recipe also works well on chicken, seafood and tempeh ( although cooking times will vary slightly) – see my variation notes at the end of the recipe.

Several recipes to share hereCandied Ginger and as a result a Ginger Simple Syrup to use in cocktails  or to make your own ginger ale. The recipe for the ribs I cooking on television this week and a fun recipe for the Japanese Ginger Salad Dressing we all love each time we eat at a Japanese steakhouse.  You’ll find the video from the Charlotte Today segment at the end of this post  – just look for the pink television screen with my logo!

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgOctober’s On The Farm Cooking Class For more ginger how-tos and to see it for yourself, I’d love to have you join me and Mary Roberts for a ginger-centric On The Farm cooking class at Windcrest on Sunday Oct 16, from 1-4 pm. The class includes a farm tour where we see the farm up close and personal and will hear from Mary about sustainability, why it is important to her to grow organically and all about raising crops year round in a greenhouse environment. Plus we’ll cook and enjoy 4-5 new recipes for 4-5 delicious courses of local fare all with a ginger-centric theme. In addition to the tour and the food, the class also includes wine pairings from Assorted Table Wine Shop with each course, a recipe packet for each participant, and gift bag with sample sized local goodies and coupons. Cost is $85 per person. To make your reservations, simply email me directly at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com. 

The lovely thing about cooking with baby ginger  is that when it is harvested it comes without the hard, heavy skin grocery store ginger always has – the ginger develops that skin as it ages – and has a light and delicate flavor plus tons of health benefits as well.

Hope you’ll  attend our On the Farm cooking class later this month – reservations are a must, please, and visit Mary at the market this week and next to get a taste of the 2016 local ginger harvest and enjoy  the pleasures of cooking with the baby ginger while it is here and available, fresh and in season – its really something special!

Classic Japanese Steak House Ginger Salad Dressing

3 Tbsp. minced onion

3 Tbsp. canola oil

2 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar

3 Tbsp. finely minced baby ginger

2 Tbsp. organic ketchup

1 Tbsp. Mushroom-flavored soy sauce

1/2 clove minced garlic

Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Combine onion, oil, vinegar, ginger, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender and process until combined.Spoon over a plate of your favorite mixed greens.

Homemade Candied Baby Ginger

1 pound fresh baby ginger, thin sliced

4 cups organic granulated sugar

4 cups water, plus more for the initial cooking

pinch of salt

Put the thin baby ginger slices in a large stainless steel pot, add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for ten minutes. If you are making this recipe with older store-bought ginger you will want to repeat this precooking process one more time.

Mix the sugar and 4 cups of water in the pot, along with a pinch of salt and the ginger slices, and cook until the temperature reaches 225F measured on a candy thermometer

Remove from heat and let the ginger stand in the syrup for at least an hour while the mixture cools.

Remove the ginger from the syrup, reserving the syrup, and place the sliced ginger on a cake rack fitted over a baking sheet with sides. Drain the ginger and then sprinkle with additional sugar to coat both sides of the ginger. As the ginger cools more sprinkling sugar may be necessary.

For your own Ginger Ale

Combine:

1 to 2 Tbsp. of ginger syrup left over from making the candied ginger

sparkling water

Juice of one lime

Fill a tall glass filled with ice, add ginger syrup and the juice of a half of a lime and top with soda water. Adjust flavor adding more ginger syrup or lime as needed. Stir to blend and garnish with lime wedge or a sprig of fresh mint

And finally for the Ginger and Honey glazed baby back rib recipe that Charlotte Today co-hosts Eugene Robinson and Coleen Odegaard raved about on air –

Heidi’s Local Honey and Organic Baby Ginger Baby Back Ribs

img_5032One of my favorite honey-centric cocktails is with bourbon or aged rum, honey, orange and ginger ale – take the same flavors mix them with the baby ginger and apply then to a glaze or marinade and viola…

For a fuller orange flavor in this recipe, I used the Blood Orange infused EVOO from Pour Olive, my go-to artisan olive oil shop on East Blvd. in Charlotte

What make the ribs tender enough to saute is parboiling them first. Bit be sure that the Parboiling Liquid has plenty of flavor – for the parboil, combine

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Make your parboiling liquid flavorful!

2 Tbsp. Pour Olive Blood Orange EVOO

4 thick  slices of Windcrest Farms Organic baby ginger, minced

1 cup toasted  baby ginger leaves – simply crisp them up in a 200 degree over for 10-15 minutes to concentrate their delicate flavor

¼ cup fresh Italian leaf parsley

1 bottle of pale amber beer

2 cups mushroom broth

1 rack local Baby Back Ribs, cut into double ribs

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Glazing the ribs with the basting liquid sears the flavor on the meat

 

Basting sauce:

2/3 cup teriyaki, ponzu or hoisin sauce

¼ cup dark sesame oil

¼ cup minced fresh Windcrest Farms Organic Baby Ginger

1 cup aged whiskey or aged Rum ( I love to use NC’s own  organic TOPO aged whiskey here)

Juice and zest of two oranges or 2 Tbsp. Blood Orange EVOO from Pour Olive

Dash or two of  Crude Bitters orange & Fig bitters ( available at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte

1 cup Spicy Hot Blenheims Ginger Ale – made in Blenheims, SC!

½ cup Dancing Bees Farm Honey – your favorite variety ( I love the sourwood honey here and its available on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Market on Yorkmont Road.

 Condiments to serve – Texas Pete (if you’d like to spice it up a bit!)

img_5038Combine parboiling ingredients in a stock pot. Bring to a boil, add the whole racks of ribs. Allow to come back to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer of 30-40 mins or so.

While ribs are simmering, prepare basting sauce by combining all of the ingredients, except the honey and ginger in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce by one third. Remove from heat and stir in honey and ginger.

Remove ribs from the simmering liquid. Bathe the ribs in the glaze and place the ribs on a saute pan or grill pan, basting with the glaze until it just starts to brown on the meat, or  place in a roasting pan under the boiler for 2-3 mins on each side.

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Use chicken, seafood or your favorite vegan or vegetarian tempeh with the same delicious ginger glaze

 

To make a vegetarian version of the same – use tempeh or tempeh style “chicken” patties ( available at Earthfare in Charlotte) No parboiling needed – just saute the patties in the Blood Orange oil until nicely browned, then bathe in the glaze and cook down until the glaze has thickened slightly. Same method will work well for your favorite seafood.

For chicken –  no parboiling needed – simply season  bone-in ( this adds more flavor) pieces with salt and pepper and bake  in a preheated 400 degree oven in a covered roasting pan for 30-40 minutes. Remove the lid of the pan and add the basting  liquid. continue to bake for another 5 minutes  or broil the chicken for 2-3 minutes until the glaze starts to brown.

video graphic

Watch the video from my October 2016 cooking segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today here.

 Then, be sure to register to attend my October Ginger-centric cooking class at Windcrest Farm on October 16, 1-4 pm. Cost is $85 per person. To make your reservations, simply email me directly at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com and I’ll send you all the info you need to complete your reservation. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Recipes from the Southern Ideal Home Show Cooking Stage -Sept 9 2016

Twice a year I have the pleasure of hosting the cooking stage at the Southern Spring Show in April and Southern Shows Ideal Home Show in September. Back to back demos with tons of local chefs, caterers and other food-centric folk every hour on the hour!  I cook as well as host the activities and this year the fun takes place the weekend of Sept 9, 10 & 11 2016.

heres-what-was-cooking-at-the-southern-shows-ideal-home-show-friday-sept-9-2016

Still two days to go for this show with lines ups of great chefs sharing wonderful recipes on Saturday Sept 10 and Sunday Sept 11.  You can purchase tickets online here and use my special Friends and Family code of HeidiCooks16 to get a discounted price ( tickets are regularly $9 online,  $10 at the door, but with my code you can get them from just $6 a piece)

IMG_7417Before we get cooking today, here is the recap and recipes from all the fun and flavor on Friday… Just missing one set of recipes here and I will add them in later this weekend, as soon as I get them, so check back for updates….Meanwhile here’s the recap and the recipes.

The first day on the Southern Shows Ideal Home Show Cooking Stage 2016 day kicked off with chef Troy Gagliardo sharing his EveryDay Eats ( seen Tuesday Mornings on WCCB-TV) technique for homemade smoked pork butt, then transformed into a bbq pork fajita.

I followed Troy’s demo with a French Bistro style lunch or light dinner of Classic French Onions soup and my all local slider take on a Croque Monsieur using milk from Hickory Hill Farm in Greenville SC, biscuits from A Little Taste of Heaven in Monroe, Thin Sliced Prosciutto Style Country Ham from Goodnight Brothers in Boone,  and my favorite Herbs de Duxelle from the Savory Spice Shop in Charlotte’s Southend neighborhood.

img_4181Next Chef Terra Ciotta for the International Culinary School at Charlotte’s Art Institute,  stole the crowd’s heart with her Gateway Cheese Grits and Braised Shortribs, sharing lots of great technique ( Do you know why to add the celery last when you are sauteing a mirepoix? Answer below).

img_4195Melanie and Andy Tritten were up next sharing the fabulous flavors of their four Locally made Got To Be NC Cannizzaro sauces with two great recipes – one for Zucchini Crust Pizza and the other for the cutest little Zucchini and Yellow squash ( instead of pasta) raviolis you have ever seen.

img_4203Private Chef Bill Bigham followed with a trio of tasty crostini – shrimp and garlic, prosciutto, honey and fig and  artichoke with feta – wow!!

img_4206Personal Chef Cynthia Ferich was new to the cooking stage this year and the crowd loved her stories of cooking with her grandmother, sharing family recipes and keeping family traditions alive with her cookbook Mama Mia Cucina and her Fabulous recipe for Meatballs and Sauce.

I finished off the day with a Local Love demo, sharing tastes of Uno Alla Volta Cottage cheese with Cloister Honey’s new Salted Honey, My Tenda-Bake Pancake Mix cobbler recipe ( see yesterdays blog post)  and another version of the earlier Croque Monsieur recipe, this time with slices of White Chocolate Baguette from La Farm Bakery in Cary topped with more Goodnight Brothers ham and a bechamel made again with Hickory Hill Farms whole milk and Ashe County Blue Cheese – its a keeper, folks!

#TellThemHeidiSentYouRecipes from our first day follow here as well as links to to all the chefs. My plan is to post the recipes each evening ( or the morning after) so just stay tuned for  more or just subscribe to the blog ( on the home page here) to get the posts each day in your inbox and then you’ll be among the first to receive my regular blog posts every week or so.

Chef Troy Gagliardos PRO Pork for the home cook   

More At http://cheftroy.net/

8-10 Pounds-Pork Butt-with fat cap, bone-in or boneless

To Coat-Chef Troy’s Back Rub-or your favorite bbq rub

4 Cups-Hickory Wood Chip-soaked at least one hour

Sauce

1 Cup-Ketchup

¼ Cup-Cider Vinegar

¼-½ Cup-Cold Water

2 Tablespoon-Chef Troy’s Back Rub-or your favorite

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Directions

Pre heat oven to 225 degrees.  Pat pork dry and completely coat pork with rub. Place in a roasting pan fitted with a rack, cover with aluminum foil. Roast until tender, about 8 hours. Pre-heat grill/smoker for indirect low heat, about 225 degrees.  Remove foil, place rack with pork on grill, indirect heat side.  Add wood chips and let smoke for 1 to 1 ½ hours.  Remove and shred pork using two forks.  Sauce if desired and serve on buns, tortillas or on its own.

Chef Troy Gagliardos Pulled Pork Carnitas with Charred Slaw

1 Recipe-PRO Pork for the Home Cook (see recipe at http://www.cheftroy.net)

2 Each-Lime-one cut into wedges, one juiced

To Taste-Chef Troy’s Back Rub

1 Recipe-Charred Slaw with Spicy Russian Dressing

Flour or Corn Tortillas

Directions:

Cook pork according to recipe.  Pull pork off in large pieces and place 6 cups in a mixing bowl and squeeze in lime juice to taste.  Season with Chef Troy’s Back Rub and toss to combine.  Place an iron skillet over medium high heat.  Place pork in skillet and begin to brown.  When warmed through and slightly caramelized, cover and remove from heat.  Warm tortillas in a dry pan or on low heat grill, keep warm in a clean kitchen towel. Top each tortilla with a mound of pork, a dollop of slaw {garnish with crispy ramen from slaw recipe}.

Charred Slaw with Spicy Russian Dressing

3 Cups-Red Cabbage-about a quarter head, leave core intact

3 Cups-Green Cabbage-about a quarter head, leave core intact

To Bruch-Olive Oil

To Taste-Chef Troy’s Spice Mix

½ Cup-Carrot-shredded

3 Each-Green Onion-sliced thin

2 Tablespoons-Unsalted Butter

1 Pack-Dry Ramen Noodle-crushed

Dressing

¾ Cup-Mayonnaise

¼ Cup-Ketchup

1 Teaspoon-Tabasco Hot Sauce

½ Teaspoon-Worcestershire Sauce

3 Tablespoons-Chives-sliced thin

To Taste-Kosher Salt/Black Pepper

Directions

Preheat grill for direct heat grilling to medium high heat.  Make dressing by combining all ingredients and refrigerate.  Melt butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Crush ramen noodles, place in pan and cook until lightly toasted-3-5 minutes.  Place on a paper towel lined plate and allow to cool.  Brush cabbage lightly with oil and season with Spice Mix.  Place over direct heat and char on both cut sides, 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove, allow to cool and slice thin.  Place cabbages in a bowl, add carrot/green onion and toss to combine.  Add just enough dressing to coat and toss to combine.  Add toasted ramen to taste and serve.

 

Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto’s Classic French Onion Soup

HeidiBillottoFood.com

 

3 medium onions, thin sliced

2 cloves Local or organic garlic

5 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. sugar (not needed if you are using sweet onions or if you have the time to really cook the onions low and slow)

6 cups beef, mushroom or chicken broth or half of each

1 cup dry white wine

a bouquet garni ( made with celery bay leaf and other fresh herbs like thyme and parsley

½ cup Tawny Port

1/3 cup heavy cream or fat free half and half (optional) or you can also use an unsweetened coconut creamer

For finish and gratinee:
1 baguette of French bread
1 cup grated swiss cheese ( Emmenthaler or Gruyere are always good)

Here’s How Its Done:  Sweat the onions and garlic in the butter over medium low heat for 15-20 minutes or until tender. During the last five minutes stir in the sugar. Add the stock and wine and bouquet garni. Simmer, covered for 30 minutes. Add Port and  creamer.

To serve: Pour soup into individual ramekins. Top each with a slice of the baguette. Sprinkle with the Swiss cheese. Run under the broiler until the cheese melts

Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billottos’s French Bistro Croque Monsieur Biscuits

HeidiBillottoFood.com

 

Béchamel

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1½ cups whole local milk

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pink Himalayan seas salt from the Savory Spice Shop to taste

Heidi’s Hot Pepper blend from the Savory Spice Shop ( 1/3 each Black tellicherry peppercorns, Black lampong peppercorns and pink reunion peppercorns)

For the sandwiches:

8 A Little Taste of Heaven Biscuits

6 oz. Goodnight Brothers Country ham, biscuit cut or thin sliced prosciutto style

3 oz. Gruyère, grated (about 1½ cups) or for a fun local twist use Fading D Farm aged Buffola cheeses

2 Tbsp. Savory Spice Shop tomato powder  + 1 Tbsp Savory Spice Shop Herbs de Duxelle Mushroom Powder

For the béchamel:  Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add flour and stir cook until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture is smooth. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the bechamel from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season to taste with salt.  The sauce may be made ahead and held in the fridge for a day or so or frozen – defrost overnight in refrigerator

For the sandwiches:  Warm the biscuits in the oven according to package directions, Cut each biscuit in half. Place the biscuit bottoms on a Parchment paper lined baking sheet, Top each biscuit with a spoonful of béchamel, then layer each with ham and grated cheese.Take a cup of the remaining béchamel and stir in 1 tablespoon of the tomato powder and 1 Tbsp of the Herbs de duxelle mushroom powder.  Cover each bundle with a biscuit top them, coat each with bechamel, then top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with tomato powder and herbs de duxelle. Bake until cheese is brown and bubbling, 10–15 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature

Chef Terra Ciotta’s Braised Short Ribs

Artisan Restaurant at the International Culinary School – Art Institute Charlotte

4 oz Oil – Olive & Canola Blend

3 lbs. Short Ribs

Salt & Pepper to taste

Flour      to coat

1 lb. Onion

½ lb. Carrot

½ lb Parsnips

3 cloves Garlic, crushed

2 oz. Tomato Paste

8 oz Beer, Dark preferred

2 oz Brown Sugar

2 oz Worcestershire

2-3 cups Beef Stock

3-4 sprigs Oregano (or other strong herb)

Heat the blended oil in a deep cast iron skillet over medium high heat.

Preheat an oven to 325 F (162 C).    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.  Saute the onion, carrot & parsnips in the pan.   Add the tomato paste and stir it in to dry; add the beer, Worchester and brown sugar.  Add some of the stock and return the short ribs to the sauce. The sauce should come half-way up the sides of the ribs. Adjust with additional stock as needed.  Place in the preheated oven covered and cook for two hours, turning the ribs over every 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and place the ribs on a deep platter.   Using a submersible blender, puree the sauce. Adjust the consistency as needed by thinning with additional stock or thicken with a Corn Starch Slurry.

Crock Pot Method

  1. Complete steps 1 & 2 above, placing the Short Ribs in the crock pot.
  2. Follow steps 2 – 5 above, pouring the sauce over the short ribs in the crock pot.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours.
  4. Remove from short ribs from the crock pot onto a platter and continue to step 8.

Chef Terra Ciotta’s Gateway Cheddar Grits

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup milk

As needed salt

1 cup stone ground grits

4 oz. unsalted butter

4 oz. heavy cream

4 oz. grated cheddar

Bring stock and milk to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in grits.  Place in 350 oven to cook, stirring occasionally.  Add more stock if needed.

When grits are done, stir in the butter, cream, and cheese.  Adjust seasoning as necessary.  Serve immediately or cool in a shallow pan.

To reheat: combine grits with a little heavy cream and warm gently on the stove over moderate heat.

Chef Terra Ciotta’s Braised Shortribs

Andy and Melanie Tritten’s Cannizzaro Sauce Zucchini Crust Pizza

More at https://cannizzarofamiglia.com/

1 Medium-Large Zucchini
1 Egg
1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan
2 tsps Sea Salt
1 Jar Cannizzaro Marinara or Arrabbiata
Your Favorite Pizza Toppings

Shred Zucchini on a cheese grater over a clean dish towel.  Squeeze out as much water from the Zucchini as possible.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg. Add zucchini, parmesan and salt and mix well.
Top a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray. Place zucchini mixture in the center and with wet hands (this will help with sticking) pat it down to about ½ inch thickness.
Bake at 425 for 30 minutes or until it starts to lightly brown.
Top with sauce and all of your favorite toppings. Bake for another 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Andy and Melanie Tritten’s Cannizzaro Sauce  Zucchini Ravioli

2 Zucchini & 2 Yellow Squash
1 8 Oz Container Ricotta Cheese
1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 Beaten Egg
1 Jar Cannizzaro Marinara or Arrabbiata

Slice squash lengthwise very thin – using a wide vegetable peeler.  Layer 2 slices and then 2 slices forming a cross. Mix ricotta, parmesan, ½ of the mozzarella and the beaten egg.
Spray a small lasagna pan and fill with 1/2 of a Jar of Sauce. Place 1 Tablespoon of the cheese mixture in the center of the cross.  Flip each side up to form a square ravioli.
Place seam side down in pan. Spoon remaining sauce over each roll & top with reserved cup of Mozzarella Cheese.  Bake at 400
̊ for 20 minutes or until bubbly & melty.

Chef Big Bigham’s Garlic Shrimp Crostini  

More at http://www.chefbillbigham.com/

8 Large Shrimp, deveined, peeled

8 slices Baguette

3 cloves Garlic, peeled

3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter

Heat grill pan Grill bread until golden brown on both sides  Place toasted slices on a large platter, rub garlic over tops, then brush with olive oil.  In a small saute pan, melt butter with a splash of olive oil over medium heat.  Finely dice one clove of garlic and add to the saute pan. Cook until fragrant. Add shrimp and cook about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Thinly slice a clove of garlic. Add olive oil to a small sautee pan over medium heat. Cook until golden brown. To assemble, place one shrimp on the crostini and garnish with a garlic chip.  Serve immediately

Chef Bill Bigham’s Manchego, Prosciutto, Black Fig Crostini

8 slices Baguette

8 slices Manchego Cheese, sliced to fit Crostini

4 slices Prosciutto, slice in strips

4 Black Figs, halved

Honey

1 clove Garlic, peeled

1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Grill or toast  bread until golden brown on both sides. Place toasted slices on a large platter, rub garlic over tops, then brush with olive oil. To assemble, place Manchego on a piece of crostini. Mound a few strips on Prosciutto on top of the Manchego. Place a halved black fig on top of the Prosciutto. Drizzle with honey. Serve immediately

Chef Bill Bigham’s Feta Cheese, Artichoke, Kalamata Olive Crostini

2 oz Feta Cheese

4 Artichoke Hearts, halved

8 pitted Kalamata Olives

8 slices Baguette

1 clove Garlic, peeled

1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Grill or toast bread until golden brown on both sides. Place toasted slices on a large platter, rub garlic over tops, then brush with olive oil. To assemble, spread teaspoon of Feta on each crostini. Top with an artichoke heart and Kalamata olive. Serve immediately.

Cynthia Ferich’s “Cynthia Cooks” Noni’s Spaghetti Sauce

More at http://www.cynthiacooks.com/

Salsa di Pomodori della Nonna

meatballs (see recipe below0

2 pounds of fresh Italian sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups of tomato puree, fresh or canned

1-1/2 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1 whole carrot

1 stalk of celery

6 oz. can of tomato paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Wash and cut the sausage into 2-inch pieces.  Heat a skillet and add the olive oil, sausage and onion.  Fry until the sausage is cooked and the onions are lightly brown and translucent in color.  Add garlic and cook until lightly brown.  In a large sauce pot, pour in the tomato puree, chicken broth, sausage, onion and garlic.  Bring to a slow boil, reduce to low heat, and add the parsley, basil, salt and oregano.  Cook for 2 hours.  Add meatballs, carrot, and celery.  Cook for 2-1/2 hours and remove the carrot and celery after they have cooked.  Add dissolved tomato paste to the sauce approximately 20 minutes before the sauce is cooked.  Remove meat and serve with your favorite pasta.   Serving Suggestion:  For a meatier-flavored sauce, add pork ribs, braciole, and soup bones along with the sausages and meatballs.  The meats add a fabulous flavor.  As a little girl, I woke to the smell of spaghetti sauce every Sunday because that was ‘pasta day.’  This is my grandmother’s recipe as she instructed me to prepare it in her own words.  She said “you add the tomato paste during the last 20 minutes so that the sauce doesn’t become bitter.”  I often double the recipe, and freeze the sauce for a later date.  Don’t store the meat with the sauce, as the meat will absorb the sauce.  Store them separately.

Cynthia Ferich’s “Cynthia Cooks”  Meatballs or Polpette

2 cups of day-old Italian bread, cubed with crusts removed

3/4 cup of water

1/4 pound of ground veal

1/4 pound of ground beef

1/4 pound of ground pork

1 egg

1/2 cup of fresh chopped parsley

1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated

2 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

Soak cubed bread in 3/4 cup water.  After the bread has been soaked, squeeze out the water a handful at a time.  Combine all ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until blended.  Roll into balls.  At this point, the balls can be fried on all sides in a skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  They don’t have to be cooked through if you are adding them to the sauce, but they need to be browned so that they will not fall apart when added to the sauce.   Note:  This recipe makes 1 pound of meatballs.  I often triple it and freeze the uncooked balls on a cookie sheet until frozen, and then put them in freezer storage containers for later use.  You can add the meatballs to the sauce frozen.   My great-grandmother used to say, “don’t handle the meat too much or the meatballs will get hard.”  She only used a wooden spoon to mix the meat.  I start with the spoon, but end up using my hands.  Your hands contain heat, so be careful not to heat them up too much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenda-Bake Pancake & Waffle Mix isn’t Just for Breakfast Any More

UPDATED - NCDAThose of you who follow this blog in particular and my cooking classes and television appearances in general already know that I am a lover of all things local.

In the state of North Carolina, agriculture is our biggest industry and so, to take a quote from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s marketing campaign,  I am always on the lookout for great things Grown, Raised, Caught or Made in North Carolina.

With lots of grains grown in our state, it only stands to reason that we would have lots of mills. Think back to the story of The Little Red Hen – she planted the seed, tended the crop, reaped the wheat, took it to the mill and then baked it into bread. As the folk tale explains, the process is a lot of work for one little hen… the truth and the bigger story is that taking grains to grits, meals and flours  takes a team.

logoFamers grow the grains, take them to the mill to be ground into flours and meals, send them to our local grocers shelves, where we make the purchase and take them home to feed our families. Recently I met the fine folks at Renwood Mills based  in Newton, NC, loved their 80 year old history, their all-local story and their products and wanted to share it with you.

I constantly try to share the local love of farmers and producers large and small, through this blog, through other articles I write, my television and personal appearances and cooking classes. While companies often give me sample product to promote, for me, it is about backing  brands I believe in and I am here to say that Renwood Mills produces products that should be on your radar.

Renwood Mill sources grains from some 500 local North Carolina farmers in and around the Newton-Conover region of North Carolina.

Just as they did years ago, these farmers still  deliver local grains each week to be ground into corn meal and flour. In 1935, Renwood Mills started as the Maiden Flour Mill where owners sourced local grain to grind to flour and cornmeal. While the company has grown that “support local farmers” philosophy has stayed true and that’s one of the things I love about this company and these products.

s-02Renwood Mills flours are packaged for commercial use under the name of Southern Biscuit  where they package an all purpose flour and a self rising flour and a Just-Add-Buttermilk biscuit mix called Southern Biscuit Formula L . Renwood Mill cornmeal and flour products are also packaged under the Tenda-Bake brand and include not only cornmeal and cornmeal mixes but pancake & waffle mixes as well.

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In developing recipes used with the trio of Tenda-Bake Pancake mixes as a shortcut ingredient, I started with basic recipes calling for a mix of flour and baking soda or baking powder;  or recipes that called for a coating or batter of some sort. To that end I wound up today’s recipes for Not-Just-For-Breakfast recipes featuring the Tenda-Bake products: a quick and easy cobbler made with the MapleBurst Pancake Mix; a tasty chicken and dinner waffles make with the 7 Grain Tenda-Bake Mix.

img_3569I featured the cobbler on a recent edition of WBTVs Bounce Tv with hosts Delano Little and Brigida Mack and as you will see when you view the clip at the end of this post, its a winning recipe for sure. The maple chips in the MapleBurst Tenda-Bake melt down into the butter and gives it a slightly caramelized finish to the cobbler that’s lip smackin’ good – just ask Delano!

 

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Heidi’s Tenda-Bake Peach and Blueberry cobbler assembled and ready to bake

Tenda-Bake MapleBurst Pancake Mix Peach & Blueberry Cobbler

Recipe developed for Renwood Mills, makers of Tenda-Bake By Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

8 Tbsp melted butter

2 cups Tenda-Bake Maple Burst Pancake and Waffle Mix

1 cup whole organic or local milk

4 cups peeled and sliced peaches

2 cups blueberries

½ cup granulated organic sugar

Pour melted butter into the bottom of a square 9 inch oven to table 9-Inch baking dish. Mix together the pancake mix and the milk; stirring in milk just until combined. Pour over the melted butter in the pan. Do Not Stir.

Spoon the sliced peaches and blueberries over the top of the pancake mix/butter layers, but again, do not mix. Sprinkle the sugar over all. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35- 40 minutes or until the cobbler is nicely browned.

Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or your favorite  ice cream

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Time for Heidi’s Tenda-Bake Chicken  &  Dinner Waffles

Tenda-Bake 7 Grain Pancake & Waffle Mix Chicken & Dinner Waffles

Recipe developed for Renwood Mills, makers of Tenda-Bake By Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

For the Dinner Waffles:

2 cups Tenda-Bake 7 Grain Pancake & Waffle Mix

1/4 cup chia seeds ( optional, but  this adds a healthy kick of a bit more protein)

1 cup local or organic whole milk

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

For the Chicken:

2 cups Tenda-Bake 7 Grain Pancake & Waffle Mix

salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. dried Thyme leaves

4-6 local or organic chicken thighs, skinned, bone in or boneless, as you please

2 local or organic eggs, beaten

 

Make the waffles first by combining 2 cups of the pancake mix with 1/4 cup of chia sees, 1 cup of whole milk and 2 Tbsp, of extra virgin olive oil. Pour the mix onto a not lightly greased waffle maker and cook until the steaming stops. Waffles for this dish may be made ahead of time and then reheated in the oven.

For the chicken, Combine 2 cups of Tenda-Bake 7 Grain Pancake & Waffle Mix with a bit of salt and pepper to taste and 1 Tbsp. dried thyme leaves.

Cut the boneless thighs into strips  or prepare them whole. Pat the chicken dry them dust them in the seasoned pancake mix mixture. Once dusted. Drop the chicken into the beaten egg wash and then once again into the seasoned pancake mix mixture to coat. Now, here is the trick, place the breaded chicken on a wire cake rack for 2-3 minutes to allow the egg and pancake mixture to form a coating.

Meanwhile, heat about an inch of canola oil in a 10-12 inch skillet. Place a wooden spoon in the oil and when little bubbles start to form around the wooden spoon, he oil is hot enough for frying. ( otherwise, your chicken will absorb the oil and will taste greasy)

Redust the rested coated chicken in the seasoned pancake mix and then drop into the hot oil. Cook until lightly browned, then carefully  turn to brown the other side. Once the chicken has browned, remove from the pan and place on a rack fitted over a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for 5-8 minutes.This will allow the whole chicken thought to cook through, but won’t over brown the coating.

Serve the chicken and waffles with syrup or local honey or make your own honey mustard as a condiment if you would like.

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Here is the Video from WBTV’s Bounce TV with Heidi Billotto and Delano Little putting together the cobbler recipe you have here – check it out to see how easy it really is!

 

#TellThemHeidiSentYouFor more information on Renwood Mills, the products they produce and where you can purchase them, visit their website.

Want more great recipes, links to videos and stories on all your favorite chefs, restaurants, 3 Day weekends and lots of food-centric events? Simply subscribe to this blog and you’ll be the first to see each and every post!

Don’t forget to follow me on all the social media – HeidiBillotto on Instagram and Facebook; Heidi Billotto Cooks on Facebook and @HeidiCooks on Twitter #TellThemHeidiSentYou #IllHaveWhatHeidisHaving #BackingBrandsIBelieveIn

 

 

 

Delicious Ways to Eat your Fruits and Veggies

Heidi BillottoWith Chef Mark AllisonDirector of Culinary NutritionDole Food Company (1)Always great fun working with my friend Chef Mark Allison and Monday morning of this week was no different.

The occasion: a food styling gig for Dole ‘s Get Up And Grow‬ tour.

This is annual event for the California- based company, touring all over the United States challenging old and young alike to beef up (pardon the expression) our intake of fruits, salads and vegetables and  in the process  teaching us all how easy and delicious it is to cook and eat healthier.

My job this week was to prepare four recipes Dole is promoting on the tour and to arrange and “style” everything on the set so that Mark could concentrate on the message of the segment and share the details of the tour. Honored to be entrusted to prep and style Mark’s recipes, I am delighted to tell you that these are four keepers and while I don’t always make a point to share recipes I work with on gigs like this – these are definitely four I will make again and wanted to share them with you as well.

For those of you who know Mark, have seen him on television or were perhaps one of his students at Johnson & Wales, you may be interested to know what he is up to now.

The North Carolina Research CampusThe Dole Institute Kannapolis NCHis job now covers all recipe development for the Dole food company, he also write recipes and develop menus for  Dole owner Mr. Murdock,  and is  currently writing a  book on nutrition together with the Dole Nutrition Institute. Basing out of Kannapolis NC, he travels nationally and internationally on behalf of Dole giving presentations on healthy food and nutrition.

In Kannapolis, Mark’s office is located at  one of the top research centers in the world, Dole’s North Carolina Research Campus, dedicated to the advancement of nutrition, agriculture and human health.  Working along scientists from universities, industry, government and non-profit organizations who are finding new ways to promote healthy lifestyles and to prevent, treat and cure the most prevalent diseases of our times like cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s and other diet and lifestyle-related disorders.

Catch the tour, pick up fun giveaways and enter to win a dinner cooked in your homeThe Get Up and Grow Tour is Dole’s  fun and flavorful campaign to spread the good word about  good eating, one city at a time and this week they are in the Charlotte area August 18-20, 2016 check the Get Up and Grow website for specific tour dates, times and locations. Aug 18-20.

Stop by to pick up one of the tour’s bright signature blue t-shirts and other gifts reminding you to eat your fruits and veggies; and if you sign the Get up and Grow pledge, your name will be entered in a drawing to win the chance to have Chef Mark Allison come to your home and prepare a healthy and delicious dinner for 8, compliments of the fine folks at Dole.

Meanwhile, its easy to prepare the same dishes we did for the television broadcast. Here are all the recipes with my notes and a few Make-it-even-more-local suggestions. Enjoy!

Salad SippersDole’s Salad Sipper – an easy and delicious way to eat you greens!

3 cups unsweetened almond milk
4 cups DOLE® Power Up Greens Baby Kale or DOLE Baby Spinach
1 large or 2 small DOLE Bananas, peeled and sliced
1 cup fresh DOLE Tropical Gold® Pineapple, peeled and chopped
1 cup local or organic Blueberries
2 Tbsp, local honey, optional

Combine almond milk, baby kale, banana, pineapple, blueberries, and honey into blender.  Cover; blend until smooth.  Divide mixture between four glasses. Cheers!

Cafe Banana FrappeDole’s Cafe Banana Frappe – try this one as a great start to the morning or instead of a mid to late afternoon snack

3 shots espresso or 2 tablespoons instant espresso with ½ cup boiling water, cooled
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 DOLE® Banana, peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp. local honey, optional
1 cup ice

Combine espresso, almond milk, banana, honey, and ice in blender.  Cover; blend until smooth.  Divide mixture between two glasses.

Brussels Sprouts & Grilled Pineapple SaladBrussels Sprouts and Grilled Dole Pineapple Salad

1 cup fresh DOLE® Tropical Gold® Pineapple wedges
12 oz. DOLE Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
3/4 cup local or organic Blueberries
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. grated lemon peel
2 Tbsp. local honey
2 Tbsp. your favorite Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. smoked almonds, chopped
2 oz. manchego cheese, shaved or, instead, use my new cheesy favorite -Local Water Buffalo aged cheeses from Fading D Farm in Salisbury !

Try Fading D’s Sapore or Roco in this salad for a great burst of local flavor! Check out all of the other Fading D Farms cheeses on their website or on Saturdays in at the Cotswold Farmers’ market in Charlotte, NC, The Davidson Farmers’ market in Davidson NC or the Salisbury Farmers’ Market in Salisbury NC.

Here are the directions for the salad: Grill pineapple wedges. Remove from heat and dice into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine Brussels sprouts, pineapple and blueberries in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine lemon juice, grated lemon peel, honey and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk until blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over s Toss gently to coat evenly. Divide salad evenly between six serving plates and top each with smoked almonds and cheese.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook or who have read other recent blog posts here, this next recipe could also be called How-I-Used-My-Uno-Alla-Volta-Cottage-Cheese-This-Week.

On Dole’s Get Up and Grow website, the name of this recipe is  simply Strawberry Toast, but on air on Monday Mark called them Strawberry Toasties which I love so much more, so strawberry toasties it is! For a fun colorful and nutritious twist blend an avocado in the ricotta or cottage cheese mixture for a slight different spin on the original recipe

Strawberry ToastiesDole’s Strawberry Toasties

2/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese ( instead I used 2/3 cup of Charlotte’s own Uno Alla Volta locally made Cottage Cheese with amazingly scrumptuious results!)
1 DOLE® Banana, peeled
1-1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp. local honey
8 toasted whole grain baguette slices
1-1/4 cups sliced DOLE Strawberries
1 cup DOLE Spring Mix
1-1/2 tablespoons Honey Balsamic Dressing (see below)
1 Tbsp. sliced almonds

Combine together ricotta cheese and banana. Stir in grated lemon peel and honey.  Spread ricotta mixture over toasted baguette slices and shingle sliced strawberries on top.  Tuck several spring mix greens under strawberry slices, securing them on the toast.  Drizzle with honey balsamic dressing and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Honey Balsamic Dressing: Whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey and 1 tsp. chopped Green Onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Finally, you may have noticed that the drink recipes all call for almond milk. Lots of good brands on the market, but even more fun to make you own and here is my recipe for how to do it. For Chef Mark Allison’s Salad Sipper and Cafe Banana Frappe Recipes just use your almond milk unsweetened, but for regular drinking or in other recipes fro baking or smoothies you might want to sweeten or flavor it slightly with vanilla or local honey.

Make Your Own Almond MilkMake It Yourself Almond Milk

1 cup raw organic almonds

2 cups filtered water

Soak the almonds in water overnight at room temperature or for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. The longer they soak, the creamier your final product will be. Drain and rinse the soaked almonds and place them in a blender. Add 2 cups of filtered water to cover. Blend on high speed for 2-3 minutes. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth lined fine strainer. Sweeten to taste – or not. Fresh made almond milk will keep int he refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Keep the leftover almonds by drying them in a dehydrator  ( as per the instructions that come with your unit) or in low over for several hours and then using them in any recipe as almond meal or grind the dried almond meal for your own almond flour.

 

 

 

Tomato Time

Tomato TimeFresh off the VineFor years – honestly,  more summer seasons than I would like to admit –  I have  tried to grow my own produce. Nothing big, mind you, just some patio tomatoes, a few cucumbers and maybe a melon or two. A couple of seasons ago I finally decided to admit defeat.

I still do plant in my raised bed garden and patio pots each season, but now its really more for the fun of it than the anticipation of any great harvest. Tomatoes, in particular have seemed to be my nemesis.

After buying the plants, the potting soil, the lime so the soil will be well balanced, the food, the stakes, the natural bug spray so I wouldn’t get bitten while I was out planting, and all of the stuff to keep the squirrels and other  critters away, I figured that any tomatoes I might be lucky enough to harvest without the dreaded circle of black bottom rot that seems to appear overnight would wind up costing about $50 a piece, to say nothing of what the maintenance and upkeep of the cucumber and melon plants might run me. While I guess I could say that the process does prove therapeutic; I just finally  decided it’s just easier, cheaper and frankly much more fun to make a regular trip’s to any one of our areas fine local farmer’s markets  and buy from growers who know what they are doing.

To that end, my purple thumb and I have retired from the vegetable garden business and have spent this summer season resigned to the kitchen where we seem to know what we are doing. These mid to late-summer months find us at the height of the season for an abundance locally grown tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, melons, squash, zucchini, eggplant and berries and I am having a ball with the abundant harvest. Today we’ll leave the other veggies for another post and concentrate on my love of local tomatoes..

I think I could eat fresh picked ripe and ready tomatoes everyday till the season has passed and still not tire of the flavor. So many ways to prepare them it’s uncanny; but then you could can (or freeze) and have that fresh off the vine flavor for cooking all year round.

You Say Tomat-ah, I say Tomato Sandwich and Tomato Pie

tomato sandwichToday I share my favorite recipe for Tomato Pie, as recently seen on the WCNC broadcast of Charlotte Today.  But before you slice and bake, though, don’t miss one of summers greatest pleasures – the unadulterated old fashioned ‘mater sandwich – a classic for sure.

Don’t even think of adding sliced turkey, roast beef or a leaf of lettuce to this one. The classic recipe calls only for two slices of soft white bread dressed with a little mayo ( Your choice of brands, but I’m a Duke’s gal). Sandwich thick slices of firm but ripe tomato seasoned with a little salt and pepper in between and have at it. If you have really gotten it right, you’ll have to lean over the kitchen sink to eat it as the tomatoes will be so ripe and juicy, that has you take each bite the juices will run from your mouth and hands down to your elbows – consider it a rite of passage of eating your first  (or your 100th) tomato sammy of the season..

For a little more elaborate sandwich, use whole grain bread, spread with homemade  pesto and layered with thick slices of ripe tomato and locally made Uno Alla Volta mozzarella cheese in between. To turn this sandwich into a summer comfort food, wrap it in foil and warm it in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes or so.

tomatoes and uno alla volta cheeseMarinate tomatoes for full-flavored summer salads. Use your favorite vinegar based dressing or  make your own by combining a half cup or so each of red and balsamic vinegars seasoned with a couple of tablespoons of local honey,  one quarter cup of fresh minced basil leaves and a small minced shallot. Layer the tomatoes in a shallow glass or plastic dish,  top with the vinaigrette, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three to four hours. Serve over a bed of crisp greens or toss with fresh sliced Kirby cucumbers and enjoy.

This summer has proved to be a season to indulge, as my friends Zack and Victoria Gadberry have added a new hand crafted cheese to their line up of  already fabulous locally made artisan mozzarella, ricotta, buratta and feta cheeses – behold, local Uno Alla Volta Cheese Cottage Cheese. I swooned at first taste. We all know the joyful burst of flavor to be found in the combination of mozzarella and tomatoes – but just try a ripe and ready-to-slice local love apple with Uno Alla Volta Cottage cheese – my oh my!

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Cottage Cheese Pie By Chef Matthew Krenz The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte, NC

Must give credit where credit is do – Chef Matthew Krenz at The Asbury at the Dunhill in Charlotte, NC is the first to ask Zack to make cottage cheese and even provided him with the recipe. Zack has made it his own and Matthew often features this new cheese  of the summer season on The Asbury’s menu – go to The Asbury and look for Krenz’s cottage cheese pie on the menu this summer season – its a keeper for sure! When you go to The Asbury , be sure to tell them Heidi sent you!

Aside from pairing them with cheeses of all sorts, tomatoes go great on the grill as well – use firm but still ripe tomatoes and a grill grid, so nothing will fall through the cracks. Slice the tomatoes thick and grill for a minute or two on each side or until the surface starts to char a bit. No need to add any olive oil prior to grilling, save any dressings for after the tomatoes are cooked. Serve the grilled tomatoes, just as they are, chopped and stirred into your favorite gazpacho recipe, topped with grated parmesan, tossed in salads or in the Tomato Pie recipe below for a slightly richer taste.  Grilled charred tomatoes also do well chopped and combined with grilled onions, jalapenos, grilled corn, grilled red bell peppers, salt, pepper and lime juice for a terrific grilled summer salsa – ole!

But on to matters at hand, my recipe for tomato pie. You’ll find a link to the video at the end of this post, so you may want to watch before you cook, but the recipe is an easy one…and technique is little more than layering. Use any variety of local and just harvested tomato that you would like, slice or chop. I love the  vodka pie crust recipe I have included below, but if you want a store bought one to make things easier, I recommend the Immaculate Baking Company’s organic refrigerated crust. Love that it is organic – always nice, and important, to know what is in the food we eat.

Heidi Billotto's Tomato Pie

 

Heidi’s Taste of Summer Tomato Pie

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

Pie crust recipe for a 1 crust pie ( see below)

3-4 firm but ripe local tomatoes cut into thick slices, or use small chopped tomatoes, or a combo of both 

fresh locally grown basil

Fine grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Panko Crumbs

1 local egg ( I used Rowlands Row Family Farm eggs here, available from The Queens Pantry at the Atherton Farmers’ Market)

1 local egg yolk

1 cup local whole milk or heavy cream ( Homeland Dairy Milk again from the Queen City Pantry at the Atherton Farmers’ Market)

Roll the pie crust out to 1/4 inch thickness and fit into a 9-inch French false-bottomed tart pan. Layer tomatoes basil, grated Parmesan and Panko crumbs in the crust until you come to the top – finish with a layer of Tomatoes. Combine the eggs and milk, Pour the custard into the filled pie shell. Top with shredded basil, Panko crumbs and cheese. Carefully place the pan on a baking sheet and bake the pie in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 mins.

Cool slightly, remove from the pan and cut into wedges. Make your pie ala mode topped with a scoop of Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese ( available on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market or the Yorkmont Road Charlotte Regional Market, directly from Zack or Victory themselves.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving. 

If you want to do a Gluten Free version of the same – skip the crust and use finely ground local grits ( you can fine ground stone ground grits in a coffee mill ) and then use them as you would the panko)

Gadberry's Uno Alla Volta Cottage Cheese Tomato PieI’ve used Parmigiano-Reggiano in the recipe here – not a local cheese, of course, unless you are from Parma Italy; but obviously one of the best. Feel free to substitute any kind of local cheese -If you are in the Carolinas, Uno Alla Volta regular or smoked mozzarella, Ashe County cheddars, Clemons Blue cheese, and Bosky Acres Feta cheese all work well – as does the Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese and I am proud to say my television spot even inspired the cheese makes to get creative with there own cottage cheese tomato pie – just take a look at these photos I received by text from Zack Gadberry last night – yum!

Easy Vodka Pie Crust

– Its the Vodka that keeps it light and flaky – who knew??

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp  salt

1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces

1/4 cup cold vodka

1/4 cup cold water
Use a food processor fitted with the metal blade to pulse together  flour and salt. Add butter and shortening and process until blended just the dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, but there is no trace of the flour.

Add the cold vodka and cold water over mixture. Pulse again with the processor just until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the bowl. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days, the roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and use in your favorite pie recipe.

video graphicHere is the link to the video Always so much fun cooking on Charlotte Today. Thanks to guest host Ramona Holloway and host Eugene Robinson for making this segment so much fun. And as a bonus – here is the link to a related blog post from this site with a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes so much fun to cook with all of this seasons bountiful harvest!

 

Summertime and the Grilling is Easy

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODWith Fourth of July weekend on the horizon, I know many of you will be grilling for the holiday celebration. Wanted to take this post to share one of my favorite grilled recipes: Bistecca Fiorentina.  Also called Bistecca alla Fiorentina or Bistecca Florentine, it is the signature charcoal-grilled steak of Italy’s Tuscan region. I consider myself fortunate to have tasted “the real thing” in perhaps the most perfect of settings in a small Tuscan walled city while on a tour of Tuscany with my friend Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy several years ago.

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The view of the moon rising over the horizon in Tuscany as we enjoyed our 2011 true Italian “steak night” and my first taste of Bistecca Fiorentina

As food memories go, this one is a favorite – we dined at sunset, on the restaurant’s outdoor patio, a roof of tiny white lights the only thing separating us from the soon-to-be starlit sky. The view was perfect, the company divine and the food, oh the food. The precursor to the steak was a pasta course of blue cheese, pear and walnut ravioli and I can still taste it melting in my mouth, but that recipe I will save for another day – on to the grilling.

For authentic Bistecca one must grill over hot charcoals and must use a cut of beef from Italian cattle called Chianina, perhaps one of the oldest breeds of cattle originally raised in the  Chiana region of Tuscany.  In addition to being one of the oldest breeds in the world, it is also one of the largest, so it follows that steaks cut from the Chanina cows are also quite large. The cut used for authentic bistecca is  the porterhouse , a large, thick cut of a t-bone that separates a full tenderloin round from the top sirloin steak we call a New York Strip. In Italy these large porterhouses are massive and will feed a crowd.

IMG_2194Short of being in Italy with access to the breed of Chianina beef, this recipe is worth seeking out a porterhouse of high quality, trimmed beef – the steak I have pictured here came from The Peach Stand in Ft Mill SC, where they have a specialty butcher shop full of a wonderful selection of Certified Angus Beef Brand and local grass fed beef. In determining how much steak you will need for your Get-Your -Grill-On Crowd, know that, generally speaking, a porterhouse is plenty for 2 ,maybe 3, to share.

As with most cooking in Italy, this classic recipe is written as it should be, to simply bring the flavor to the beef to the forefront. To that end, ingredients here are few and of very high quality. Excellent olive oil, high quality salt and pepper and fresh cut rosemary are all it takes. If you have a charcoal grill ( set to burn with real chemical-free charcoal – no lighter fluid, please) you’ll get the addition of the fabulous flavor the charcoal adds to your crusty sear, as they do in Italy; but if you are without charcoal, don’t dismay,  this recipe is also delicious done over a gas flame or in a pinch in a grill pan on your cooktop.

IMG_2196Prepare the steak ahead of time, giving the flavors of the olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary enough time to blend and penetrate the beef. I like to rub the steaks with a salt and pepper blend of coarse pink Himalayan salt and a pepper blend I grind myself and aptly have dubbed Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend. I purchase the pink Himalayan salt and a trio or peppercorns: Lampong, Tellicherry and Reunion Pink Peppercorns from my go-to spice source, the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd Charlotte. If you can’t remember the names of the peppercorns I  use for my blend, no worries, Just go in and ask for the pepper Heidi uses and Amy, Scott or any of their very knowledgeable staff will get you just what you need. I grind the peppercorns ( equal parts of each variety) until they are a course mix in my coffee grinder with no worries about spicy coffee the next day.

To clean the grinder, simply follow the peppercorns with a tablespoon of coffee beans.  Here is all you have to do: once you have ground the pepper, take it out of the grinder,  and set it aside for your recipe or future use – I usually grind about a third of a cup at a time. Once all of the ground pepper is out of the grinder, add in a tablespoon of any whole bean or ground coffee. Let the grinder run for a minute or so and then discard that batch of ground coffee. Here is how it works, the coffee acts like a filter and will clean the taste and aroma of the peppercorns – or any other whole spice – from the grinder. No need for a separate spice grinder at all!

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As for the olive oil, select a fruity flavorful variety. I frequently pull my favorites from the current harvest selection at Pour Olive on East Blvd, but have also recently discovered another great Greek variety of oil locally bottled by a family in Waxhaw, NC.   Olive Crate’s 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 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!

Time to Get your Grill On…

IMG_2202Now that you’ve got everything you need, lets get back to the prep and the grilling. Its easy-peasy from here and you’ll never grill a steak any other way. For those who don’t eat beef, I’ve also had excellent results using the same technique with salmon. In fact in anticipation of writing this post and my coordinating segment on Charlotte Today, my husband Tom and I enjoyed my version of Salmon Fiorentina just last night with a side of local Tom Thumb potatoes from New Town Farms, beens from Tega Hill Farm and first of the summer tomatoes from A Way of Life Farm all tossed with a bit of the Kores Olive oil and my homemade pesto.

IMG_2198Marinate the salmon, the same way as the beef – chop the rosemary together with the salt and pepper to make a rub and rub it into the top side of the fish fillet, or onto both sides of the porterhouse.  Add the olive oil  and rub over the fish or beef as well. Allow to sit for at least an hour for the fish – best overnight in the fridge for the beef, or if you forget to do it the night before, at least of couple of  hours unrefrigerated;  and then simply put the steak or fish on the grill. Cooking times and temperatures follow.

Heidi’s Bistecca or Salmon Fiorentina

4 long sprigs of fresh rosemary, stripped and minced

5-6 sprigs of fresh Thyme leaves, stripped and minced ( optional, not a part of the traditional recipe, but a flavorful addition)

1 ( 2 1/2 lb.) porterhouse steak or wild salmon filet

1/4 ( or less) cup your favorite extra virgin olive oil

coarse pink sea salt and Heidi’s pepper blend to taste

2 lemons cut into wedges

Rub the steak or salmon with a mix of the fresh herbs and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Allow to marinate a room temperature for at least 1 hour. Season steak ofr salmon to taste with salt and pepper.

Grill -preferable over charcoal 5-10 mins per side for the steak depending on your desired degree of doneness, or use the “10-minute” rule for the fish – 10 minutes over a hot flame for each inch of thickness.

Dress both steak and fish with a quick squirt of lemon and serve garnished with fresh rosemary…enjoy! It really is that easy!

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To go along with this post you can watch the television version of the recipe in my monthly cooking segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today, originally filmed the morning of June 30, 2016 at 11:29 am. In case you missed the original air time, here is the link to the video of the Bistecca Fiorentina Cooking segment, enjoy!

A Taste of Spring: Asparagus

cooking with springtime asparagus 2Spring is my favorite season. In my hometown of Charlotte, NC it starts with the first crocus, then the cherry trees add a pop of color and after a long winter’s break, the beautiful Bradford Pear trees which line many a street in town, burst forth with blossoms. For about a week, the city is awash in white blossoms and that’s when you know it – you’re on the cusp of asparagus season.

Before you know it we’ll be slicing into tomatoes and spitting watermelon seeds, but lets not rush things. Time to enjoy the flavors of springtime and that first taste is of asparagus.

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Doug Carrigan and team with local asparagus at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ market

I planted my own little asparagus bed when we moved into our home – about 10 years ago. We now have a healthy little crop for the two of us to enjoy, albeit, one or two stalks at a time. Alas, I am a hobby gardener, and while its fun to watch the tiny green heads peep up out of the ground and grow up to reach the sky; when its really time to cook, I turn to farmers who grow professionally like Doug Carrigan of Carrigan Farms.

IMG_9171Carrigan Farms is a 5th generation farm in Mooresville, NC and is a beautiful destination for weddings, farm to table dinners; and just after asparagus season, pick-your-own-strawberries and more, but lets not rush things.  For now, Doug is my go-to asparagus guy. Every Saturday between somewhere around the end of March to about the middle of April Doug brings bunches of the bright green stalks to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. This time of year, you’ll find other local farmers with their bumper asparagus crops bound in bundles ready for you to take home and enjoy at  the regional Charlotte market and other local farmers’ markets as well. The season is short, so eat it up while you can.

Today the focus is on several quick and easy asparagus salad recipes I first shared with you on a late March 2016 television segment on Charlotte Today. We filmed about the same time Doug and his family where picking the first crop to bring to market. As you will see on the tape, I wasn’t expecting to find fresh locally grown asparagus for a week or so, but was delighted to find Doug and his son selling at the market the Saturday just after the show. Timing is everything.

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note the difference between the end of the asparagus stalk several days old (left) and the freshly snapped one

A stalk of asparagus is just like a fresh picked flower: to keep it tender, it must be kept in water. If you are buying fresh picked asparagus from a local source and cooking it immediately, then there is no need to trim the stems – you can eat the whole thing.  If you are purchasing from a grocery store or working with market asparagus you purchased several days ago, then you’ll want to pop off the dried part of the stalk. Just bend the end – the asparagus will snap naturally where it goes from tough to tender. The tougher ends can be used to make vegetable stock, the tender tips may be eaten raw, steamed, poached, grilled or roasted.

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I think the best way to cook fresh asparagus is the roast them – or just enjoy them raw!

For the easiest method of cooking I turn to the grill or the oven. place the stalks in a single layer, roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 8 minutes. That’s it. Roughly the same timing on the grill, although if you have thin stalks, keep an eye out that the flames aren’t too high or hot.

Once the asparagus are roasted or grilled, you can turn them into a host of different salads, as I did on the March Charlotte Today cooking segment and as I have outlined here.

Here are some easy peasy ideas on how to turn fresh raw or just roasted asparagus into a meal.

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Cut the stalks into bite sized pieces and toss with fresh blue berries, raspberries or strawberries. Add orange zest and a popover ( see recipe below) and a bit of fresh mint. Drizzle with your favorite balsamic vinegar  or local honey and serve atop a bed of locally grown leaf lettuce.

 

IMG_8897While the asparagus is roasting, fry a local egg to your own personal degree of desired doneness (I’m a sunny side up gal, myself) Serve the egg along side the bundle of warm asparagus, drizzle dark roasted sesame oil over all and then top with a sprinkling of white and black sesame seeds. The egg may be served over toast as well or for a great open faced sandwich variation on this same theme. Top the toast with some grated  sharp cheddar cheese and run under the broiled just until the cheese melts. Top with the roasted asparagus and hot fried egg. Add some sauteed mushrooms (check out the wonderful selection of locally grown ‘shrooms from Urban Gourmet Mushroom Farm at the Atherton Farmers’ Market) if you would like, drizzle with the sesame oil and you are good to go.

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As spring morphs into summer we will start to see greenhouse tomatoes making appearances at local markets, or you can make this recipe with oil packed sun dried tomatoes with very successful results as well. Make up a late spring or early summer bruschetta topping of chopped tomatoes, peppers, black olives and basil. Toss the mix in a bit of your favorite olive oil .Arrange the bruschetta mix over the hot or cold roasted asparagus, then dust with a sprinkling of finely grated Parmesan cheese  and there you have it!

 

IMG_8865You may notice that each of the asparagus plates above includes a popover. Popover are an easy, fast and fu alternative to any other bread and their light and fluffy nature makes for a great foil to the crisp green crunch of the freshly roasted asparagus. You can use a popover pan or a metal of silicone muffin or brioche pan does the trick just as well. The beauty of the silicone pan is that the popovers pop out without a fuss. I am generally not a big fan of silicone, bowls and “pans” but in this case, I make an exception…

Heidi’s Parmesan Popovers

1 1/2 cups organic all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp. your favorite fat ( you may use olive oil, melted butter, melted leaf lard, bacon fat, etc)

1 local or pasture raised organic egg

1 1/2 cups organic whole milk

Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese ( I Love local product and am a big supporter of all kinds of local cheese, but when it comes to Parmesan cheese, just pretend you live in Italy and go with the real thing)

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Preheat the oven 475 degrees – it is important here to start with a hot oven.    Prepared the muffin tins or popover pan by greasing them with butter ( unless you are using a silicone pan). Place the pan in preheated 475 oven for 2 minutes, to heat the pan ( unless you are using silicone) while you whisk together the flour, salt eggs, milk and melted butter until smooth. Remove the muffin tins from the oven and carefully fill each cup less than halfway full with batter. Sprinkle the top of each cup of batter lightly with grated Parmesan cheese. Return to oven and bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold.

 

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Now that you know all the tricks, enjoy the video of my March Charlotte Today  Cooking with Local Asparagus segment once again. Show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson always make my time on set tons of fun!  Watch Now!

Superbowl 50: The Party of the Year!

Heidi's football shotAsk anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you  – even though I can dress the part – as evidenced in the photo here, I really don’t know much about the game of football. That said  I do know how to throw  party and I love a theme! This year with the Carolina Panthers in the Superbowl its time for the party of the year!

If you live in or around Charlotte, the Carolina’s Panther themed stuff is not a hard find, particularly this week. Jerseys, blankets, flags and all sort of ways Panther fans can strut their stuff and express their pride in the home team is to be found on nearly every street corner in town. For even more of a selections local fans can check out the team store at the stadium; and those out of town can place orders online.

What to serve to your arm chair quarterbacks is always a dilemma, but it shouldn’t be – the formula here is easy: keep it simple, filling and good. Wings, BBQ, a sandwich platter or always good-tos, but today I think I’ve got something even better…

The classic recipe for Chicken pot pie is a crowd pleaser and one that transforms beautifully into stunning Superbowl fare ( particularly when its served with the “out of the pie pan and into the helmet” approach I shared on the video that will accompany this  post.

On Feb 3 at 11 am I’ll prepare the recipe below from start to presentation on WCNC’s Charlotte Today, but thought those of you who subscribe to my blog might want the recipe ahead of my broadcast.  You can make it your own by creating a pork, beef, seafood or veggie version of the same.

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Later today I’ll update this post with photos and links to the video, and then will post it out to the public via social media – so you’ll want to check back for the rest of the story, but for now – here’s what I’ll be cooking on WCNC’s Charlotte Today this morning, Tune it at 11 am!

 

 

Perfect Chicken (pork, beef, seafood or veggie) Pot Pie

-a classic recipe you can put your own spin on and have crowd pleasing results every time…

4 tablespoons butter

5 tablespoons organic flour

2 1/2 cups rich chicken beef or vegetable broth (make the broth rich by taking 5 cups of broth + 2 carrots, a bay leaf and a small onion and reducing it with a slow simmer to one half the volume)

2 tablespoons fresh minced thyme leaves

Sea salt and Heidi’s pepper blend

1/2 cup organic or local heavy cream or half-and-half or whole milk

6 cups cooked chicken, beef, pork or seafood, sliced or shredded

1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms, sautéed

2 cups  artichoke hearts from a can or jar, drained ( you may use marinated or unmarinated as you would like)

6 local or organic carrots, sliced

1 recipe for Vodka Pie Crust or 2 rounds of your favorite organic refrigerated pie crust (see below)

Melt the butter and whisk in the flour in a medium sized saucepan. Cook the “roux” until well blended. Gradually whisk in the rich broth, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cream. Stir to blend well.

Add the chicken, mushrooms artichokes and carrots. Pour the filling into a buttered 13 x 9″ pan.   For the crust use strips of pie crust over the top of the casserole shaped into in a basket weave pattern. Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated 400° oven.

Vodka Pie Crust

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp.  sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds .

Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

 

 

 

 

Super Foods and Farmers’ Markets are the Recipe for a Healthy, Happy New Year


cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgNothing sacred about the beginning of the new year, the beginning of a new month or a new week – you can start eating healthier anytime you want. Give yourself a break and remember that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing deal, just do it a meal at a time, adding fresh and local ingredients as you can. Use a few of the tricks I’ve shared here to bring in a few super foods for more protein, less fat and lots of antioxidents, vitamins and minerals. Just do it and you and your family will be eating healthier  in no time.

Step one to eating healthier – find and farmers’ market near you

Its winter, but that doesn’t mean that local farms shut down till spring. On the contrary, winter crops abound and in many areas, like my hometown of Charlotte NC, local farmers markets go on a winter schedule but they are still open each an every Saturday morning and often during the week.  Shop on a Saturday and see how much of your regular shopping list you can get at the market – then supplement with missing items from the supermarket making organic choices when and where you can.

In Charlotte, I’ll see you shopping for vegetables, herbs, beef, chicken, seafood, eggs, milk, cheese and bread at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market, The Atherton Mill and Market, The Waxhaw Farmers’ Market and the Yorkmont Road Regional Farmers’ Market!

Once you’ve bought everything you can at the market, introduce a couple of these “Superfoods” for more protein and less fat in your everyday diet.

Forget that “vintage” Chia Seed pet circa 1980chis pet – chia seeds aren’t just for indoor “gardening” anymore!

These are not your momma’s chia seeds. Now we realize that this ancient superfood is the next new thing. The consumption of Chia seeds boosts energy and increases stamina. They are high in protein, fiber and amino acids, and not only are they naturally gluten/grain free, but they are also rich in antioxidants and essential Omega 3 fatty acids.

You can also use Chia seeds as a real diet aid.  Chia seeds absorb about 12 times their weight in water, so a chia seed beverage can help to make you feel full and stave off the craving to snack between meals.

I won’t lie to you, in their liquid form Chia seeds tend to have a rather slimmy texture; and because of that, a beverage may not be the best Chia seed recipe for everyone. But baked you won’t even know they are there and your body can still revel in all the benefits. Use them in place of or in addition to eggs or as a supplement to almost anything you make from waffles and pancakes to salad dressings and energy drinks.

Chia Seed Whole Wheat Waffles

1 Coldwater Creek Farm locally grown and milled Whole Wheat Flour ( available at the Atherton Mill and Market in Charlotte on Sat Mornings or reach out to Donna and Brad via Facebook or Twitter)

¾ cup High Rock Farm chestnut Flour (HighRockFarm.com)

1 Tbsp. Baking Powder

1 Tbsp. organic Sugar

Pinch of Salt

1½ cup local or organic Milk

2 Chia “Eggs” (recipe below)

3 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat waffle iron according to manufacturers directions.  Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Add remaining wet ingredients to mixing bowl. Stir until well combined.  Pour waffle dough onto waffle iron and bake according to manufacturers instructions.  Serve with your favorite sweet or savory waffle toppings

To make one chia “egg”, combine 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water. Let sit for 30 minutes until a gel forms. This is ONE chia egg.

Super Food, Super Grain

From seeds to grain. Now that the Quinoa trend has caught on and is widely embraced, its time  to mix  in some other ancient grains into your diet. Enter Hemp and Amaranth.

Hemp seeds are considered to be a perfect superfood as they are a complete protein. Eating raw hemp is touted to have positive affect with many health benefits including depression or anxiety; help with weight loss; providing increased and sustained energy; helps to insure a rapid recovery from disease or injury; lowers cholesterol and blood pressure; reduces inflammation and improvement circulation. Plus it is a grain high in protein.

Hemp seeds are a more digestible protein than meat, whole eggs, cheese or cow’s milk; they are Rich in Vitamin E and they add a sweet nutty flavor and crunchy texture for those unable to tolerate nuts, gluten, lactose or sugar. Interestingly there are no known allergies to hemp foods, so toss them on or in just about anything you’d like to add a little crunch and a lot of super health benefits.

Peanut Butter Protein Balls

1 cup rolled organic oats

dash sea salt

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup pitted Medjool dates

2 Tbsp fresh made organic peanut butter

3 Tbsp organic Hemp seeds

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon

Combine oats and salt in food processor. Process until finely ground.  Add remaining ingredients and process until blended. Add a few drops of water, if needed, to form balls.  If you would like, fold in 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips. Shape the mix into balls, roll in additional hemp seeds,  toasted coconut or finely ground nuts if you would like and enjoy!

 

Amaranth may be consumed as a grain or a vegetable (it is often used as a microgreen as well). It can be popped like corn, cooked similar to rice or pasta, or ground to flour. The amaranth grain is cooked like rice but has 15x the iron of rice and nearly twice the protein. Cup for cup it also offers more protein than oats as well. It’s low in carbs but high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. use it in this next recipe as you would bulgur wheat.

“Taboulied” Amaranth

1½ cups water or broth ( I like to keep it vegetarian and use water mixed with 1 Tbsp. tomato powder and 2 Tbsp powdered Herbs in Duxelle Seasoning, both from the Savory Spice Shop – my go to location is in Charlotte’s SouthEnd neighborhood at 2000 South Blvd. in the Atherton Mill and Market shopping area)

½ cup uncooked whole-grain amaranth

2 cups chopped local or organic cucumber

½ cup thinly sliced organic celery

¼ cup chopped organic fresh mint

¼ cup chopped fresh organic flat-leaf Italian parsley

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Zest of one lemon

Zest of one orange

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

sea salt and crushed red pepper to taste

½ cup cooked or canned organic chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained

1 cup local Uno Alla Volta or Bosky Acres feta cheese, crumbled

2 chopped local firm but ripe tomatoes ( in the winter, when local hot house tomatoes are gone till summer,  I turn to canned pomodorini tomatoes (These are available in Charlotte at Pasta & Provisions on Providence Road)

Bring 1 1/2 cups cold water and amaranth to a boil in a medium saucepan; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until water is almost absorbed While amaranth cooks, combine cucumber and all the remaining ingredients.

Place amaranth in a sieve or cheesecloth or coffee filter lined fine colander, and rinse under cold running water until room temperature; drain well, pressing with the back of a spoon. Add to cucumber mixture; toss to blend.

Are you Coo Coo for Coconut Milk?

All kinds of health benefits here – Selenium found in coconut milk is an antioxidant, which relieves arthritis symptoms and decreases the risk of joint inflammation.

Though coconut milk contains saturated fat, it can actually reduce cholesterol levels in comparison to butter and dairy based creams, so its the perfect falvorful substitute to use to make a “Whipped Topping” for your favorite desserts.

Coconut milk is a rich source of good-for-you magnesium, providing around 89 milligrams per cup. This miraculous mineral helps to calm the nerves, lessen the frequency of headaches and can help a body to maintain normal blood pressure. If you have sore muscles or have muscles that cramp a lot, the addition of magnesium to your diet can help to alleviate the problem.

Coconut milk  is also rich in fiber, which makes you feel full for a longer time, so used in moderation, in place of dairy full milk and cream and other milk substitutes coconut milk could  help to control weight gain as well.

For more great recipes using coconut milk and for the differences between coconut water and a variety of coconut milks on the market - watch this - Heidi Billotto Cooks with Coconut Milk as first seen on Charlotte Today July 2015

For more great recipes using coconut milk and for the differences between coconut water and a variety of coconut milks on the market – watch this – Heidi Billotto Cooks with Coconut Milk as first seen on Charlotte Today July 2015

For Dairy-free whipped cream:

1 (14 ounce) can full fat Thai Coconut Milk, chilled in the refrigerator overnight

1 Tbsp (or more to taste) coconut sugar or local honey, optional

Chill  mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer for 10 minutes before making the coconut whipped cream.

When bowl is chilled, remove the thick and hardened coconut cream from the can and transfer to your mixing bowl, leaving any excess moisture/coconut water in the can.

Using a whisk attachment, beat on medium high for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy and soft peaks form. Scrape down the bowl. If adding sweetener, add coconut sugar or honey, then continue beating for another 2 minutes.

You can serve the whipped coconut cream immediately, or transfer to an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. It will harden up in the fridge. Just whisk for a few seconds before serving again.

 

 

 

 

The Apple of My Pie

 

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgThanksgiving 2015 is right around the corner…. you’re probably smack dab  in the middle of menu planning so here’s a suggestion to toss into the mix, if you don’t  already make pies for the holidays –  why not start a family tradition this year and let the baking begin!

But what to bake?  This time of year I say go with tradition and start with apples. Local apples.  If you think the availability of locally grown North Carolina apples is just for the months of September and October, think again. The local NC apple harvest is  still in full production and these  juicy GotToBeNC gems make  holiday pies all the better!

To make the process all the easier, I’ve got a fool proof pie crust recipe to share that comes out perfectly every time  making your holiday baking easy as…. well, you know.

24_PieCrustsIf you can’t get into making from scratch crust, no worries, no stress –  I recommend working with Immaculate Bakers’ Refrigerated Pie Crust – works  like a charm every time and its organic!

Crust done, lets get back to the apples. If you have limited yourself to eating only the well known Red Delicious variety of apples, you might be surprised to learn just how many different types of apples there are in the world and even more surprised to find out that the state of North Carolina ranks seventh in apple production in the United States. Amazingly, according to my friends at the NC Dept of Agriculture, our Old North State has over 200 commercial apple operations comprised of 9,000 bearing acres of apple orchards and  turns out millions of bushels of apples each year, about 60% of them are used in juice and applesauce production.

NC apples bestWhile apples are a staple in every grocery store produce department, like everything else – fresh picked from the farm local produce is always your best choice and apples are no different – North Carolina’s apple producing region centers primarily in the mountains around the Haywood and Henderson counties, the Mt. Mitchell area, and Wilkes and Yadkin counties. The better part of the apple trade in North Carolina comes from trees producing Red and Golden Delicious apples as well as Rome Beauty, Stayman and Gala varieties; but  Empire, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Suncrisp, Jonagold, Granny Smith,  Arkansas Black, Crimson Crisp, Cameo, Pink Lady, Goldrush,  Limbertwig, Rome, Blacktwig and  Mutzu  apples grow in our area, too, as well as hundreds of other heirloom or antique varieties.

North Carolina’s apple growing season runs from July to late December and a quick day trip up to the mountains early this week  will prove to land a tasty harvest from any one of the many roadside stands you’ll pass along the way. If you are in Charlotte, its under a two hour drive up to see my friends at Perry Lowe Orchards in Moravian Falls, NC up on Highway 16 South where they pick approx 4 million apples each apple season from some 29,000 apple trees that grow on the 6th generation North Carolina farm.   

While all apples are good for eating,   I lean toward the sweet-tart to tart varieties  like Granny Smith, Macintosh, Empire, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp and Limbertwig for cooking, finding they fare better baked, steamed or fried then a lot of the sweet apple varieties. Figure three medium sized apples, cored and sliced, to measure about a cup.

apple ciderApples are also great for juicing, on their own or mixed in your own house blend – try them juiced with mango and banana or use them to slightly sweeten your favorite green juice blend – yum!

Rich in pectin, high in potassium and weighing in at only 61 calories per medium apple, this popular fruit helps to keep cholesterol in balance,  the high potassium/low sodium ratio of apples can reduce cardiac problems and has been touted as a help in regulating tension headaches, too.  With  ZERO FAT and 5 grams of fiber per serving, apples are a great snack food and good to enjoy at every meal.

perry Lowe dried applesOnce you purchase fresh apples, they are best kept under refrigeration, as room temperature apples soften 10 times faster than they will in the refrigerator. While you’re gathering the fruit, don’t forget about a jug or two of fresh homemade cider – hot or cold, there’s nothing quite like it and while you are at the Perry Lowe Orchards apple house don’t miss the packages of dried apples made from 10 different varieties of their fresh picked harvest – a real treat that lasts all year long and is great for cooking as well (see the fried pie recipe below).

Like all of us if you are pressed for time this week and can’t drive up to the mountains before Thursday’s feasting, the happy news is that local NC apples are available at lots of local farmers’ markets in and around Charlotte and across the state as well. And farmers market shopping isn’t just a weekend affair – lots of local  and regional markets are open weekdays this week right up until the holiday.

 

Foolproof Pie Crust

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups  organic unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp.  sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds .

Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture.  With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

 

apple tartHeidi’s Apple and Pistachio Tart

Dough for one nine-inch pie

FOR THE PISTACHIO CREAM:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

4 Tbsp. butter, softened

1 1/3 cup ground pistachios

2  eggs

3 Tbsp. cream, for glazing

FOR THE HONEY BUTTER:

2 Tbsp. honey

3 Tbsp. butter

¼ cup apple cider

Roll the dough out on a sheet of parchment paper and then fit into a 9 or 10-inch false-bottom tart pan. Chill the pastry shell in the refrigerator.

To make the pistachio cream: Combine the sugar and butter and beat until creamy. Gradually add the ground pistachios and the  egg.

Spread the pistachio cream in a smooth layer in the bottom of the pastry shell.

Cut the apples into thin slices and arrange then in concentric circles on top of the pistachio cream.  Bake the tart on a baking sheet in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven drizzle with honey butter cool slightly  and serve

For the Honey Butter: In a saucepan combine the honey, butter and the sweet white wine. Stir to mix. Bring the honey mixture to a boil and cook until it has reduced by half.

 

Heidi’s Two Crust Apple Pie

½ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

2 Tbsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp. cardamom

Pinch of salt

8 cups peeled and cord apples, cut into chunks

¼ cup butter, melted

Dough for two 9-10 inch rounds

 

Combine sugars, flour and spices with apples and butter, toss well. Reserve.

Fit a 9-inch deep dish pie pan with a pie crust. Spoon filling into crust, mounding it slightly in the center. Top with another crust, this one slightly bigger so that you have about an extra inch of crust around the edges.

Fold the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust to seal and then crimp edges with your fingers or a fork to give a decorative finish. Cut decorative slits in top crust to allow steam to escape while baking. Place pie on a baking sheet – to catch any juices that might come out during baking – brush top crust lightly with milk and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 ½ hours, or until crust is a delicious golden brown.

Perry Lowe Orchard’s Fried Apple Pies 

1 package of your favorite variety of Perry Lowe Orchards Dried Apples 

3/4 cup sugar

1 t. ground cinnamon

1 t. vanilla extract

(2) 10 oz. Cans canned biscuits ( or use your favorite pie crust recipe)

Vegetable Oil

Combine apples and water to cover in medium sauce pan.  Cook over medium heat until tender and dry.  Add sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Stir well and set aside.  Separate biscuits and roll each biscuit into 5-inch circle on lightly floured surface. Or roll out your favorite pie crust dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into 5-inch rounds.  Place 2 tablespoons apple mixture on 1/2 of each biscuit circle.  To seal pie, dip fingers in water and moisten edge of circle.  Fold in half, making sure edges are even.  Using a fork dipped in flour, press edges firmly together.  Heat oil to 375 degrees in dutch oven or electric frying pan.  Fry pies until golden brown on both sides, turning once.  Drain on paper towel.  Yield 10-12 fried pies.

Note:  To bake pies place on lightly greased baking sheet bake at 450 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.

 

 

 

 

 

As Much Fun To Make As It Is To Eat – Happy Popcorn Month!

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODOctober is National Popcorn Month, so let me be the first to say Happy Happy!   I don’t know about you, but when my thoughts turn to popcorn, my food memories kick in and I go back to a time before microwaves and air poppers.

Like many of you, I go back circa  mid to late 1960’s. My brother Jaimie and I were 8, 9 or 10ish and when we were in need of a snack, our mom would let us make Jiffy Pop. If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for a culinary gadget and the Jiffy Pop “cook it in the package” marketing was – at the time – the ultimate. I loved the process probably even more than the popcorn itself, inspired, as were many my age by the classic commercial with the magic genie in the lamp touting this popcorn as “The Magic Treat” “… as much fun to make as it was to eat”  Before we go further – take a step back in time and watch it with me now…  

 

popcorn popper advertisementIf you didn’t have the luxury of Jiffy Pop, then  you had to go back to the kettle type electric popcorn popper or a large heavy pop on the stove – both required working with hot oil and at least to my mom’s mind – were too dangerous for us to handle ourselves.

As I got older electric popcorn poppers became a bit more refined and when I was in college ( again in the days before microwaves) we used the non stick bowl or base of our electric popcorn poppers much like an electric skillet to cook everything from Kraft macaroni and cheese ( boiled first in the small hot pots we used to heat  coffee, tea and soup) to browning ground beef or searing hamburger patties as much as we used it to make popcorn.

As I recall my popcorn popper then was made by Hamilton Beach and I  know I opted for Flame Red over the Avocado Green and Harvest Gold colors offered. I honestly don’t really recall that it was endorsed by Joe Namath, but according to this old Spiegel Catalog ad – looks like that was the case.

Today technology has sadly eliminated the need for the same type of culinary creativity we had to muster back in the day and  most people turn to the microwave to pop corn ( and make Mac and Cheese), but if you ask me – I still like popcorn popped in oil on the stove – calories or no – its all about the flavor.

popcorn with spicesNow, instead of vegetable oil I suggested using canola oil to start and then finish the fluffy popped kernels with a drizzling of real melted butter and a sprinkling of sea salt;   or mix it up a bit with a grating of aged Parmesan cheese or a blend of salt and pepper; or better yet take a trip over to The Savory Spice Shop – I’m a regular at Charlotte’s SouthEnd location  – Let owners Amy and Scott McCabe and their friendly staff help find one or two spice blends of flavor combos you like. Then just sprinkle them on and let the snacking begin!

 

However you pop it, Celebrate in style this month! Make some popcorn from scratch and enjoy life the old fashion way, one buttery kernel at a time… and then use the leftovers ( or pop a second batch) to make either of the two sweet treats or for a savory splash of popcorn, grind the popped kernels and use them in place of bread crumbs to crust chicken or fish or in addition to the flour for a bit of texture in your next batch of homebaked bread, pancakes or waffles  – Happy National Popcorn month!

CHOCOLATE CHIP HONEY CARAMEL CORN

hhfmolassesInstead of buying commercial brown sugar -I like to make my own by combining ¾ cup of organic sugar and ¼ cup local molasses and stirring until well blended. Worth noting here that my go to for molasses is local NC Sorghum Syrup molasses from Harrell Hill Farms – Doug Harrell tells me they’ve just finished up the 2015 season and its bottled up and ready to roll – order you can buy it in several shops up and around the Burnsville. NC area or call and order directly from the farm – for more details visit http://harrellhillfarms.com/molasses.htm ) Now onto the recipe…

10 cups popped popcorn

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup local honey

1 cup butter

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Pinch of fine ground salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 cups dark chocolate chips

 

Divide the popcorn and spread in simgle layers over two large parchment paper lined baking sheets with sides.

Combine the brown sugar, local honey, butter, cream of tartar, and salt in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Stir constantly and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda.

Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir gently until all the kernels are coated.

Bake for 1 hour in a preheated 200 degree oven, stirring every 20 minutes. Add the chocolate chips during the last 2-3 minutes of baking. Pull from oven and stir once again to mix chocolate in and around the caramel corn.  Allow the popcorn to cool on the pan as the hot caramel is VERY hot, then, break the cooled pieces apart for easier eating and storage. When it has cooled, store  the popcorn in a tightly sealed container and enjoy!

pink popcorn ballsHomemade Popcorn Balls

I first made these about the same time I first made Jiffy Pop. My very first cookbook was  “Betty Crocker’s Boys and Girls Cookbook” among my favorite  recipes was the one for Pink Popcorn Balls – you can make these any color with just a few drops of your favorite food coloring and if you want to add a bit of flavor, add a quarter to half tsp of any extract or flavoring for a treat fun of any occasion!

6 cups popped popcorn

3 Tbsp. butter

1 (10 ounce) package marshmallows

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted.

Remove from heat.  Add popped popcorn and  toss with a buttered spatula to coat. Coat your hands with melted butter or wear plastic gloves and shape the warm coated popcorn into balls. Allow to cool on a waxed paper or parchment paper lined tray, then wrap with plastic wrap to hold, or enjoy on the spot!

 

Summer Faves: Fried Green Tomatoes

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODI don’t know who decided to fry the first green tomato – but I’m glad they did! Credited with strictly Southern roots, a quick bit of investigative research indicates that recipes date back as far and the mid to late 1800s, several from Jewish and Kosher cookbooks, too.  The popularity of this crunchy summer favorite, however, soared with the popularity of Fanny Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe  and  later the movie of the (abbreviated) same name in the late 1980’s. Since then chefs around the country, and perhaps the world, cleverly continue put innovative spins on the basic batter, bread and brown technique.

green tomatoes

Fresh picked green tomatoes from Tega Hills Farm in Ft. Mill SC. Mindy Robinson of THF sells to the public on Saturday Mornings at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and at the Yorkmont Regional Farmers’ market in Charlotte, NC

Anyway you fry it, do try this fabulous summer treat before the seasons end.

As I write this, it is August in the Carolina’s and ’tis the season for the late harvest of red ripe juicy tomatoes. But before these gems turn red, they’re firm and green and equally delicious to their red ripened counterparts. As is the case for ripe and heirloom tomatoes of all sorts, the best place to buy green tomatoes is from a local farmer and any local farmers market – or you could grow them yourself, but I have found over a long period of summer growing seasons, that I am much better cooking with tomatoes than growing them) so I am happy to rely on the harvest of local farms and farmers with greener thumbs than mine to stock my tomato larder.

The tomatoes photographed for this blog post and for the Charlotte Today television segment with which these recipes coordinate came from Tega Hills farms in Ft.Mill SC and Black’s Peaches in York SC  – always most important, I think, to Shop Local so you can Eat Local.

Heidi on ct set with green tomatoesThis week I cooked with Local South Carolina green tomatoes, pairing them with ripe red tomatoes, Fishing Creek Creamery Goat cheese from Chester South Carolina and Clemson Blue Cheese from Clemson South Carolina as well. If you’d like to see the video presentation  from this week’s WCNC Charlotte Today broadcast, click here then come back for all the details, recipes and more.

Quartered green tomatoes from Black's peaches in York South Carolina, tossed with watermelon, arugula and Clemson Blue Cheese for another version of a tasty late summer salad

Quartered green tomatoes from Black’s Peaches in York South Carolina, tossed with watermelon, arugula and Clemson Blue Cheese for another version of a tasty late summer salad

Of course green tomatoes aren’t just for frying, cut them and toss in spices and vinegar to make your own house pickles, season with salt and pepper to use in place or in addition to cucumbers;  or scoop out, stuff and bake as you would bell peppers.

 

Three Ways, and then some, to serve Summer Fried Green Tomatoes

fried green tomatoes - gerinMaster Recipe

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

By Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

2-3 local firm green tomatoes, thick sliced

organic All Purpose Flour

2-3 local or organic eggs

dry seasoned bread crumbs

canola oil or your favorite Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Dip each slice of tomato first into the flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs

Dip each slice of tomato first into the flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs

Dip each slice of tomato first into the flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. The secret is to allow the battered and breaded green tomatoes to rest on a wire rack, for at least a minute or two before you fry.  This time allows the egg, flour and bread crumbs to firm up around the tomato and create a bond that will not come off in the hot oil. To fry the breaded green tomatoes traditionally, Heat about ½ inch of oil in a sauté pan or frying pan using wooden spoon test

Heidi's Wooden Spoon Test to see when  oil is hot enough to fry

Heidi’s Wooden Spoon Test to see when oil is hot enough to fry

To test to see if the oil is hot enough for frying, place a wooden spoon in the pan of oil. As the oil heats, little bubbles will form around the edge of the spoon just as they would if a piece of food were in the pan frying – when you see the little bubbles, the oil is hot enough to fry.

To fry with less fat, use a non stick pan and coat lightly with a flavorful olive oil. Brown as you sould in the greater amount of oil.

When the oil is hot, put the breaded tomato slices in, cooking just until brown. Remove from oil and drain on several thicknesses of paper towels.

Joes tomato salad The Flipside Cafe

The idea for these sliced Fried Green Tomato croutons came from Chef Joseph Cornett of The Flipside Cafe in Ft. Mill SC

Lots of ways to serve – with pimento cheese and red ripe tomatoes for a stack;  with watermelon, local goat cheese and arugula for a late summer salad;  in a Parmesan casserole as you would fried eggplant or chicken; cut into Fried Green Tomato croutons to top a ripe tomato salad; or with the bacon jam recipe found below, layered  with local lettuce and slices of ripe tomato for an innovative BLT.

Spread green tomato slices with soft local South Carolina chevre from Fishing Creek Creamery in CHester SC or Clemson Blue Cheese from Clemson SC; and then proceed with the Master recipe for a cheesier version of fried green tomato flavor

Spread green tomato slices with soft local South Carolina chevre from Fishing Creek Creamery in Chester SC or Clemson Blue Cheese from Clemson SC; and then proceed with the Master recipe for a cheesier version of fried green tomato flavor

For another variation on the theme, spread sliced green tomatoes with soft local goat cheese. Refrigerate to keep firm. Coat and bread the cheese and tomato “stack” as you would just the tomatoes in the Master Recipe.

Variation on t he theme - top tomatoes with your favorite local cheese and then bread and fry

Variation on the theme – top tomatoes with your favorite local cheese and then bread and fry

Serve drizzled with Balsamic vinegar and enjoy this last taste of the summer season!

 

The perfect Fried Green tomato condiment:

Bacon and Local Pepper Marmalade

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

1¼ pounds sliced bacon, diced

2  local onions, finely chopped

2 organic carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 organic celery stalks, finely chopped

1-3 sliced local jalapenos or hot peppers

2¼ cups North Carolina apple or South Carolina peach cider

⅓ cup red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. local molasses ( my favorite by far is from Harrell Hill Farms in Bakersville, NC)

1 tablespoon fresh or dried thyme or savory leaves, roughly chopped

 

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook until browned, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots and celery and sliced Jalapenos, cooking until the vegetables are tender, 6 to 7 minutes.  Pour in the cider and the vinegar, increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid is thick, 7 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the  molasses, cooking until the bacon looks glazed, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and move the skillet to a cool burner. Stir in the thyme leaves and cool to room temperature.

Serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

 

 

A Taste of Holiday Comfort and Joy

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOOD

A Post Preview….

This set of recipes is a wonderful holiday play on the idea of soup and sandwich. I am posting early the morning of Thursday Dec 11 before my video cooking segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today; but then will add in photos and video after the spot airs later this afternoon, so look for the update on this post in a couple of hours. The segment airs in the Charlotte area on Channel 36 (6 on Cable) sometime between 11 and noon. Video and photos to round out this post up later today…

 

Holiday Bouillabaisse

Recipe by Heidi Billotto, Charlotte Culinary Expert

As seen on WCNC’s Charlotte Today Thursday Dec 11, 2014

 

1 cup minced onions

1 large leek, minced

2-3 stalks organic celery, minced

1 head fresh fennel, minced

1/2 cup Pour Olive Leccino extra virgin olive oil

2 ( 28 oz) cans organic canned tomatoes, with liquid

6 Tbsp.  Savory Spice Shop tomato powder or  1/2 cup organic tomato paste

2 1/2 quarts water

4-5 stems and leaves of fresh organic parsley

2 bay leaves

4-5 stems fresh thyme leaves

1 tsp fennel seed

2 big pinches of saffron

The peel of one orange

Salt and pepper to taste

4 to 6 pounds fish fillets, and shellfish if you would like

 

For the rouille:

2 roasted red bell peppers

4 cloves garlic

1 cup Pour Olive Leccino extra virgin olive ol

1 local or organic egg yolk

1 Tbsp.  sea salt

Use a food processor or blender to blend together all ingredients into a paste – refrigerate until ready to serve as a condiment with the Bouillabaisse.

 

Simmer the onions, leeks, celery and fennel in hot olive oil for 5 minutes or until  tender and golden brown.

Stir in canned tomatoes with liquid. Bring to a light boil and stir well.

Add the water, tomato powder, herbs and orange peel; and cook uncovered at a moderate boil for 30 to 40 minutes.

Strain the broth into a large saucepan, pressing the flavorful juices out of the solid ingredients.

Adjust the seasonings to suit your tastes.

Add water or fish stock if you would like till you have about 2 ½ qts of liquid in the pot.

About 20 minutes before serving:

Bring the rouille out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temp.

Bring the broth to a rapid boil.

First add Add lobsters, crabs, or any firm-fleshed fish.

Bring the pot back to the boil and cook for 5 minutes or so.

Then add any lighter fish or any clams, mussels, scallops or shrimp. Bring to a boil once  again and cook 5 minutes more or until the fish are just tender. Do not overcook.

 

Take the seafood out of the pot until you are ready to serve so that it doesn’t overcook.

Place a portion of the seafood into each individual soup bowl. Spoon a ladleful of soup over the fish, and top with a sprinkle of fresh minced parsley.

Pass the rouille at the table for each person to add to the soup on their own.

Serve along squares or muffins of cheese bread pudding and enjoy.

 

CHEDDAR CHEESE BREAD PUDDING

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

butter

1 loaf soft eggy white bread – challah, brioche, etc.

4  organic or local eggs

2 cups organic half-and-half

2 1/2 cups cubed Velveeta cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Generously butter a 13×9 inch baking dish or your favorite sized muffin pans. Reserve. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and heavy cream.  Tear the bread into small pieces.  Add to the egg mix. Fold in the cheese. Pour into the buttered loaf pan or muffin tins. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes

 

BONUS RECIPE:   For an extra holiday touch, bake these edible bread bowls to serve the Bouillabaise or any other soup this holiday season

BAKED BREAD BOWL

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

2 Tbsp. yeast

2 ½ cups tepid water (no hotter than 120 degrees)

About 5 ½ cups cake flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

Cornmeal

Proof yeast in water. Combine water with flour and salt. Knead until you have smooth and elastic dough. Allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until the dough doubles in bulk. Punch down and Roll out in a thin layer – drape over a soup sized oiled stainless steel bowl, then cover with another oiled bowl of the same size, so that the dough is lightly sandwiched between the two bowls. Bake on a baking sheet, in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove the top bowl  and use an egg wash and some extra dough to add a decorative edge to the bowl ( while it is still turned upside down on the base bowl)- you can do a light braid or twist, or cut small circles and use the egg wash to paste them on as pedals around the edge of the bowl bake 5-7 minutes more until browned. Cool slightly and unmold from the base bowl. Sit upright on a place and use as a serving dish for your favorite soup, or salad or dip.

 

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater | Seasonal Squash Aren’t Just for Carving

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODWhen the Colonists first landed in North America they found the Indians growing and using pumpkins. The new Americans were quick to enthusiastically embrace the large round and sometimes ungainly fruit, which is actually a member of the gourd family, and subsequently pumpkin pie became an American tradition.

Today 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.

Okay, I’ll admit it, while it is comforting to have a can or two or organic pumpkin puree on the shelf for back up; 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 its 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 … just sayin’

In this post I’ve included a recipe originally given to me by my friend Linda Singerlie,  for one of the best pumpkin cheesecakes I have ever tasted. I tweaked it a bit to make it more local with the inclusion of local Una Alla Volta ricotta, local eggs and homemade brown sugar made from organic sugar and local molasses – instructions all to come.

But, before you cook, you must carve…

PCG_carved14_FB_highlightIf you are looking for some  inspiration before you carve, why not join me  and 25 plus other Charlotte chefs, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild on Sunday October 19 at 4 pm for the Guild’s annual fall fundraiser at 7th Street Market in Uptown Charlotte: a family event appropriately dubbed, CARVED. In attendance, skillfully wielding their knives and sharing their pumpkin carving skills will be the likes of Larry Schreiber from the Moffett Restaurant Group; Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery; Chris Coleman from The Asbury; David Feimster from Fahrenheit; Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder; Gregory Collier from The Yolk; Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort; Miles Payne from Little Spoon Eatery; Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine; and Paul Verica from Heritage – just to name a few! For more info about these chefs and their restaurants – check out the links in the “shopping” portion of this post.

In addition to the two hour pumpkin carving competition all of the shops at the Market will be open for business and the Guild will have a tasty apple cider press demonstration complete with samples presented by Coldwater Creek Farms; and a beekeeping demonstration by Art Duckworth of Apple Orchard Farm.

Lenny Boy Brewery will be on hand with a special sweet potato beer.  As a ticket goer, adults will receive a souvenir CARVED 2014 cup good for two (8 oz) pours and one ticket to vote for your favorite pumpkin. The guild will be also be selling more tickets on site if people want to vote more than once.

Advance tickets are still on sale – links to purchase are at the end of this post. Tickets are $10 in advance  or $15 at the door. Kids 18 & under: $5 (unless they bring their own already carved jack-o-lantern and then it’s free!) Proceeds go to Piedmont Culinary Guild and Slow Food Charlotte’s Farmer Fund.

From carving to culinaria

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 cheesecakePUMPKIN STREUSEL CHEESECAKE

Recipe adapted by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

For the Crust:

2-1/2 cups crushed  graham crackers

3 Tbsp. your favorite cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

For the Filling:

2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

1 (8oz) container Una Volla Alta locally made ricotta cheese (available at Pasta & Provisions)

1 cup organic sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

2 tsp. your favorite Savory Spice Shop cinnamon

1 Tbsp. fresh minced Windcrest farms local organic baby ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 Tbsp.  fresh grated nutmeg

1-1/2 cups of your own fresh made roasted pumpkin puree ( or use an equal amount of organic canned pumpkin)

4 whole local eggs

For the Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar ( i like to make my own by combining about a cup of organic sugar and about 1/4 cup of local Molasses ( I love Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses) – it makes the most delicious brown sugar you will ever eat!)

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup cold butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix well. Press in bottom and up sides of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 10 minutes and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the first seven ingredients  together; add pumpkin and eggs, mix until well blended. Pour into prepared crust; bake 55 minutes on middle rack. Place a shallow cake pan partially full of water on the bottom rack of the oven to provide moist heat in the oven and keep the cheesecake from drying out.

Carefully remove cheesecake and gently sprinkle streusel over the top before returning to oven for another 10 minutes. To help avoid cracking, turn oven off but leave cheesecake in oven with door cracked for a slow cooling process – about 30 minutes or until cheesecake center is set.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate cheesecake at least four hours or preferably overnight in the pan then removed sides and gently slide the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto a cake stand. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and enjoy!

Shopping and Contact info for tickets, products and chefs mentioned in this post:

Visit the events page of the Piedmont Culinary Guild website, to purchase advance tickets for the Oct 19 CARVED event online and remember tickets will also be available at the door

sss

 

For all of the spices mentioned in the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe above, visit my friends Amy and Scott McCabe at the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd at Atherton Mill. 2000 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203   980.225.5419

una alla volta

 

Uno Alla Volta cheeses are available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and  at the regional Yorkmont Road Market on Saturdays and at cheese shops around town. For more info visit and “Like” them at  https://www.facebook.com/unoallvoltacheese 

 

hhfmolasses

 

Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses is available by contacting the farm in Bakersville, NC – contact information is on the farm’s website at http://harrellhillfarms.com/molasses.htm 

 

Lots of great area chefs are members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild – for more info or, of you are an interested chef, to become a member yourself, check out the Guild’s website at http://piedmontculinaryguild.com/what-is-the-piedmont-culinary-guild/  

For more info on the chefs and restaurants mentioned in this post, just click on the Urbanspoon or website links here:

Larry Schreiber from Good Food on Montford –Good Food on Montford on Urbanspoon

Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery Earl's Grocery on Urbanspoon

Chris Coleman from The Asbury The Asbury on Urbanspoon

David Feimster from Fahrenheit Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Gregory Collier from The Yolk The YOLK on Urbanspoon

Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Miles Payne from Little Spoon  http://www.littlespooneatery.com/

Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Paul Verica from Heritage Heritage Food and Drink on Urbanspoon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh my, it’s time for Pi…

I love to bak epies but my most popular is one, though, is not pictured here - its my infamous chocolate pecan pie - Yum!

I love to bake pies but my most popular is one, though, is not pictured here – its my infamous chocolate pecan pie – Yum!

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt’s March 14, 2014 and while many of you may think that this is just the day before St. Patty’s day, others with a slightly more mathematical mind will get that its 3.14 or Pi(e) Day!

Wish I had come up with the pun, but I must give credit where credit it due – Jessica’s Biscuit, a cookbook lovers’ website, just sent out their weekly Biscuit Buzz email with the pun in place to promote baking cookbooks.

I just thought I would jump on in, and take advantage of the theme to bring you my most popular pie recipe ever – my infamous Chocolate Pecan Pie.

Make it work for St. Patty’s by adding some Irish Whiskey in place of the vanilla and a tablespoon or two of the milk.

Delicious Black Onyx cocoa powder and sugar from the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte NC

Delicious Black Onyx cocoa powder and sugar from the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte NC

Of course, I shop for  cocoa at Charlotte’s Savory Spice Shop, SouthEnd.

While they have several cocoa choices, I always land on the most chocolatey one – the Black Onyx Cocoa – for this particular recipe.  When you are picking up the cocoa, also look for Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx sugar, and if the  luck of the Irish is with you, they will also have their Black Onyx sugar cubes in stock.

Serve theses scumptuous sugar cups to sweeten up that  cup of Irish coffee you plan to serve with your first slice of pie – delish!

Local eggs from anyone of Charlotte’s farmers’ markets, organic sugar and milk and local pecans ( you can order local pecans, in season, from High Rock Farms in Gibsonville NC ) make this Pi, practically perfect.

These two loved the Vodka pie crust when they attended my Apple of Your Pie cooking class earlier this year

These two loved the Vodka pie crust when they attended my Apple of Your Pie cooking class earlier this year

Speaking of perfect – if making your own pie crust has only brought you frustrations in the past, then toss all of your other recipes away and try this foolproof ( it really is) vodka pie crust recipes I took from the page of Cooks Illustrated Magazine some years ago. Still giving credit where credit is due, it really is the best pie crust I have ever made and I thank Cooks for doing the research.

The vodka apparently has a better chemical reaction with the butter and flour than does water and creates a lighter flakier crust. Honestly I have never wondered much about why it works – I am just happy that it does and to tell you the truth , its fun to cook with spirits.

TOPO distilleries in Chapel Hill NC makes local 100% organic vodka, gin and whiskey

TOPO distilleries in Chapel Hill NC make local 100% organic vodka, gin and whiskey

In the “spirit” of keeping things local and organic I have opted for TOPO Vodka here – NC’s own 100% organic vodka made in Chapel Hill – great stuff, available at all NC and some SC liquor stores – do give it a try.  While you are trying you will also want to pick up a bottle of the TOPO gin as well -delish and the perfect addition to a spring or summer time Italian Negroni or all American gin and tonic.

Liquor aside and back to pie, for my gluten free friends I have also included a delicious gluten free crust recipe here -give it a try and let me know what you think – no one – gluten free or not, should ever have to do without a slice of Pi!
Cheers!

CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE TART
Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com

3 cups organic sugar
pinch salt
7 Tbsps. Your favorite cocoa from the Savory Spice Shop
4 local eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups organic milk
1 stick butter, melted
2-3 cups local pecan halves (be generous)
Dough for two pies fitted into two 10-inch French tart pans with removable bottoms

Carefully fit the dough into each of the French tart pans, trimming edges to fit. Place each on a baking sheet. Mix sugar, salt, and cocoa together. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and milk; stir into the dry ingredients. Add melted butter and stir until well blended. Fill each pie shell two – thirds full with pecan halves.
Pour filling over the pecans. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. If you are taking your tart to-go, transport them in the pans and then removed on site for easy serving. Top with freshly whipped cream or ice cream if you would like.
Makes 2 pies.

Foolproof Pie Dough
Shared by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com
Originally from Cooks Illustrated, November 2007
Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached organic all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. organic sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds .
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Heidi’s Gluten Free Brazil Nut Pie Crust                                                                                                                                                 

Recipe Adapted By Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto                                                                                                     Hlnc@carolina.rr.com

4 1/2 cups (630 g) high-quality all-purpose gluten-free flour ( I like the all purpose gluten free flour at Trader Joes very much)

4 tsps. xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

20 Tbsp.  unsalted butter, roughly chopped and kept cold

4 ounces grated Brazil nuts, finely grated

1 cup to 1 1/4 cups cold water, iced (ice cubes do not count in volume measurement)

Egg wash (1 egg yolk + 2 tablespoons cream, whisked to combine)

Into the bowl of your food processor fitted with the steel blade (or a large bowl, if you don’t have a food processor), place the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and grated Brazil nuts, and pulse a few times until well-combined (or whisk if not using the machine). Add the chopped and chilled butter, and pulse until the chunks of butter are a bit smaller and are covered in the dry mixture.

Add 1/2 cup ice water to the mixture a bit at a time. If using a food processor, pulse repeatedly while dribbling in the ice water very slowly. After you have added this first 1/2 cup ice water, pulse a few more times to see if the mixture is beginning to come together in the food processor. If not, dribble in more water by the scant tablespoon and pulse. Stop adding water the moment the mixture begins to come together.

Dump the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, enclose and place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. If you are not planning to use the dough right away, but will use it within a few days, transfer the wrapped dough to the refrigerator, where it can keep for a few days. If you don’t plan to use the dough for more than a few days, freeze until solid and defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using.

For more information about the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Savory-Spice-Shop-Charlotte-South-EndDilworth/136994393059682 – Take in you old bottles of commercial herbs and spices from now till April 15 and take advantage of the Cash in Your Cupboard Event where the shop will pay you to bring in your old dried herbs spices and buy new ones!

For more information about TOPO spirits – visit http://www.topodistillery.com/

For more information about Local NC pecans and chestnuts, in season, visit http://www.high-rock-farm.org/

Weekend One of Charlotte’s 2014 Spring Show Cooking Stage: Recap & Recipes

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt is, each and every year, my great pleasure to coordinate the chefs and host the culinary action on the Southern Shows Spring Home and Garden Show cooking stage in late February and then again I do the same in August for the Southern Shows Ideal Home show.
This year the spring show ran two consecutive weekends in a row and with nearly 60 different chefs, sous chefs, foodies and farmers making appearances on stage, every hour on the hour, the action was hot!

With so many different chefs I made the decision to make the stage “paperless” this year – so aside from coupons, business cards and menus for the crowd to pick up and share, there were no printed recipes.

bannerInstead of all the paper,  my good friends at Charlotte Living magazine have created a Southern Spring Home & Garden cooking stage landing page where readers will find an index of all the participating chefs, links to their printed recipes and further links to restaurant, chef, farm and shop websites. the link to the recipe index from the first weekend is at the end of this post; recipes for the second weekend will be up next week and I’ll soon write a recap blog post for that as well –  but first a brief recap of the first weekend of fun, food and flavor!

Heidi and Tom in the Booth  spring show 2-14

Heidi and Tom Billotto in Charlotte NC at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show 2014

As I mentioned, this year, The Southern Spring & Garden show ran Feb 22 – Feb 24 and Feb 28 – Mar 2, While I was at the Cooking Stage, my very talented husband Musician Tom Billotto, was performing instrumental and vocals in the show’s gardens. We sold his CD, Two and A Half Guitars, at the Heidi Billotto & Friends booth directly across from the  cooking stage and then we played it between chefs  –  the crowd seemed to enjoy the blending of food and mood.

If you missed purchasing Tom’s CD for a little food and mood of your own – its available through his website – look for the link at the end of this post.

So what follows is the low down on the line up of first weekend chefs, farmers and foodies that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues as they shared their skills, tips and techniques with the audience. – Thank you every one!

 

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511's Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511’s Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Chefs Vince Giancarlo, Kyle Biddy and Greg Balch from Cantina 1511 kicked things off on Feb 21 at 11 am preparing Al Pastor Pork from Cantina’s new spring menu.

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

This delicious little bite is one you should certainly request when next you eat at either of Cantinas two locations – the big news is that the East Blvd. location will soon be moving to Park Road Shopping Center – stay tuned on these blog pages and on my Facebook page for details as they happen.

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

As it turned out it was a pork-centric beginning to the day as Chef Paul Verica and his son Alex followed with his version of the story of  “The Three Little Pigs” done Hertitage Food and Drink style with Maple Glazed Pork Belly, Pulled pork with old school biscuits and  Bacon Doughnuts, oh my!

A big supporter of local farmers and farmers markets, Paul has spent the last 20 years developing his personal style of New American Cuisine, and  the opening of Heritage Food & Drink in downtown Waxhaw NC  the culmination of years of hard work and dedication – like all the restaurants featured in this post Heritage is well worth your consideration next time you plan to enjoy dinner out!

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Then the day on the stage took a turn toward poultry with Private chef Chef Bill Bigham who shared his quick and easy recipe for Mojito Chicken.

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Bill was followed by Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel, a modern southern restaurant that honors the past, celebrates the seasons, and looks forward serving break fast lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Chris followed the poultry theme  preparing Cured and pan roasted duck with NC peanut Farro Risotto using local duck local peanuts and local farro – Chris is another big believer in the farm to fork concept and the menu at The Asbury reflects this philosophy.

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

North Carolina Peanut

North Carolina Peanut

Chef David Moore from The Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge was also inspired by all things local and Southern as he too worked with NC peanuts, crafting the legume into a delicious brittle that sported quick a kick as he added South Carolina’s now famous hot sauce, The Grim Reaper, grown and produced by the Puckerbutt Hot Sauce Company in Ft Mill, SC. The Grim reaper chili has recently been classified as the hottest Chili in the world by the fine folks at Guinness who keep all the records!

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman's cheese shop

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman’s cheese shop

Private chef Jill Aker Ray lightened things up a bit with her easy Primavera sauce and I followed with Rachel Klebaur of Orrman’s Cheese Shop, making my recipes for Local Bosky Acres goat cheese fondue and beer cheese stuffed jalapenos.

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Later, I took the stage once more to share perfect pairings of Pour Olive ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and artisan Balsamic vinegars and then Chef Greg Collier put a cap on the evening as he entertained the crowd while he prepared a twist on a breakfast classic – steel cut oats. Instead of making a sweet oatmeal, Greg transformed the oats into a melt in your mouth mushroom risotto – what a way to end our first day and one reason you should definitely check out the breakfast menus at The Yolk located in Rock Hill, SC!
 

 

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes form Mimosa Grill

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill

The action Continue at a fever pitch on Saturday, Feb 22 with appearances by four of Charlotte’s top restaurant chefs one right after the other:

Carpe Diem's Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Carpe Diem’s Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem, a fine dining restaurant and catering company
located at 1535 Elizabeth Avenue  in Charlotte delighted show goers with recipes for  a springtime farro salad with a duo of vinaigrettes – look for creative dishes like this one on the carpe diem springtime menu

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Then Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen a not for profit restaurant in Uptown , with a mission  to help and feed our city’s hungry and homeless, brought it all back home with his melt in your mouth biscuits and sasauge gravy. Kings Kitchen is now open for breakfast and these biscuits are featured on the breakfast and lunch menus.

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Show goers were ready for more as Chef Tim Groody from Fork Restaurant  on Main Street in Cornelius, a farms to fork restaurant supporting dozens of local farms in the Carolinas, put an international spin on a bevy of local ingredients to make his tasty smoked local pork pot stickers!

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Chef Jonathan Fortes, winner of the 2013 Fire in the City Competition dining series,  and his team from Mimosa Grill located in Uptown Charlotte, wowed show goers with his  creole stuffed hushpuppies – the crowd, quit literally, ate it all up.

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

I made real Italian biscotti while Italian travel expert Nada Vergili  expounded on all that is wonderful about traveling in Italy; while private chef Jill Aker-Ray stepped up for  the first of  three separate time slots on stage over the course of the show  sharing her recipes for  primavera sauce, boursin cheese and southern pesto.

On Sunday Feb 23 – The crew from the Papi Queso Food Truck was unable to attend as scheduled, so I stepped in sharing a few tips I’ve learned from Papi Queso and others on making superlative grilled cheese sandwiches  -the big trick is to use real mayo instead of butter on the bread for a truly golden and crispy finish ( the brand is your call but my go-to is Carolinas-made Dukes) – other than that, use interesting breads and fill with your favorite combinations of cheese, fruits, meats and veggies and you’re good to grill!

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

I was followed on stage  by a new, very talented, chef in town. So glad to have Nathan Volz, executive sous chef at Charlotte’s Ritz Carlton join us on stage.  Nathan’s “taste of the Ritz- Carlton” this day were bite sized pistachio profiteroles filled with a foie gras mousse – ah – what a way to start the day!

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

After the foie gras, amuse, so to speak, Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish, sushi burger bar, gave the crowd a rundown on making the very best burgers and  cheeseburgers and shared recipes for some of his favorite sauces.

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach  to feed the crowd!

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach to feed the crowd!

Next things took a light turn as Windcrest Farms’ Mary Roberts  joined me on stage to talk about al things organic and to tell guests int he audience how to grow from their own organic gardens.

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach - just beautiful!

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach – just beautiful!

Mary and her husband Ray brought along two huge bags of fresh picked organic spinach which we served to the crowd paired with organic strawberries for a  light spinach salad and then backed with Bosky Acres goat cheese and grated parmigiana reggiana for a rich warm spinach soufflé. We also sautéed this wonderful seasonal green with organic chick peas and tomatoes to create a tasty simply side dish as well. 

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Inspired by Ben's mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! - seeds soaking here....

Inspired by Ben’s mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! – seeds soaking here….

That afternoon  I welcomed Chef Ben Philpott from Block and Grinder to the stage . At Block & Grinder, Ben makes delicious charcuterie and so he brought some of his duck ham to share with the cooking stage crowd and then he made a homemade mustard to go with. Keeping true to the philosophy that the show must go on, Ben persevered through an explosion of his blender and the fact that the fire alarm in the building went off in the middle of his demo.  After the all clear, we all realized that sometimes you just have to laugh and keep moving on.

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

The weekend ended with a presentation from Amy and Scott McCabe from The Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd  – my go -to place for all spices and herbs sweet and savory. Scott cooked up a rigatoni pasta dish while Amy handed spice samples out to the crowd – the perfect cap off for the evening and the first weekend of the show..

For all the recipes from this talented line up of first weekend of chefs at the cooking stage at the Southern Spring & Garden Show in Charlotte click on over to http://charlottelivingmagazine.com/spring_show_2014/Spring_Show_Recipes.pdf

Each of the recipes on the Charlotte Living site offer links to the chef restaurants and websites… recipes from the second weekend of chefs will be up and online mid March 2014. 

Meanwhile, for more information about any of our first weekend chefs  – just follow these links to get to their respective websites ….

For more information on me, Heidi Billotto and my cooking classes – friend me on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or follow me on Twitter at @heidicooks  and follow this blog and all the details will come to you as I post…

 

Gluten Free Pancakes as seen on WBTV with Kristen Miranda

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpg

WBTV's Kristen Miranda

WBTV’s Kristen Miranda

I’ve LOVE cooking in front of a group, making personal appearances and cooking on television. I am quite fortunate to have regular culinary segments on several Charlotte television stations, among them WBTV.

Heidi on  WBTV circa 2009

Heidi on WBTV circa 2009

I’ve been cooking on WBTV  regularly since 2009 – I used to get up around 4 am to prep and then arrive at the station around 6 am or so in advance of what is usually a 6:20 or 6:30 3 minutes spot, My wonderful husband Tom would always go with me, helping to lug in all the stuff, to set up what sort of kind of looked like a kitchen counter. Even with the early morning hours it was  and still is always great fun!

A couple of years ago, though, I suggested to the WBTV team that it might be easier if we filmed in my home kitchen. While I still go back to the studio every now and again; now, once a quarter or so, Kristen comes to me,  with lights, camera and photographer and we film four cooking spots to air over the next several months. Such was the case last week.

Fresh off the recipe planning for my Gluten Free Gourmet class a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this recipe for Gluten Free Banana Pancakes might be a fun way to start – great recipe, perfect for kids to prep and help make if you are looking for family fun in the kitchen; plus use organic bananas and blueberries, local eggs and Charlotte’s own Cloister Honey and its a practically perfect way to start the day or enjoy as a little late afternoon pick me up or after school snack.

cinnamonTo spice it up a bit – add one teaspoon to one Tablespoon of your favorite cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop. ( I shop at the SouthEnd location in Charlotte and while I mix and match the trio of cinnamons they offer, I have to admit that the spicy but very flavorful Saigon Cassia Ground Cinnamon might be my favorite to add to this recipe.

bourbon HoneyLikewise you could top the pancakes with any sort of honey, but eating local is important to me, so local honey is my syrup of choice; and in this recipe the Cloister Honey Bourbon Honey pairs well; but Cloister’s whipped cinnamon honey, melted down in the microwave would be every bit as delicious .

For easy flipping, use a non stick pan and a very thin metal spatula and you are good to go – Here’s the printed recipe and the video for WBTV follows, enjoy!

For more info and to order on Cloister Honey from my friends Randall and Joanne Young in Charlotte NC, visit www.cloisterhoney.com

For more info on the Savory Spice Shop Southend, visit my friends Amy and Scott MacCabe at the shop at Atherton Mill, 2000 South Blvd.  suite 150, Charlotte, North Carolina 28203 or friend them on their page on Facebook 

Gluten Free Banana Pancakes

Recipe shared by Heidi Billotto

hlnc@carolina.rr.com

HeidiBillottoFood.com

1 ripe banana, mashed

1 local or organic egg

½ tsp. baking powder

Blend all of the ingredients together, but keep the batter a little lumpy with chunks of banana

Drop the batter onto a hot non stick fry pan in spoonfuls to make silver dollar sized pancakes.

Cook until bubbles form on the top of the pancakes and the edges are firm. Flip with a this spatula to brown the other side.

Serve topped with fresh blueberries and a drizzling of Charlotte’s own Cloister Honey’s Bourbon Honey

Going Gluten Free? Here’s a great North Carolina Chestnut Flour bread recipe you’re gonna love!

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgWhat a fabulous weekend, filled with three great cooking classes – two a part of my At Home with Heidi series and the other a private cooking class designed for a group of 10-year-old-chefs-to-be celebrate a birthday and make dinner for Saturday night sleepover!

gluten freeEarlier that Saturday morning my At Home with Heidi Gluten Free Gourmet cooking class was a huge success; and in addition to a wonderful soft gluten free white bread we also created a heartier gluten free bread with Locally produced Chestnut flour from my good friends at High Rock Farm in Gibsonville NC.

High Rock Farm is the largest working and producing chestnut orchard in the mid-Atlantic region with a grove of nearly 500 chestnut trees. While the farm is chestnut-centric, High Rock also produces a hearty crop of pecans each fall from some 400 pecan trees; and in the spring visitors can look to enjoy the annual blackberry harvest.

HRF 3High Rock Farm was built in 1807 by Joseph McCain, Senator John McCain’s fourth great-grandfather. This federalist style home features many large rooms including eight fireplaces, antique furniture, and beautiful landscape. High Rock Farm is one of North Carolinas Historic landmarks and is listed under Preservation North Carolina.

The historic home at High Rock Farm in Gibsonvie, NC

The historic home at High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, NC

The farm house sits off High Rock Road and was used as a stage coach stay in the 1800’s. At one time, the house was also home to a local tavern and area post office. Today the historic house is home to Richard Teague who planted his first chestnut tree in 1991, and is available for home and farm tours by appointment.

Pecans are generally harvested in October and then packaged for sale directly from the farm, but they go fast! To extend the life and flavor of the pecans High Rock Farm also produces and sells sugar toasted pecans and chocolate covered pecans as well as their chestnuts, chestnut flour, dried chestnut kernels and in season fresh blackberries and raspberries and as well as their own blackberry jam. These fabulous local products are available all year round.

For information about ordering product or visiting the farm ( or perhaps hosting your wedding celebration there) visit for all the details http://www.high-rock-farm.org/

fresh picked chestnuts

Fresh picked chestnuts are roasted and then ground into flour at North Carolina’s own High Rock Farms

If you are looking to cook gluten free – chestnuts and pecans will be a great healthy addition to your diet and kitchen pantry. The fact that these nuts are a local North Carolina product, makes them all the better! High Rock Farm’s Chestnut flour may be used in any gluten free bread or baked good recipes to give a heartier taste and texture similar to that of whole wheat flour.

gluten free chestnut flour breadBelow you will find the High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour  Bread recipe I developed for the class – I was inspired by a great little cookbook called Gluten Free on a Shoestring. See details at the end of this post.

This fresh baked bread is best enjoyed once it is out of the oven and has been allowed to cool completely. While it is tempting to cut it while it is still hot from the oven, with the bread cool, it may be cut to a thinner slice and is perfect for sandwich bread.

If you would like to serve the bread warm (Gluten free or not – who doesn’t love warm bread?) wrap the completely cooled loaf in foil and reheat in a 250-300 degree oven. If you cut into the loaf hot out of the oven just after baking, the interior will still be damp with steam.

If you wait and rewarm the bread, you will be rewarded with much better results both in terms of taste and texture.

tj flourJust a couple of recipe notes before we begin.

After doing a lot of research and trying several different gluten free flours, my favorite blend in the  gluten free flour blend from Trader Joe’s – it seems to work the best in  all sorts of baking, from yeast breads to cobblers which rise with the addition of baking powder or baking soda. so we’ll start with 2 cups of this all purpose Gluten free flour as the base for our bread and then blend in the wonderful High Rock Farms Chestnut Flour to give our bread the nutty tasting finish.

 

X gumThe Xantham Gum is a very important part of the Gluten free yeast bread equation. It is the ingredient which interacts with the yeast – in place of the gluten found in regular all purpose flour – to give your bread dought the elasticity to rise.   Some gluten free flour mixes already include xantham gum, but I prefer to use a mix that does not and add my own. In manufacturing, xanthan gum is used as a thickening, emulsifying and stabilizing agent in foods such as chewing gum, toothpaste, bottled salad dressings, etc. and it works exactly the same way in your yeast bread, but to make it work the most effectively, you really need to mix it in vigorously – which is why mixing this batter up in a stand mixer is the best way to blend the batter.

saf yeastFinally about the yeast – Yeast is a living growing organism and is what gives your bread dough the power to rise.

In proofing yeast, as soon as bubbles begin to form on the surface of the water you are good to move forward with the recipe.

In proofing yeast, as soon as bubbles begin to form on the surface of the water you are good to move forward with the recipe.

Normally a package of yeast must be proofed before you use it in any yeast bread so that you can be sure it will indeed rise. To proof yeast, simply mix a tablespoon with tepid water and a bit of sugar and stir, as soon as little bubbles form on the surface of the water, the proofed yeast is ready to add to your bread dough.

Heat can kill the yeast – so it is best stored in a cool spot like your refrigerator or freezer.  Personally, I like SAF brand yeast. It is a French instant yeast and it needs no proofing and it works wonderfully each and every time. Once open I keep my bag in a freezer quality Zip Lock bag in my freezer. The fact that it doesn’t require proofing means you may add it directly to the dry ingredients in your recipe – which is how I have written the recipe here. I have found SAF yeast locally in Charlotte at the Healthy Home Economist Food Store; but it is also available online, as is xanthan gum, at www.KingArthurFlour.com

chestnut flour bread - gluten freeHeidi’s Chestnut Flour Sandwich Bread
As taught by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com

2 Cups Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Flour Blend ( after experimenting around, I think this is the best gluten free flour blend on the market.
1 cup High Rock Farm’s Chestnut Flour
2 ¼ tsp. Xantham Gum
2 tsp. Sea salt – I like to use the fine grind of pink Himalayan sea salt available at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte
3 ¼ tsp. instant Yeast (I like the SAF Instant brand)
¼ tsp. Cream of Tartar
2 Tbsp. organic Sugar
1 ½ Cups organic whole Milk (fat free,almond, soy and coconut mild yield less than desirable results in this recipe)
¼ Cup Butter, melted then cooled
1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
2 local Egg Whites

Combine the gluten free flour blend and the chestnut flour in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the xanthan gum, cream of tartar, sugar and yeast, salt and blend on low speed to combine the dry mix well.

Add the  milk, cooled butter, vinegar, eggs, to the dry ingredients and then combine until well blended on low speed. Once the wet ingredients have been incorporated into the dry ingredients, turn the mixer up to high speed and allow to mix for about 5 minutes – yes 5 minutes – gotta work up the xantham gum so it can do its job!

Once the dough is blended, spoon it into a buttered and parchment paper lined bread pan. Allow the dough to rise in a warm but not hot spot for about 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes or so. Allow the bread to cool for about 5 minutes in the pan and then use the parchment paper to lift the bread out of the pan and allow it to cool completely before slicing – enjoy!

GF bread bookGF bookCheck out these two cookbooks for more great gluten free recipes and of course more ways to use the High Rock farms chestnut flour – substitute it in any gluten free recipe for up to half of the flour called for in the list of ingredients for a fabulous nutty flavor to your final baked product.

Great Recipes for Charlotte’s Panther Fever

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Baking up Holiday Memories – Let Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge’s Gingerbread Lane Inspire You…

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgI am so excited to be a judge for this years’ Gingerbread Lane Professional & Amateur Competition at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in Charlotte,NC.
The Gingerbread Lane competition offers two independent categories for professional and amateur entries. The grand prize for the professional category is an overnight stay for two guests in the Presidential Suite plus breakfast in Gallery Restaurant. The winner of the amateur category will receive an overnight stay for two in a Parlor Suite including breakfast in Gallery Restaurant.

Judging takes place today on Wednesday, December 11 at 5pm. So come on out for a preview of what these clever and creative area bakers have built and to see who wins the competition.
If the display this year inspire you to start your own little DIY project then consider this post your recipe for success. The gingerbread house photos in this post are from the 2012 competition at Ballantyne’s Gingerbread Lane- can’t wait to see what’s in store for us this year!

This Old Gingerbread House
Gingerbread_Lane_2012_013-1For me, as for many of you, the holidays are all about making memories. One of the best ways, I think, to do so, is to plan an annual family activity with which to enjoy the season.
So, what’s say we bake a gingerbread house? I won’t lie to you though, it’s a several day project, so you’ll need to set aside some special time, but the house you create can be kept to enjoy for years – that is unless little holiday nibblers get it to it all before you have a change to preserve it and pack it away!
If an actual house seems too overwhelming, then use the recipes here to bake cookies, but be creative! Don’t use the standard shaped cookie cutters – create designs of your own using poster board as directed in the gingerbread dough recipe on this page.

barbieI can remember one holiday season I baked gingerbread gifts for everyone I knew. Some people got large oversized gingerbread people in their own likeness– friends who golfed got cookies with carried nine irons sporting gold shoes, friends who were in business, got cookies with ties and briefcases, and friends with new babies got cookies complete with baby strollers.
If you like the idea, but are in need of a little creative shove, just walk down the Barbie aisle at your local toy store – Barbie has all the accessories necessary to life – I think you’ll get some good ideas.

Gingerbread_Lane_2012_007-1

For other friends with families I baked a large square of gingerbread and then decorated it to look like a checkerboard – complete with gingerbread cookie checkers of course – one time I even made a gingerbread monopoly set, but I’ll tell you, making the gingerbread house is easier!

Before you are the baker, you must be the architect
For the house, you’ll need to make a poster board pattern first. Cut two rectangles for the sides (approximately 5 inches by 10 inches) and then for the front and back you’ll need two pieces that look like a rectangle (approximately 10 inches by 5 inches) with a triangle (approximately 10 inches across the bottom with seven inch peaks) sitting on the top, then two additional rectangles for the roof (each of these is to be approximately 10 inches by 7 inches). This will give you your basic house shape – if there is someone in the family with an architectural bend, you can get more creative – feel free to start adding on porticos, dormer windows, split level additions and such!
Put your poster board house together first – just use small pieces of masking tape, to make sure all of the pieces fit together as they are supposed to, then use the patterns to cut the gingerbread before baking. Let the gingerbread pieces cool and dry out for several days so that they will be rigid enough to stand up, both to the glue which will hold them together and to heavy decorations. If this is a house you are going to keep, you can put them together with a glue gun, if its one you are going to eat, commercial tub frosting is probably a healthier choice.
Once your house is together, let it dry for one more day and then you can begin to decorate. Use wafer thin cookies connected to the house with tub frosting or Cake-Mate, for roof tiles or if you’d prefer the thatched roof look, use split wedges of large size shredded wheat. Long fat pretzels can give the outside walls of your house a log cabin look, while graham crackers or Captains Wafers make wonderful shutters. Fat straight candy canes make lovely window boxes and gum drops are good for outdoor bushes and flowers. Hershey bars work well for paved sidewalks or driveways and Snowcaps chocolate non-pariels make a great gravel area. Malted milk balls or any kind of chocolate or candy covered nut make for fabulous stones with which to build the chimney and of course, you can sprinkle everything with a light shaking of powdered sugar for the look of the season’s first snow.
Gingerbread_Lane_2012_003-8To keep your gingerbread house for years to come, wait until after the holidays and then spray it with your choice of either matt finish or high glass shellac. Let it dry completely and then carefully pack it up cushioned with Styrofoam peanuts. For the best storage results, try keeping you house in a spot that is dry and cool throughout the year.
Your finished gingerbread house may not come out looking like the cover of Architectural Digest, but then again it may be cuter than you ever imagined. Remember just to enjoy the process, have fun, take lots of pictures and cherish the memories.
.

HEIDI’S GINGERBREAD FOR COOKIES OR HOUSES – my personal secret for houses in using the cake flour – it makes for a lighter cookie that is easier to assemble.
1/4 cup real butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses – use local NC molasses for the very best flavor
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. ground cardamom or ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lemon extract
1/4 cup water
Cream butter and sugar together until smooth and a little fluffy. Beat in the molasses. Add the cake flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Gradually add in the water and lemon extract. Blend or knead slightly until the dough forms a soft ball. Divide the dough in half. Pat each half into a flat rounded disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least one hour. The dough may be frozen at this point for later use if you so desire. To begin, Roll the dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper to about one quarter inch thick. Cut as you would like with cookie cutters for a gingerbread house or larger cookies, make a pattern from poster board, spray the slick side of the board with a bit of cooking spray and then place the pattern sprayed side down onto the dough and cut around it. Lift small cookies off of the work surface and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. For large pieces, just slide the piece of parchment paper onto which you rolled the dough over onto the baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before decorating.

SUGAR ICING FOR DECORATING GINGERBREAD
1 (1lb.) pkg powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. light corn syrup
food coloring
Beat the powdered sugar together with the shortening, butter, water and corn syrup. Divide the mix between small bowls or paper cups – one for each different color you would like to use. Color the powdered sugar mixture in each cup with several drops of food coloring until you have created you color palate. Spoon the icing into pastry bags fitted with small decorating tips and decorated the completely cooled cookies. For a more spreadable icing or paintable frosting, increase the water in the recipe by two to three tablespoons.

gingerbread manMore for the holidays from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
Know that throughout the rest of the month, you can enjoy an enchanting collection of gingerbread creations from the competition: Thursday, December 12 through Sunday December 29, the creative display will be open daily from 9am to 5pm. Attendees may vote on their favorite gingerbread creation with a $1 minimum donation per vote. All proceeds will benefit Levine Children’s Hospital, dedicated to caring for the physical and emotional needs of children and their families.

Hot Chocolate & Toddies
Get cozy at the Veranda at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, Friday-Sunday, December 6 through December 29, 2pm- 5pm throughout December. Enjoy hot chocolate with the option to add Godiva or any other liqueurs along with a selection of garnishes. The cost is $6 and $9 with liqueur.

Holiday Afternoon Tea
This is one of my favorite events at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge – gather your friends and family and stop in to enjoy a lovely Holiday Afternoon Tea in the Lobby throughout  the month of December.
Holiday Tea includes a variety of seasonal loose leaf tea blends from Harney & Sons Teas and a selection of savory tea sandwiches, traditional confectionaries and holiday treats. Tea is served Wednesday – Sunday, December 4 through Sunday December 29, 1pm – 5pm. The cost is $32 for adults and $15 for children, ages 5-12, and complimentary for children ages 4 and under (plus tax & gratuity). A champagne tea is available for $40 per person and there is a live harpist as well to make it all the more special – treat your self and make it a holiday tradition! Reservations are required at 704.248.4100. Not available on Christmas Day.

Eat Local – Cook Local – Tempura Okra “Fries” with Homemade Ketchup Recipes by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

9-12-13 Charlotte today tempura okra and AZN fusion 026Once a month I have the great good fortune to appear in a cooking segment on WCNC’s midday program, Charlotte Today. Hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway have become good friends as has the staff and crew of this locally produced midday show and I always enjoy the time I spend on set.

9-12-13 Charlotte today tempura okra and AZN fusion 001I work  hard each month to cook locally and seasonally; and my September episode was no exception.

Just picked local okra and tomatoes from New Town Farms in Waxhaw could have given way to many wonderful late summer/early fall dishes; but today I decided to dip and fry the okra in an easy tempura batter and use the tomatoes to make my own ketchup!

You can tweak the ketchup recipe however you like, substituting local honey or agave for  the organic sugar I used.

I like to add just a bit more red wine vinegar than I originally called for in the recipe as I like my ketchup more on the vinegary side – I also used my own homemade red wine vinegar – but that’s a story and a recipe for another day.

Meantime feel free to spice up the original recipe with red pepper flakes, fresh or dried minced chilies, red lobo adobo, chipotle or chili powder or my own, Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend – all available from my friends at the Savory Spice Shop on South Blvd. in Charlotte’s historic SouthEnd at the Atherton Mill – 2000 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203  Phone:  980.225.5419

My favorite Tomato Powder from Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd Charlotte

My favorite Tomato Powder from Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd Charlotte with a quarter up bowl of my homemade red wine vinegar

The tomato powder I used in the recipe came from the Savory Spice Shop as well, and is probably one of my favorite products there – try some to enrich the flavor  and acidity of your homemade ketchup and you’ll never use canned tomato paste again.

The tempura batter is an easy 1-2-3 recipe but you can spice it up with the addition of salt and pepper, chili powder, granulated garlic, finely minced onion or chive or Za’atar ( a combination of dried thyme, sesame seeds and citrusy dried ground sumac) as I did in the  segment with Colleen. Or you can make the batter Gluten free by omitting the flour and blending together corn meal and corn starch for the base of your batter instead.  Use any type of sparkling liquid to make the batter – sparkling water, sparkling cider, or even beer, Prosecco or Champagne! Take note , though, gingerale or sparkling clear oft drinks will make the batter too sweet.

Heidi Bilotto and Colleen Odegaard cook on the set of WCNC's Charlotte Today

Heidi Bilotto and Colleen Odegaard cook on the set of WCNC’s Charlotte Today

Both of my recipes are printed below – click here for the link to the video

Tempura Okra Spears With Homemade Ketchup

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

 10-12  local okra, cut into halves or  quarters, lengthwise

2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup cornstarch
3 cups unflavored sparkling water
Sea salt and pepper to taste – make it spicier to taste with the addition of chili power, adobo seasononing and cumin!

whick together the self rising flour, cornstarcha nd za'atar to get rid of any lumps in the dry mix.

Whisk together the self rising flour, cornstarch and za’atar to get rid of any lumps in the dry mix before adding the sparkling water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and cornstarch. Add sparkling water and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Toss cut okra in additional flour just to cover.

Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy bottomed pot using the wooden spoon test to judge readiness. – put a cold dry wooden spoon in the pan of cold oil. heat the oild up and as it becomes hot enough to deep fry in , little bubbles will form around the piece of wood just as they would around a pices of food. When bubles surround the edge of your wooden spoon, you know the oil is hot enough for deep frying.

deep fry the batter dipped okra until the coating turns a golden brown

deep fry the batter dipped okra until the coating turns a golden brown

Dip floured okra in batter, one at a time, allowing excess batter to drain off. Carefully place dipped okra pieces in oil and cook until golden brown.

Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate or wire rack to drain.

Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper while still warm.

Repeat dipping and frying with remaining okra – eat and enjoy immediately.

From Scratch Ketchup

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billott0

3 lbs. firm but ripe local tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 cups sugar

8 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. salt

1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes

combine the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat

Combine the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat

Allow tomatoes to cook down ,stirring occasionally, untilt he mix becomes thick. Adjust seasoning to suit your tastes. Puree the ketchup if you would like.

Allow tomatoes to cook down, stirring occasionally, until the mix becomes thick. Adjust seasoning to suit your tastes. Puree the ketchup if you would like or leave it chunky like a chutney!.

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Stir regularly until the mix reaches a thick sticky consistency. Puree with a food processor or immersion blender. Adjust seasonings to taste. Keep refrigerated.

Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg of New Town Farms

Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg of New Town Farms

For more from New Town Farm join me for a fall On  the Farm Cooking class at New Town on Saturday, October 26 from 11 am – 4 pm

So happy to be cooking once again with my good friends, local farmers Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg.  The first time I toured the property at New Town Farms I told Sammy that if I lived there I would never leave – its a gorgeous piece of land I know you will love as well.  This class begins in the kitchen as we prepare a menu of recipes featuring New Town’s  chicken and eggs in addition to all that is ripe and ready to pick in  the field. After we cook – and eat and drink – we’ll enjoy a walking farm tour with our gracious hosts where we will meet the pasture raised chickens and heritage breed  pigs and  learn about the ins and outs of farming acres of wonderful produce.  Sammy will share with us his philosophy of farming and sustainability and the importance of knowing how what we eat is grown and is raised.  Its more than just a farm tour and cooking class – it’s an event that will change the way you think about where your food comes from.

Cost is $75 email Heidi to make your advance reservations