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

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

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

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

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

Thai Orchid Restaurant

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

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

Doan’s Vietnamese

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

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

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

88 China Bistro

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

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

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

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

Baku Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Korean Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Parla Pasta

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

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

Renwood Mills

Locally sourced flour and cornmeal since 1935

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

Carolina Farmhouse Dairy

Organic Cream Top Yogurt and Kefir

Bahama, NC

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

Cloister Honey

Artisan Honey, Charlotte NC

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

Goodnight Brothers Country Ham

Dry Cured Country Ham  Boone North Carolina

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

OuterBanks SeaSalt 

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

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

Parla Pasta e Fagioli

1 can organic cannellini  beans, drained

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 leek, chopped

1 tsp. fresh minced rosemary

1 tsp. fresh minced thyme leaves

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

water, if needed

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

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

dried red pepper flakes to taste

1 or 2 rinds of real Parmesan cheese

1 bay leaf

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

chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Grated Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling

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

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

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

Parla Pasta  with Black Olive and Artichoke Pesto

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

3 cups Southern Biscuit Flour Formula L

1 lb. your favorite local cheese, shredded

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

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

1 cup whole milk or buttermilk

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

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

Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Vanilla Yogurt Coffee Cake

1/4 lb butter

1 cup organic sugar

2 organic or local eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Vanilla Yogurt

2 cups Southern Biscuit Flour self rising flour

for the topping:

img_72361/2 cup organic sugar

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

1/ cup of your favorite chopped nuts, optional

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

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

Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Kefir

Green Goddess Dressing

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

1 medium clove organic or local garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2 cup organic mayonnaise

1 cup Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Plain or Lemon Kefir

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves

1/4 cup loosely packed fresh tarragon leaves

2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives

2 Tbsp, freshly squeezed lemon juice

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

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

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

 

Cloister Honey Power Seeded Honey Chicken Sate

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

img_7217For the marinade:


1 clove organic or local garlic

2 Tbsp. Sorghum Syrup Molasses


2 Tbsp. organic sugar

¼ cup lime juice

1 Tbsp. fish sauce


2 Tbsp. Tamarind sauce

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


For the peanut sauce:


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

4 Tbsp, orange infused olive oil

2 Tbsp, tamarind sauce

1 Tbsp. red chili flakes


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

¼ cup fish sauce (Nam Pla)

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

1 can organic Asian coconut milk


¼ cup minced cilantro or 2 Tbsp. dried cilantro leaves

lemon or lime juice to taste

1 jar Cloister Honey Power Seeded Honey

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

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

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

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

Cloister Honey Salted Honey Blue Cheese Toasts

img_6875Cloister Honey Salted Honey

Creamy blue cheese

Toasted slices of French Bread

pistachios

Orange Zest

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

 

Goodnight Brothers Country Ham and Bechamel Biscuits

For the Béchamel:

¼ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup  all purpose Southern Biscuit Flour 

1½ cups whole organic milk

2 Tbsp. whole grain mustard

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the Biscuits:

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

2 packages Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Dry Cured Country Ham

1 -1 ½ cups shredded Gruyère, cheese

1 tsp dried Herbes de Provence

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

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

Sweet and Spicy Goodnight Brothers Country Ham Wrapped Shrimp

img_761124 large local shrimp, shells removed, tail intact

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

3 Tbsp. chili powder

2 Tbsp. ground cumin seed or powder

3/4 cup brown sugar

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

OuterBanks SeaSalt Sweet and Salty Candied Ginger

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

2 1/2 cups organic sugar

2 cups water

1 Tbsp. OuterBanks SeaSalt

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

OuterBanks SeaSalt Goat Cheese Salted Caramel Sauce

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

6oz. your favorite local goat cheese or Chevre

OuterBanks SeaSalt to Taste

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

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

 

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

 

 

 

 

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater: The Story of Seasonal Squash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emily Russell from Zone 7 Foods at the 2015 Carved event

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

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Chef Dave Feemster – Fahrenheit with his chili pepper pumpkin

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

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

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

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

How to carve your pumpkin and eat it too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Little Seeds, Big Pumpkins Grow

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

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

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

 

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

Pumpkin and Carrot Soup

Recipe from Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

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

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

2 shallots, minced

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Water or broth to cover

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

Sea salt and pepper to taste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel

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

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

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

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

Dunkin’ Donuts in Concord, NC  30 Raiford Drive

concordstoreoutsideThis newest Dunkin’ Donuts celebrates its Grand Opening on Friday Oct 21 and has the distinction of being the 50th Dunkin’ Donuts to open in our area. The fun at the Grand Opening begins bright and early at 6:30 am. Free coffee to each guest from 7-9 am, and one lucky customer will be picked at random and will win free coffee for a year!

img_5430All the other Dunkin’ Donuts locations will also be celebrating with 50 cent cups of coffee and 50 cent donuts all day long on Friday Oct 21 – For more details on all the events planned at the Grand Opening and for a several fun recipes with Dunkin’ Donuts products as ingredients check out one of my blog posts from earlier this week here.

Fern, Flavors of the Earth at 1419 East Blvd. in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood 

img_5304After four year in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, Fern, Flavors of the Earth, takes up new digs in Dilworth. Now with an open kitchen, seated at the bar, inside and outside on a beautiful patio, there is more room to sit and enjoy the great vegan and vegetarian dishes chef Matthew Martin and his team are turning out.

On the show today I featured Fern’s,  Buffalo Cauliflower appetizer and well as two entrees: the raw noodle pasta dish and the Seitan Steak. After the show, My husband Tom and I stopped by to drop off some containers and stayrd for lunch which led us to discover two more favorite Fern Fall Flavors – the black bean burger and the Buddah Bowl, a mix of black Forbidden Rice, sauteed tofu and mixed seasonal vegetables – can’t wait to go back for more!

Clean Juice with three locations in Charlotte, at Birkdale Village, Sonecrest at Piper Glenn and in CrossFit Vitality in Concord

img_5366This is a great new juice and smoothie bar with a clean fresh and all organic approach to eating on the run.  I love the smoothies and the bowls, but don’t miss the little bites like the pumpkin, avocado or almond toast offerings. And if you are interested in juicing or a juice cleanse – the folks at Clean Juice can set you up and get you headed in the right direction.

As I said on air, the thing I love about this place is that this chain of juice bars are USDA Certified Organic, which makes their healthy offerings all the better. On air I showed the chia puddings, the carrot, pineapple and orange juice, spiced up with a big of good – for you turmeric; a wheat grass shot, the blue Panther Fan smoothie and my favorite of Clean Juice’s seasonal bites, the Pumpkin butter toast, made with homemade pumpkin butter, bits of cocoa nibs, cinnamon honey and sliced apple.

The last two restaurants featured today are  old favorites. Solid members of the Charlotte culinary skyline, both are located uptown.

Aria Tuscan Grill located at 100 N Tryon Street on the lower level of Founders Hall

img_5368With modern contemporary interiors that include  a dining room with a picture perfect view of whats going on in the kitchen, a private chefs table dining room open to the kitchen, a large and comfortable bar area and private dining rooms for larger groups, the fall menu at Aria features many seasonal old world Italian favorites as well as several new delicious spins on classic recipes.

Featured today – chicken cacciatore served atop homemade pasta with mushrooms and olives; Aria’s signature caramelized gnocchi in a truffled cream sauce, with thin sliced prosciutto and grated pear; and a melt-in-your-mouth polenta topped with Taleggio cheese and sauteed mushrooms. Funny enough I stumbled over the pronunciation of the word Taleggio – just for future reference for us all, its “Tall-Agee-O”. No matter which way you say it , its smooth and creamy, pungent in aroma but rich in flavor and a perfect foil for the umami of the mushrooms and the base of creamy polenta.

City Smoke at 100 N Tryon with an entrance off of the bottom floor of Founders Hall at the foot of the escalators.

img_5367If you are thinking barbecue, well, you are right, but City Smoke is so much more. Much of the fall menu comes from the rotisserie and its all about the smoke.  Classic Oysters Rockefeller, shucked ot order and topped with a spinach cream and then served on a bed of course salt, pepper and bay make for a fine start. My favorite recipe of the season at City Smoke might be the  smoked and grilled octopus salad – sliced grilled octopus served with roasted fingerling potatoes and roasted red bell pepper all atop a bed of lightly dressed arugula. Finally we have the Lamb roast done on the roitisserie and served with a rich brown sauce topped with a pine nut gremolata along side a bowl of roasted beets and blue cheese – This one had my name all over it!

Here is the link to the video segment in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it
Then make breakfast, lunch or dinner plans ( as it applies) to each of these great places soon. and remember to tell them Heidi sent you! Cheers!

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

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That way each and every post, restaurant suggestion and recipe will come straight to your in box as soon as is goes up online.

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.

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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!

Get Your Panther Game Day Eats On

img_4477Football season 2016 is kicking off and Carolina Panther’s fans of all ages are feeling the roar!  Time to suit up for the season, and start planning your tailgate!

If you don’t have season tickets (or a friend with season tickets) at the stadium, you might be looking for a new great place stop and take in all the action.

Sports bars may be the place that first comes to mind, but honestly, they aren’t  everyone’s cup-o-tea; and although they are often packed on game days, sometimes you just want more than the obligatory wings and spinach artichoke dip to go with your game.

Enter this month’s list for my Charlotte Today September Restaurant Roundup : Places you may not think of ( but you should) to go for Panthers’ game day eats in and around the Queen City.

This list was originally broadcast on WCNC’s Charlotte Today on Friday Sept 16. In case you missed it, you can watch the original video with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson here, then scroll down for photos, details and links to all the restaurant websites.

img_4494First up with the coin toss, Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte, located at 327 S Tryon Street. While Mimosa may not be the place to go and watch the game, it is definitely THE place to go to start your game day activities. A Panther Game Day -themed Sunday brunch starts at 10:30 am with a delicious hearty buffet plus several ala cart items and daily specials. Enter the Game Day Burger I featured on the show. This beefy  burger made from a ground mix of chuck, brisket and short ribs served grilled to order with bacon, cheese and  garlic aioli with salt roasted  fries is sure to fit the bill and is served on Panther game days only.

img_4490If you live north of the Queen City, make your running pass to the relatively new Novanta 90 Pizzeria Napoletana -120 Langtree Village Dr #102, Mooresville, NC 28117. In the Langtree complex right off of I-77 this family run, authentic Napoletana restaurant is the real deal with  a matching pair of wood fired pizza ovens from Naples that turn out true Italian pizza in just 90 seconds.  My favorite pastas on the menu as of this writing include the Peppedew pepper puttanesca with buccatini pasta (pictured here) and the made to order deconstructed lasagna – in both beefy and vegetarian variations. Hot and bubbly  with just the right bit of char on the crust, the pies at Novanta are deliciously different from NY style pizza or Chicago pies or even other wood fired pizza’s you’ll find in the area. The magic is in the dough, made with Italian Typo 00 flour, just the right amount  of rising time and a lotta love. They are big enough to share, but small enough to order for yourself or to order a couple of alternatives to enjoy several variations as you watch the game from the bar or pizza bar at Novanta. Mozzarella is fresh made in house every day, meats are all local from Mills Family Farm in Mooresville and other ingredients are imported direct from Italy, including the vodka served on the rocks or straight up in the lemoncello martini – just sayin’.

img_4496Perhaps you do have tickets to the game and a space to tailgate, or you’re hosting a Panther party at your home in front of your own big screen, but you just don’t want to cook. While you play armchair quarterback, turn to any location of Midwood Smokehouse – there are  three around Charlotte – as your own personal offensive lineman when it comes to putting together your buffet. This season they are offering three different packages of your choice of smoked meats, sauces, sides and rolls each specifically designed to suit the size of your crowd.  Locations  at 1401 Central Avenue in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood;  in Ballantyne at 12410 Johnston Road; and now the new Midwood Smokeshack in Matthews at 3335 Siskey Pkwy. 24 hours notice is needed for the package deals, but you can always go in and order to go anytime. The Pittmasters at Midwood burn hickory wood, 24/7, so things are always smokin’.

img_4500If your looking for someplace you probably haven’t thought of yet to watch from the sidelines, check out Vivace in Midtown Charlotte, located at 1100 Metropolitan Avenue.

This contemporary Italian trattoria may not be a place you would think of for game day eats, but think again. With new executive chef Rodrigo Velazco now heading the culinary team, Vivace boasts a new line up of bar bites perfect for game day munching, among them this order of three algrodolce drumsticks with a balsamic drizzle and delicious crispy prosciutto crusted melon.

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There are televisions around the bar at Vivace but if you head upstairs, where there is also a beautiful view of the city; the game is piped in over the speakers and you can enjoy the action and the fabulous food play by play.

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Set on taking the game in at a sports bar? Then head to the Uptown Charlotte location of Duckworth’s, also home to The Cellar at Duckworth’s all at  330 N Tryon Street. As I said to Colleen and Eugene on the show, just five words for you here: “one-hundered-seventy-five-televisions” No doubt you can get a great view of the game from any seat in the house. Typical sports bar game day fare here, but the nachos are the bomb, constructed in layers of fresh house-fried tortilla chips, a mix of cheeses with or without chicken or chili and toppings that include jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, guacamole and sour cream. plenty for your team to share.

img_4473While Duckworth’s boasts an outstanding offensive line of cooks ( shown here) in the kitchen creating each platter of game day nachos, wings and more. Downstairs at The Cellar at Duckworth’s – open from 5-11 pm on Sundays, you can take a break from the game day festivities,  or enjoy an afterparty dinner and craft cocktails from  the creative gastrobpub menu.

 

img_4504Look for more of my Restaurant Roundup posts on this blog once or twice, each and every  month , or just subscribe to the blog and posts will come to your inbox as soon as they go up.

Also check out the  Saturday morning news on WCNC in the weeks ahead  for my appearance with Colleen on a segment called Tackle Your Tailgate for a slightly different version of our original Panthers-centric Restaurant Round-up video.

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!

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

 

5 Cool Places to Put on Your Dining Out Radar

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODTiz the time of the year for lists  and count downs. Today, I offer you my dear readers, a quick catch up on a blog post that never posted – originally presented as “Where to Eat Once the Thanksgiving Leftovers Are Gone” it is now  ” 5 Cool Places to Put On Your Dining Out Radar” this week, this weekend and into the new year.

I originally presented this list on my November  “Five Faves” Restaurant segment on Charlotte’s WCNC’s Charlotte Today  the day before Thanksgiving – but just in case you missed it; or in case you were elbow deep in apple pie fixin’s and couldn’t write anything down; or if perhaps you have just been waiting for me to get it all down  in writing…here are all the details.

On the list for this post … Two fine, fun and family friendly new spots to check out in Pizzeria Omaggio and Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India; and tasty Take and Bake suggestion in The Scone Shop; an old favorite in Fork Restaurant in Cornelius and a taste of Japanese food and drink from Yama Izakaya.

First in the line up for this segment is a new Indian restaurant in town, Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India.

Located in  Matthews Festival Shopping Center  at 10416 E Independence Blvd. in Matthews NC   Tamarind is open for lunch and dinner 6 days a week. Closed on Mondays.  You can call for take out or make reservations at 704.841.8979.

tamarind indianTamarind is a dream come true for chef and owner Bhim Thapa. My husband Tom and I first met Bhim when he was a waiter at Blue Taj in Ballantyne. Then we followed Bhim to Persis Indian also in the Ballantyne area; here Bhim was a manager and helped to get Persis off to a great start.   I consider Blue Taj and Persis both excellent Indian restaurants, worthy of your dining out consideration when you are in the SouthCharlotte/Ballantyne area; but I digress…

All along, through the years that we have known Bhim, we knew it was his dream to open his own restaurant. The native of Nepal is quite versed in cooking in general and int he  cuisine of India in particular. At Tamarind, he finally has a venue to share his talent, his knowledge and his passion.

He plays with flavors and technique, presenting Southern Indian spices and flavors cooked in the manner of Northern Indian Cuisine and visa versa. The results are really quite spectacular. One of our favorite dishes is the cauliflower entree I shared on the show – a dish created by Bhim – he says its one of his most popular.  Pair that with a sensational  whole wheat flatbread stuffed with spinach and  fenugreek leaf and you have a truly spectacular meal.

A host of new found favorites will await you at Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India located in Matthews NC

A host of new found favorites will await you at Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India located in Matthews NC

I joked during the segment, that while most chefs I feature on these monthly restaurant segments give me drawings and details of how the food should look on the plate, Bhim gave me a dictionary and a lesson in the culinary language of India.

Once you understand, you’ll get the info on what is in every dish. No worries though, you don’t need a dictionary to enjoy. Between dishes Bhim steps out of the kitchen as he can, to meet and greet customers, explain his philosophy and educate consumers on the cuisine of his homeland.   Go to Tamarind soon, and in addition to the mix of Indian flavors,  look for more Nepalese specials on the menu as we roll into 2016.

In the meantime, here is what I suggest for your first time out… as seen on the show – Gobi (Cauliflower) Matar (Chickpeas) Paneer (Cheese) Keema (Minced) a delicious blend of spice roasted minced cauliflower with chickpeas and cheese served over basmati rice – truly outstanding; and Palak (Spinach) Methi (Fenugreek) Paratha (whole wheat flout)  – some of the best tandoor baked bread ever! For more info follow Tamarind on Instagram and Facebook and visit TamarindMatthews.comTamarind Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

iphone Nov 30 2015 1459Next, a new Pizzeria in midtown at the Metropolitan, Pizzeria Omaggio  – a great find for a quick, well done lunch or dinner. 1055 Metropolitan Ave is the address, but this great little place is actually located streetside directly across from Target. Call 704.370.0777  for to go orders and catering questions.

I must admit I found this little place first on some other writer’s list, but then, ever in search of a good pie, I had to go in and see it for myself. These are individual sized pizzas made the way they do them in Italy. Great dough and high quality ingredients make for a crispy oven baked crust with a line up of toppings that range from the traditional to a bit more unusual –

compdining battle of champions 1074 My three favorites (so far) include the blue cheese and pear – ask for a bit of arugula to top it off and its heaven on a plate!  The Reggina Margherita is a delightful no meat offering perfect when you are craving the classic combo of tomato and basil; and for the meat lover, might I suggest the Abruzzo, made with delicious homemade meatballs, fresh mushrooms and pecorino Romano cheese. Ah yes!

Salads here are fresh and delicious and made with love, as are the soups and varieties of Panini. In particular, I loved the eggplant tower appetizer and the Sicilia Italian sandwich on ciabatta, stuffed with balsamic marinated eggplant, melted mozzarella, roasted red peppers, fresh arugula and a red pepper aioli. Served with Rosemary potato chips is the bomb.Pizzeria Omaggio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dine in or take out – you’re gonna love it! Prego, Prego! For more info and to see the entire menu, visit PizzeriaOmaggio.com or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

For A taste of Japanese and the very best selection of sake in town, turn to Yama Izakaya, located in Plaza Midwood at  1324 Central Ave  704.910.6387

yama izakaya storefrontIzakaya is the sister restaurant to Yama Asian Fusion, located at 720 Governor Morrison  across from the SouthPark area EarthFare.  704.295.0905. While Yama is more a standard Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, Izakaya  are Japanese taverns of a sort. A place to go after work for a beer or sake and some snacks.

In Charlotte, Yama Izakaya serves Japanese bar food, but make know mistake, these are not your mommas chicken wings – instead everything at Yama Izakaya, as at Yama, is done to the nines –  its a wonderful place to dine and fill up on all the little plates of ramen (noodles) served in a housemade slow cooked broth,  Yakatori (grilled skewers), sushi, sashimi and more.

iphone Nov 30 2015 1462Both restaurants are owned by Birdie Yang. Birdie and his dad Larry, originally brought the Yama concept to Charlotte in 2007. Larry  a trained sushi chef and Birdie, who knows sake like few people in the world  – in fact he holds a the highest degree in sake there is:  the Advanced Sake Professional certification issued  by Japan’s Sake Education Council.  Yang is one of fewer than 100 ASPs in the world and he is happy to share his knowledge and the incredible assortment of delicious sake at both of the Yama restaurants. We order a different bottle each time we go for sushi  and Birdie has never steered us wrong.Yama Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more information, follow Yama and Yama Izakaya on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or visit YamaIzakaya.com 

forkNext a little place in Cornelius, you’ve heard me talk about a lot lately, Fork!  located at 20517 N Main St in a restored old house in Cornelius, NC, just north of Charlotte proper.  Call 704.655.7465 for reservations and do check out their New Year’s Eve dinner menu as well

Chef Tim Groody takes his cuisine from Farm to Fork, quite literally, sourcing from dozens of local farms throughout the year. You can read all about Tim, his philosophy of cooking and sourcing from local farms in the winter issue of Charlotte Living magazine, on newstands soon. In the meantime follow this link, to the online flip book (you’ll find the Fork! story in my culinary section on the flipbook’s page 59).

Fork! is perfect for dinner, but as I mentioned in this televised segment, don’t pass up the wonderful Sunday brunch. A great way to celebrate the joys of loving local at the beginning of each and every week.  Follow Tim Groody and Fork! on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or visit ForkDining.comFork! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Finally this post, a take and bake Charlotte offering you simply must keep on hand. If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, you know I love to promote local product; so, here you go –  from-scratch scones from Charlotte’s own The Scone Shop.

iphone Nov 30 2015 1467These fresh made and frozen scones are the brainchild of Charlottean Feilding Williams, who sells her tasty creations in 14 locations across the Carolinas including Whole Foods in Charlotte at SouthPark and in Lake Norman; and the Central Avenue location of Healthy Home Market.

The dough is frozen and scored into 8 sweet wedges or 12 savory wedges. No defrosting necessary, baking them is as easy as cutting them up, placing them on a baking sheet and popping them in the oven. 10-15 minutes later – viola! The Scone Shop scones come in 4 sweet varities and two savory flavors including  Cinnamon Chip, Chocolate Cinnachip, Cranberry Orange, and spinach feta. it is enough to simply say I am addicted and there are two packages in my freezer ready  for New Year’s Day guests, even as I write this!

You can read more about The Scone Shop is the winter issue of Charlotte Living magazine, sorry it’s another shameless plug, I know – but the flip book for the winter issue is up online and you’ll find an adorable photo of Feilding and  The Scone Shop story on page 64 in the flipbook   read it all by clicking here once you finish up with this post.

Meanwhile I suggest you try the Bacon Cheddar Scone  found exclusively at the ebar Internet Cafe at ebar at Nordstrom Southpark.  ebar offers freshly baked Cranberry Orange Scone Shop Scones as well – both sweet and savory varieties are fresh baked each morning, ready to eat with your favorite ebar beverage. You can also find The Scone Shop scones, fresh baked and ready to enjoy offered at the cafeteria at Carolina’s Medical Center Main at 1000 Blythe Blvd. in Charlotte.

To find out more about The Scone Shop and to put your information on Feilding’s direct email mailing list, visit TheSconeShop.com

On set talking restaurants with Charlotte Today's Colleen Odegaard and guest co host Ramona Holloway

On set talking restaurants with Charlotte Today’s Colleen Odegaard and guest co host Ramona Holloway

Now that you are done reading – watch it all up close and personal. Here is the link to the video from the Charlotte Today segment – have fun – we did – and then come back to the blog to reference the details….

Charlotte Today FIVE FAVE November Restaurant Segment

After the show 

kids bestAs I do each of these restaurant segments on WCNC’s Charlotte Today, I always think it would be fun to film what happens after the show airs. We gather up all the food I’ve featured and everyone in the studio gathers round for a taste of this and that. Here two young viewers, the sons of one of this day’s guests, asked to hang around after their dad’s interview was over so they could taste the pizza – always my pleasure to share!

Cheers! and stay tuned for my first Restaurant Roundup of 2016 on Charlotte Today with hosts, and my buds, Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson on January 8, 2016 at 11 am  – see you then when I’ll have 5 more cool spots that simply must be on your dining radar! Don’t Miss It!

 

Holiday 2015 Wine and Dine

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOOD

Just in the St. Nick of time, I’m here with a recap of my December restaurant segment on Charlotte’s WCNC’s Charlotte Today… read on for details and then watch the video of the December 19 spot using the link  at the end of this post – Thanks to Colleen Odegaard, Eugene Robinson, Natalie Ridley, Arve Byrd, Kim Thomas, Matt Hammond and Mary Alvarez and the team at Charlotte Today for making these monthly restaurant recommendation segments so much fun! And a special thanks to my wonderful husband, Tom Billotto who is always there on set – helping me set up the shots, and who keeps the food moving during the actual taped segment.   Cant wait to plan more for 2016, but first, lets talk about the next two week….

Lots of food and cooking going on this week and next –  here are five places I think can help you ease through the rest of the 2015  holiday season.

Lets start with a breakfast option – good for the holidays or anytime of the year…

Storefront of Brookyn Water Bagels at Ballantyne Commons East

Storefront of Brookyn Water Bagels at Ballantyne Commons East

Brooklyn Water Bagels  – Located at 15105 John J Delaney Blvd in the Ballantyne Commons East shopping Center; Open  6am – 3 pm   – New York’s borough of Brooklyn is the hot new food place to be; but fortunate for us in Charlotte, we don’t need to take a trip to the Big Apple to get the same wonderful bagels.  You see, when it comes to making bagels (traditionally prepared by boiling the round loops of dough first and then baking them) its all about the water.  They say that NY City water is some of the finest in the country – that’s because it comes from the Catskill Mountains.

bagels BWB

Nothing beats a perfectly made bagel – baked fresh each morning

So to make bagels like the ones you’ll get in Brooklyn, you need to have water like they have in Brooklyn and the fine folks at Brooklyn Water Bagels have figured out how to make it happen. These bagels are the real deal – made with specially filtered water that not only goes into the bagel preparation, but into the coffee and all the beverages as well.

At Brooklyn Water Bagel, Coffee Ice Cubes make a regular Iced Coffee a "Cubsta"

At Brooklyn Water Bagel, Coffee Ice Cubes make a regular Iced Coffee a “Cubsta”

Not to miss – the coffee ice cubes that come when you order a “Cubsta” iced coffee and the chocolate egg creams made with Fox’s U-Bet seltzer. Both are exceptional and the latter may be  my new favorite carbonated beverage.

In addition to the house blended cream cheese, and bagel sandwiches for breakfast or lunch,  try the Bagel Bites, as a great way to have a taste of it all the BWB varieties.  Holiday entertaining note: these bagel bites also make for exceptionally cute appetizers at your holiday party served with smoked salmon or smoked trout of your choice or BWB white fish salad.

If you don’t trust my opinion on the quality of these fabulous bagels, know that BWB now makes all the bagels served at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge –delivered fresh baked each morning. To pass the mustard of the likes of Chefs David Moore, Ben Kallenbach and Michael Rayfield, you know I’m not pulling your chain.

Like the bagels and the U-Bet seltzer Egg Creams, the Black and White cookies at Brooklyn Water Bagels are the real deal!

Like the bagels and the U-Bet seltzer Egg Creams, the Black and White cookies at Brooklyn Water Bagels are the real deal!

After the  bagel and the beverages,  authentic cake like, perfectly iced Black and White cookies are a must. Plenty of room to dine in or you can take out, of course; but if you stay and sit a while, you can enjoy another taste of old time Brooklyn culture by enjoy the reruns of Jackie Gleason’s classic – The Honeymooners while you eat. If I had one suggestion for Brooklyn Water Bagels, it would be to turn down the music and turn up the sound on the video – nothing like the fun and laughter these old reruns bring to the table.

 

Next up you’ll surely want to be wining and dining this week and next, or want to give a gift of a great bottle or two. Time to make a toast to the year that has gone by, the year that is to be, and the holiday season in between.  No where better to cover your bases on all angles than at the new location of

Foxcroft wine co barFoxcrefot wine co logoFoxcroft Wine Company  now in  Dilworth at  Kenilworth Commons Shopping as well as in their original SouthPark location at  7824 Fairview Rd.  The new location is taking the Dilworth Neighborhood by storm. The retail operation and wine bar Open 10 am to 11 pm; the kitchen opens at 5

This is the perfect place to celebrate with 40 something wines by the glass, hundreds by the bottle;  and while there is a fair share of beef, chicken and fish on the menu, I love and appreciate the fact that there are also great vegetarian and vegan entrees and well.

Turffled french fries and some of the best Brussels Sprouts in town are both a great way to start the evening at Foxcroft Wine Co.

Truffled french fries and some of the best Brussels Sprouts in town are both a great way to start the evening at Foxcroft Wine Co.

The flat breads are a divine way to start, and whatever you order by sure to add on  the French Fries and Brussels Sprouts as sides. My oh my – perfect fried potatoes with a dusting of Parmesan, a drizzle of truffle oil and a truffle aioli on the side for dipping. The sprouts are poached then sautéed with a mix of butternut squash, caramelized onions and a Asian glaze – possibly the best Brussels in the city right now and those may be fighting words…

In season, enjoy the  patio dining… and

Exciting news – and you heard it here first – Foxcroft Wine Co. is upping the bar as one of the two 2015 Competition Dining Charlotte Champs – Chef Brent Martin is joining the culinary team, so along side the talent of Chef Justin Solomon, Shawn Harrison and the rest of this talented culinary team – look for dynamic things to come with the new year.

 

The Speedway Club logoLooking for a fun family holiday tradition to start? Turn to Charlotte Motor Speedway, 5555 Concord Parkway S, Concord, NC, for the biggest light show in town and while you are there enjoy dinner at  The Speedway Club, open during the month of December to the public.  For the majority of the year, this is a members only club; but for the whole month of December the club is open to the public by reservations made by calling 704-455-3216.

The dining rooms at Charlotte Motor Speedway's The Speedway Club - over look the track and this time of year, give diners a birds eye view of the holiday light display.

The dining rooms at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s The Speedway Club – over look the track and this time of year, give diners a birds eye view of the holiday light display.

The cuisine is old country club style dining and I say that in the very best light –  a throw back to classic continental cuisine –excellent crab and lobster cakes with big chunks of lobster, perfectly done steak and a delicious take on fish and grits with a citrusy twist, and a beautiful assortment of desserts – its a back-to-basics old school approach to food in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. At a recent dinner, as we were in the NASCAR mode, at least for the evening,  we opted to try of the Childress red wines on the menu – both excellent selections.

A delicious take on The Wedge salad from the chefs at The Spedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway

A delicious take on The Wedge salad from the chefs at The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway

If you are interested in becoming a member and would like to see or know more, contact  GM George Krail who would be happy to help you arrange to come for dinner, holiday time or no for test drive – pun intended, thank you.

This time of year though, the added benefit to enjoying dinner at The Speedway Club is the spectacular holiday light display called “A Speedway Christmas”

speedway Christmas Now through Dec. 30 but closed on Christmas Day, you can enjoy the creative display of  Three Million Lights and  Holiday Music, , a huge infield Christmas Village with photos with Santa, a bustling Bethlehem village, petting zoo, holiday crafts and more  and the unique chance to drive the track, and  Classic Christmas Movies on the 16,000 square foot Big Screen

 

The Speedway Christmas drive-through light show is open nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. through Dec. 30 (closed Christmas Day). Christmas Village is open Thursday through Sunday. The movie schedule includes showings of Frozen Dec 21-24 and Dec 26 and 27 at 8 and 10 pm
For tickets, the pricing is as follows:  Christmas Village open: Thursday & Sunday: $25 per car; $50 per van (max 36); $175 bus (max 57), Friday & Saturday: $30 per car; $50 per van (max 36); $175 bus (max 57), Military Discount: $3 off, Fast Pass: Move to the front of the line with a fast pass for an additional $10 to the above price

Light Show only: $20 per car; $40 per van (max 36 people); $140 per bus (max 57 people), Military Discount: $3 off

Visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or call 1-800-455-FANS (3267) for pricing and more information about Speedway Christmas.

I just adore the light and crispy waffle cones at Elizabeth Creamery some of the best I have ever tasted!

I just adore the light and crispy waffle cones at Elizabeth Creamery some of the best I have ever tasted!

During the remainder of the holiday season it’s for sure you’ll be entertaining a bit, and if you are looking for a little homemade ice cream to go with your line up of holiday desserts look no further than Charlotte’s own Elizabeth Creamery.

Elizabeth Creamery, is located at 1535 Elizabeth Ave,directly behind Carpe Diem… 

With so many places to dine in Charlotte now, different places capture our attention at different times. This family owned and operated ice cream parlor came back onto my radar as I was writing an article about the Elizabeth Ave revitalized restaurant row for the new issue of Charlotte Living magazine out before the end of the year.  Owner Sun Jae Kim has been making ice cream in Charlotte since 1996. He believes in simple honest flavors that are steeped in tradition.

All of the ice cream is made fresh on location with the very best ingredients.  And the waffle cones are light and crunchy – they melt in your mouth along with your flavor of choice and are some of the best I have ever eaten…

Three favorite seasonal flavors you simply must try: Mocha, Ginger and Smurf!

Three favorite seasonal Ice cream flavors at Elizabeth Creamery you simply must try: Mocha, Ginger and Smurf!

Elizabeth Creamery is a great stop for a family outing after you drive the neighborhoods to see holiday neighborhood lights – or before or after a ride around through the Elizabeth Ave corridor to Uptown on Charlotte’s only street car in 77 years.

After you’ve enjoyed a cone or two –be sure to take home a pint of your favorite flavors –  perfect for your holiday desserts – try the ginger with a slice of gingerbread, a cinnamon rolls or ginger cookies; or a scoop of mocha in your next cup of hot chocolate! And, just because you’ve gotta love blue food and as a favor for your sweet tooth don’t miss the cotton candy flavored Smurf.

 

 

Here is a platter representing the incredible seafood display you'll find at Christmas morning brunch at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge

Here is a platter representing the incredible seafood display you’ll find at Christmas morning brunch at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge

Finally, a banquet at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge is the perfect destination dining stop and this year a great place to continue on the celebration the holidays with friends and family – once gifts are opened, take a deep breath and relax as the talented Culinary team at Ballantyne Hotel  & Lodge as done the work for you.

Snapper is also on the brunch buffet - prepared here pan seared with parsnip puree, candied pineapple and Spanish onion

Snapper is also on the brunch buffet – prepared here pan seared with parsnip puree, candied pineapple and Spanish onion

The hotel will offer Christmas Brunch on December 25, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. The elaborate buffet will include a variety of salads, an assortment of cheese and seafood displays, breakfast items, an omelet station, carving station and indigenous desserts. There will be live holiday music. Cost is $75 per person, $35 for children, ages 5-13, and complimentary for children ages 4 and under (pricing does not include tax or 23% service charge). Private dining rooms are available.

Gallery Restaurant will be open for dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas, 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. The restaurant will feature its regular menu as well as offer a prime rib dinner special.

Reservations are required for dining on Christmas Eve and Christmas. To make a reservation, please call 704-248-4100 or visit www.gallery-restaurant.com.

Be Sure to visit Gingerbread Lane at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge before the holiday season is over

Be Sure to visit Gingerbread Lane at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge before the holiday season is over

While you are there visit  the Hotels annual Gingerbread Lane open now through Sunday, December 27. Vote on your favorite entries with $1 minimum donation per vote. All proceeds will benefit Levine Children’s Hospital (LCH), dedicated to caring for the physical and emotional needs of children and their families.

Here I am with the Seafood Platter from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in hand, ready to tease the Charlotte Today segment just before a commercial break

Here I am with the Seafood Platter from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in hand, ready to tease the Charlotte Today segment just before a commercial break

 

 

 

To see the video with my take on all these December restaurants click here for the segment on Charlotte Today with Hosts and my friends Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson  http://www.wcnc.com/story/entertainment/2015/12/18/take-a-break-from-cooking-and-visit-these-5-restaurants/77567784/

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.

 

Patio Picks – Do it Dining al Fresco

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODDining al fresco – the art of eating outdoors is a pleasure that combines casual atmosphere, fresh air, cool breezes and great food and beverage. The venue can range from family style BBQ and picnic tables or even your car at places like BBQ King on Wilkinson Blvd. or Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street to a setting with comfy patio furniture seating at places such as Osso Restaurant and Lounge at the Music Factory and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Dilworth.

Lots of restaurants with patios offer opportunities for dining al fresco throughout the year, but late spring, summer and on into early fall is the time we want to enjoy the out of doors as much as we can. So lap up the sunshine or sit in the cool comfort of the summer shade. Join your kids in a game of shuffleboard at the patio at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood while you wait for a table at breakfast or brunch; take in the splendor of our city’s skyline from the highest heights atop the patio at Chef Rocco Whalen’s Fahrenheit Restaurant  at the Hyatt Place Hotel uptown; or enjoy food, wine and occasional music at several eateries or wine shops with outdoor dining and tastings such as Napa on Providence in Eastover; and Vin Masters in SouthEnd.

Alfresco dining in the Queen City can range from large venues, such as the patio at Mimosa Grill, Uptown that over looks the plaza and a bustling sections of Tryon Street to small, much like the patio at Fenwicks on Providence Road,  with just a few tables on the front porch of this neighborhood gathering spot

Great patios to see and be seen abound at local breweries in NoDa; bars and restaurants surrounding the Music Factory; and in shopping “villages” around town where several restaurants might have patios grouped together off a main courtyard as at Ballantyne Village where patios from Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe and Villa Antonio meet; or off South Main Street in Davidson where the back porch patio of the Pickled Peach looks over the patio behind Summit Coffee nestled up to an adjacent playground – on Saturday mornings this “common area” is home to the Davidson Farmers’ market where locavores can enjoy combine their morning coffee al fresco with a little fresh from the farm shopping trip.

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Tis the season, indeed, and so my June restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway features five of my favorite places to dine al fresco with some of my favorite summer menu selections as well… enjoy!

toscana logoWe’ll start with what I have always thought to be one of the most romantic patios in town, Toscana, located in Shops on the Park across from SouthPark, 6401 Morrison Blvd. 704.367.1808. Like all of Augusto Conte’s magical restaurants, the menu at Toscana offer high quality fresh made Italian fare and the patio is like sitting off a small village side street in Tuscany. Comfortable seating surrounded by a shrub lined fencing keeps it tight and cozy, A beautiful fountain offers the cool comfort and pleasant sounds of a water feature and  large pots of herbs define the heritage.  In the evenings the open sky view add the romance of moonlight and the stars. One of our favorite dishes at Toscana is the gnocchi, tender potato pillows bathed in a light fresh tomato sauce touched with basil and mozzarella – add a bottle from the well appointed wine list – perfecto! Toscana on Urbanspoon
Wp white logoNot far from Toscana, is Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza bar located in the Phillips Place shopping center 704.295.0101 Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. The patio is off to the side of the restaurant, away from parking and much foot traffic and offers a cozy comfortable place to great place to getaway from it all.  Perfect for business meetings, ladies who lunch or a midday tete-a-tete.  While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  While Wolfgang himself does occasionally make appearances at the restaurant, day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. We now enjoy WP as our go to after the movies spot and our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for the two of us to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)Next, Tupelo Honey at 1820 South Blvd. 980-225-9167. The restaurant and patio are located on the second level of the historic SouthEnd Building,  take the stairs or the elevator up and the fun begins. The restaurant is full of action and a buzz most of the time, so the patio offers a lovely slightly quieter dining option. Great for families or dinners for two, big overhead fans keep the climate cool and in case of inclement weather their are outdoor curtains drawn to keep the rain away. The vibe at Tupelo is reconstructed Southern and it is exceptionally well done from soup to nuts. Great service and an assortment of wonderful craft cocktails and local beers round out the experience. Must tries this season include the sweet potato pancakes ( breakfast is served whenever you want it at Tupelo), the black bean burger and tofu wings (three cheers for some great vegetarian options), the fabulous Southern Popcorn ( aka fried okra) and the Carolina Mountain Trout with Goat cheese grits – shooo mercy! and Tupelo’s own Brown Butter Pecan Pie.  Look for bar specials on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ( the least crowded days and nights to dine at this Charlotte favorite); and while you are there shop for cookbooks, Tupelo’s biscuit mix and of course, jars of Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

summit logoThe Summit Room at 1531 East Blvd. 980.237.2227 is one of Charlotte’s newest places to dine al fresco. In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening.

Several years ago the Dilworth Communtiy made it a mission to  drive neighborhood foot traffic with more pedestrian friendly streetside dining. As a result,  many neighborhood places on the boulevard offer patio dining but not many do it better than this. Rocking chairs with side tables on the porch, patio tables in the sun or under umbrellas –  its a great place for everything from power lunches to a glass of wine or tea – with two very different dining concepts. At  The Summit Room, Chef Martin doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible and  my new favorite – a quenelle (or oval shaped scoop) of chicken liver mousse atop a house made waffle with candied and pickled fruit and microgreens is a real winner! The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

va de vie logo

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Finally, the newest patio on our list for today, at just a month old, is to be found in the unlikeliest of locations: the center of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot!  This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato at Va da Vie Gelato, 4203 Park Road 980.201.9159  … owners John and Wendy Paglia use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment.  During the heat of the  day enjoy the cool marble-lined comfort inside; and  in the evening mix and mingle on the patio with friends and neighbors of all ages, comparing flavors and deciding which one you will order next. Va da Vie Gelato on Urbanspoon

 

To watch the restaurant segment that  inspired this blog post and originally aired on WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today, simply click on the  caption of the photo of Toscana’s beautiful Italian Patio, then go out and enjoy al fresco dining in Charlotte for yourself.

 

 

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.

Feeling Romantic? Six Sensational Spots to Dine with Your Valentine

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 - now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 – now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

As many of you know, each month I present a “where to dine” restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today program. Every 4-6 weeks the show’s producers and I select a topic or theme  and I choose 5-6 restaurants to chat about on air. As February is the month of hearts and flowers, this month’s challenge was to gather a group of Romantic restaurants to share with Charlotte Today viewers and this Blog’s readers.

There was a time in here in Charlotte  that gathering this many outstanding chef driven restaurants may have been a daunting task, but in 2014 there are lots of wonderful restaurants I could have put on this list – I chose the six that for me ( and my hubby Tom Billotto) have come to be the most romantic. For me, a part of that is that these are all chef-driven establishments, with chefs, sous chefs pastry chefs and line chefs who all cook from their hearts. That love and passion is conveyed in the cuisine, making dining out a true pleasure for the mind, body and soul.

No matter if you are just kindling or trying to respark the fire, Romance doesn’t just happen on Feb 14 – enjoy a romantic dinner any night of the week and know that  these fine dining establishments run wine tastings and dinners, special cooking classes and prix fixe menus at all different times of the year, as do many of Charlotte’s chef-driven and independent restaurants.  I’ve added notes about upcoming February events at each post as well as links to all of the restaurant websites at the end of this article, so start making plans now and plan  to try them all – There was never more wonderful time in the Queen City, with more possibilities  for  delighting in dining aux deux, than now…enjoy!

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

To enhance the video and the chat with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway, I ask restaurants to prepare a plate that I can pick up and assemble at the studio – its like having something special to share for show and tell.

Many thanks to all the featured restaurants chefs and sous chefs for helping me out with product for the February segment.  I wish I had taken more behind the scene shots this time. Chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs and restaurateurs gave me each component of the dish as well as a hand rendered drawing or quick tutorial at pick up as to how to assemble it all.

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

As this segment was on a Monday morning and most of these restaurants weren’t open on Sunday, chefs came in early Monday morning or prepped things for me late on Saturday night or actually came in on Sunday, to help it all come together.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of their extra efforts to help me boast about the quality and high caliber that is now standard in the Charlotte restaurant arena . While these are not the only great restaurants in the Queen City, this group of six is great representation of all Charlotte has to brag about.

All of these restaurants are ranked at the top of lists of kudos, yielding recommendation’s not only from this food writer,  but from the likes of Zagat, AAA’s Four Diamond Awards in North and South Carolina, Open Table, the Wine Spectator, DiArona, The Food Network, AOL restaurant rankings, and more. Check individual websites for all the accolades.

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

To that end, it goes without saying that service, atmosphere and cuisine, too, are all spot on at each and every one of these places;  no such thing as a bad choice here.

Here is my short list of a half dozen of my favorite Romantic restaurants in Charlotte. The video from the Charlotte Today segment follows.

As I mentioned in the video, poet Ogden Nash wrote a little two line verse which said, “Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” take those two lines to heart and intertwine a dinner at any one of these restaurants and with a little help from Cupid, you’ll hit a home run for sure…

Bonterra logo

First on my list is Bonterra Dining and Wine Room. This may be the most romantic restaurant here for me because I met my husband Tom at a mutual friend’s wedding at Bonterra and my life has been a wonderfully romantic whirlwind every since. In fact, while we were married out of town, we had a big party after our wedding at Bonterra. Many couple in Charlotte have weddings, rehearsal dinners and big engagement parties at Bonterra. The historic building, refurbished and owned by John “JD” Duncan, was once an old church and simple has an air of romance about it. The dining room offers open seating at tables for 2 to 8 and can accommodate larger parties as well.

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra's hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra’s hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

Seating at the bar as well with over 200 outstanding wines offered by the bottle and by the glass. Its fun and romantic to each order a different by-the-glass pour and then share sips along with something from the bar bite menu or a cheese tray before dinner. The bottle of Robert Foley Petit Syrah is one of our favorites and I included it in the photo as a shout out to our good friend Bob Foley, winemaker extraordinaire!

With small tables au deux tucked in the alcoves, a  private balcony upstairs and a wine cellar downstairs for private dinners there are plenty of places to sit snuggled away from the main dining area if you would like a bit of privacy while you dine.

Coming soon at Bonterra – a “Girls Night Out” wine dinner on Wednesday Feb 5 featuring Ponzi Wines; regular bar specials each night; and a Thursday night wine dinner as a part of the upcoming Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend in April.

Bonterra Dining and Wine Room is located at 1829 Cleveland Ave. at East Worthington Ave.  Reservations: 704-333-WINE(9463).   Bar opens at 4:30 pm Monday-Saturday The Restaurant opens for dinner at 5:30 pm Monday-Saturday. For more info and to get on Bonterra’s newsletter list, visit www.BonterraDining.com  Bonterra on Urbanspoon

The McNinch House in Charlotte's historic Fourth Ward

The McNinch House in Charlotte’s historic Fourth Ward

Next up, for a romantic evening on the town, the McNinch House Restaurant. Located in Charlotte’s Historic Fourth Ward neighborhood, this Victorian-era house was originally home to  Charlotte Mayor Sam McNinch; now for the past 22 years it has been the McNinch House Restaurant.

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Beautifully appointed, the home is owned by Ellen Davis, a front runner on Charlotte’s ever growing culinary landscape. McNinch House recently won its 16th consecutive Four Diamond designation from AAA, is listed as one of the top “extraordinary” restaurants in America by Zagat’s Dining Guide. Davis was Charlotte’s original street vendor,  back in the late 1980’s early 1990’s as she sold hotdogs from a cart while the house was being renovated to become a restaurant on the main floor with her private residence on the floor above.

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto from McNinch's Chef William Parham

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto, one of McNinch’s most popular entrees, from McNinch’s Chef William Parham

There are no menus at the McNinch House. When you make a reservation, you order your entrée on the phone and then the rest of the meal is built around your selection using seasonal produce and proteins.

The restaurant offers several selections of prix fixe menus: A classic 7-course  menu which includes appetizer, soup, salad, sorbet, entrée, cheese and dessert for $99 per person ( plus beverages, tax and gratuity) or a 5-course  menu at $79 per person ++.

For Valentine’s they are offering an  all-inclusive package for two with a 6-course chef’s menu with wine pairings, for $450 per couple

McNinch House Restaurant is located in uptown Charlotte  at 511  N. Church St.  Phone:  704-332-6159. Open Tuesday – Saturday Reservations Required.  Seatings available  Tuesday-Thursday On the half-hour, 5:30 pm-8 pm;  Friday-Saturday On the Hour    5:30 pm-8 pm.  For more information visit, www.mcninchhouserestaurant.com McNinch House on Urbanspoon

Zebra 2My third suggestion for Valentine wining and dining is Zebra Restaurant in the SouthPark area.  Zebra offers fine continental cuisine with French influences. Since Inception, Zebra has been recognized with numerous honors and awards of distinction.  including OpenTable Diners Choice, Zagat Best Restaurant, Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence, and AAA Four Diamonds for eleven consecutive years.

With two adjacent dining rooms the restaurant also offers seating in a small intimate room off the bar  and when weather permits out on the beautiful, newly decorated patio. Owned by Chef Jim Alexander, Zebra serves breakfast lunch and dinner, is a great spot not only for romance but for the corporate breakfast and lunch crowd as well; and in addition Zebra is hosting several monthly wine dinners in the next several months. Zebra also offers on and off site catering for private parties and events – call the restaurant for details.

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

In the Charlotte Today  segment we featured Alexander’s signature salad at Zebra – a delightful presentation that will make your sweetie smile! Zebra sous chef Chris Wriggle gave me a quick tutorial on how to put it together and I believe I did Zebra proud. Local organic greens gathered in a tuille vase, dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette and  honey Dijon and finished with a garnish of local Tega Hills Farm’s micro greens. As delicious as it is beautiful.

Entertainment at Zebra – music always sets the mood for romance; so its nice to know that on most Friday nights in February, Zebra features live guitar music in the bar with a bar bites menu and tasty $12 wine flights. This month guitarist Harry Bell  performs on Friday Feb 7; and my favorite musician in town, Tom Billotto on guitar and vocals on Friday Feb 21 and Friday Feb 28 from 6-8 or 9 pm. if I am not working, I am usually in the crowd – the official groupie in the room – so I hope to see you there!

On Wednesday February 19, 2014 come to Zebra and enjoy a four course wine dinner featuring SCHWEIGER Vineyards.  The evening starts with an hors d’oeuvre reception followed by a four course dinner with wine pairings for just $75 per person ++.  RESERVATIONS REQUIRED, 704-442-9525

Zebra is located at 4521 Sharon Road, across from SouthPark Mall. For reservations and gift certificates, please call 704-442-9525. For more information visit www.zebrarestaurant.net Zebra Restaurant and Fine Catering on Urbanspoon

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

Fourth on my list of six is  a new restaurant run by a very talented long time Charlotte chef. After making a name for himself and honing is own sophisticated Southern style at The McNinch House,

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman is now the executive chef and director of food and beverage for The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel. Named in honor of Louis Asbury, Sr., the Charlotte architect who designed the Mayfair Manor—now The Dunhill Hotel—in 1929, The Asbury celebrates the best of what the South has to offer in ingredients, technique, creativity, and, of course, hospitality. The Asbury is a tribute to Chef Coleman’s southern roots and the culturally diverse community of the New South from which he draws inspiration.

Cheers to The Dunhill's bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

Cheers to The Dunhill’s bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

What could be more romantic? Its a fabulous hotel dining experience where you can whisk your Valentine away after dinner and maybe a nightcap a the bar to a hotel room right upstairs if you’ve got  a mind; and then go and enjoy the restaurant all over again with room service or breakfast downstairs in the morning. In fact, with a great baby sitter and tickets to a show or concert uptown  you could make it a one stop weekend for Valentine romance!

The Asbury boasts a wonderful little bar where bartender Pete Ladino  makes everyone feel right at home.  Go old school and enjoy a cocktail or  sip on a glass of wine and preview the cuisine with something from the bar bites offerings.  Once seated for dinner, you’ll be wowed with Chris’ eclectic Southern menu in the restaurant featuring as much local product as Chris can source.  And then be prepared to be blown away by the talent that is Asbury pastry chef Patty Greene.   Unable to select just one, I featured two of Patty’s desserts on the show – first a unique take on raspberry cheesecake and then a chocolate espresso cake, my oh my!

Patty Greene's chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene's raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

The Asbury serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.  In addition to the ground floor restaurant space, The Asbury caters unique, private dining experiences and hosts special events throughout its intimate second floor   Located in The Dunhill at 235 N. Tryon Street, the parking entrance for The Asbury and the hotel is just off 6th street. Call 704-342-1193 for dinner reservations or more info. For room reservations at The Dunhill call 704-332-4141 or visit www.TheDunhillHotel.com  The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Fifth up, another newbie for Charlotte diners from a much loved and admired chef – Bruce Moffett’s newest jewel in the Moffett Restaurant Group triple crown – Stagioni! After much success with Barringtons and Good Food on Montford Moffett opened Stagioni about a month ago now to rave reviews. The menu is decidedly Italian, with an all Italian wine list of delicious pours.  Moffett and his team lead by executive chef Larry Schreiber have kept true to traditional Italian recipes like porchetta, arrancini, homemade pasta, and wood-oven baked pizza but have  put their own little twist on things here and there.

A tray of Stagioni's snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

A tray of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

The menu at Stagioni – “four seasons of food”, is of course, seasonal; and as I have eaten my way through winter I cannot wait to see what’s in store for spring. For the Valentine segment, we features a board of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads, such as fava bean  spread, liver pate, puree of cauliflower with truffles, stuffed peppadew peppers, tapenade and more with flat bread toasts and delicious fried chicken skin “chips” – perfect for the two of you to share while you make your dinner choices.

The historic house was once home to  Blanche Reynolds-Gourmajenko who loved to entertain and the villa traditionally served as a grand place for people to gather at the parties and dinners Blanche hosted.  They say that Blanche loved the home so  much that she hasn’t left and her spirit haunts the estate.

Banche Reynolds -

Banche Reynolds-Gourmajenko

All I can say is that Blanche must be very happy having people gather round the tables in her home once again surrounded by good food and drink.  The softly lit small bar and dining room with open kitchen and seating in front of the wood burning pizza oven are all beautifully designed to keep the integrity of the original home, while offering a modern spin on dining out.

Stagioni is located at 715 Providence Rd. in the Eastover neighborhood. Call 704.372.8110 for reservations. For more information about the menu, the history of the home and links to Barrington’s and Good Food on Monford, Stagioni’s sister restaurants, visit http://stagioniclt.com/  Stagioni on Urbanspoon

passion 8Finally, the last of these six romantic dining spots, Passion 8 Bistro – the name says it all. A place that is passionate about local farms, food, and service. Owned by chef Luca Annunziata and his lovely wife Jessica, Passion 8 Bistro has plans to soon move from its tiny home in Ft. Mill to bigger newer but every bit as romantic, digs in Charlotte on Elizabeth Ave.  The group is still waiting for permits and construction to be finalized, but until the move Chef Luca and his culinary team Chef Matthew Krenz and chef Evan Micek, are still cooking up a storm in Ft. Mill, serving an all market menu every evening,  supporting nearly 50 local farms in North and South Carolina.

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

Get caught up in the passion this Valentine’s Day with a special prix fixe Valentine’s Day Dinner menu Friday, February 14th from 5:00pm to 10:00pm; 4 courses with choices for each course. $140 per couple. make your reservations now by calling 803-802-7455. For the Charlotte Today segment we shared one of the first plates from the Valentine menu – a perfectly seared scallop atop a rounded cake of grits, topped with a red cabbage slaw, crispy pancetta and Tega Hills Farm micro greens surrounded by a pool of Charon sauce – a béchamel flavored with tomato.

If you and your sweetheart enjoy cooking together, then start sharing the passion this weekend at a special Valentine’s cooking class at Passion 8 -Saturday, February 8th from 11:00am to 2:00pm  3 courses for $75 per couple with a champagne toast.

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

On the Charlotte Today segment I announced that Passion 8 would be featured on a new Food Network show  – Buy This Restaurant – to air Monday Feb 3. My mistake – the show premiered on Monday, but the Passion 8 segment actually airs on Wednesday, February 19th at 9:00pm on the Food Network    http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/buy-this-restaurant.html   Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, to make your reservations at Passion8 Bistro simply call the restaurant at 803-802-7455. Passion 8 is currently located at 3415 Hwy. 51 North – just three miles past the tiny historic downtown of Pineville, NC. For more information, visit http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Now, that you’ve read all about it,  click here to watch the video from my Valentine segment on Charlotte Today. I’ll be back for my monthly cooking segment on Charlotte Today on Thursday Feb 13, Channel 36 – 6 on cable –  with three great Valentine recipes for Fondue au Deux! See you then! Cheers!

Eat your Peas and Carrots ( and the pods and the stems as well) Repurposing Your Produce Scraps

Heidi Billotto in the kitchen with Charlotte Today hosts Coleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

Heidi Billotto in the kitchen with Charlotte Today hosts Coleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

Heidi Billotto’s Shares Fun Produce Tips

on WCNC’s Charlotte Today 

Jan 15 , 2014

Save the Scraps and Repurpose Your Produce…

If you have just made a salad or prepared a fresh veggie or two for dinner, think twice before you toss the scraps in the garbage.  This morning on WCNC’s Charlotte Today I did a fun “cooking” segment with my friends, show hosts Colleen Odegaard  and Ramona  Holloway. How to repurpose your produce “scraps”. This cooking “tip and tricks” topic was producer Allison Andrews’ idea but I was up to the challenge and came up with five or six tasty solutions to avoid wasting the good stuff.

Click here for the  Jan 15 video of Heidi Billotto on WCNC’s Charlotte Today 

And here is what we chatted about during the segment…. 

regrown celeryCelery – First of all, purchase whole celery heads, not just celery hearts – you’ll get tons more flavor and then  when you need celery – slice across the whole head for more flavor than you can get simply slicing up  one stalk. Then when you are done and down to the root, put the root end of the celery in a pot of dirt and believe it or not you can regrow it! use the new celery leaves as you would any flavorful herb.

 

broccoli crowns, stems and leaves are all great to eat!

broccoli crowns, stems and leaves are all great to eat!

Broccoli  – You can buy crowns of broccoli as easily as you can purchase whole stalks, but the stalks are every bit as good as the flowers. So just cut the whole stalks so that your blossom ends have a stalk and then peel the stalk with a vegetable peeler so that it will be more tender as your steam or boil it.  You may also cut the stems for the blossom end, peel and then cut into sticks to serve on a raw veggie tray, or the stalks may be peeled and shredded for broccoli slaw. Or steam or boil the blossoms and then cut the stalks into slices – they will resemble little clouds and you can use them in stirfries or instead of or in addition or in place of the peas in  pot pies

What to do with orange and citrus peels?

What to do with orange and citrus peels?

Orange, grapefruit, lemon or lime peel – Its so easy to repurpose any citrus peel –  just cut it into thin strips and then candy it in a simply syrup made with one cup of sugar and one cup of water .

Make candied citrus rind by puuting the cut rind into a simply syrup - 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. bring the mix to a boil and then let cool .  Pull candied rind out of the syrup and dust with organic granulated sugar

Make candied citrus rind by putting the cut rind into a simply syrup – 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. bring the mix to a boil and then let cool . Pull candied rind out of the syrup and dust with organic granulated sugar

The candied peel can be used to garnish desserts and the leftover syrup is delicious mixed with you favorite pour in cocktails or used over ice with a splash of sparkling soda for the family to enjoy instead of a soft drink.

Candied orange rind with a orange peel rosette

Candied orange rind with a orange peel rosette

Buy organic carrots for the vey best flavor in the root and greens as well

Buy organic carrots for the vey best flavor in the root and greens as well

Carrot tops  – I have been enjoying the fabulous harvest of local carrots Charlotte has had this year and always opt to take my carrot purchase home from farmers markets with the greens attached. As I had the greens on hand, I  have been doing a bit of research and while I
knew that the carrot tops are as healthy as the carrots – I didn’t know just how healthy.

Carrots themselves are high in beta carotene, Calcium and Potassium, and vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and E.

The carrot greens  contain 6 times the vitamin C in the carrot and are a great source of potassium. They are also an excellent source of magnesium, which promotes healthy blood pressure as well as strong bones and muscles.

So buy  the carrots with the greens still attached.  Cut of the greens and cook, juice or use them first  – carrots have a longer refrigerator shelf life than do the greens – carrot greens are delicious as the herb in  homemade vinaigrettes ( see my favorite vinaigrette recipe  in the Jan issue of Charlotte Parent Magazine  (http://www.charlotteparent.com/articlemain.php?10-Healthy-Ways-to-Use-Vinaigrette-4890)  and simply add in 2-3 Tbsp. of carrot tops with the dried herbs. You can use minced carrot tops in pestos or to flavor  vegetable, potato or carrot soup as well.

 

Make the leek and potato soup recipe below garnished with minced carrot tops and "hearts" of heavy cream

Make the leek and potato soup recipe below garnished with minced carrot tops and “hearts” of heavy cream

More scraps and peels? Any other veggie peels and stems, stalks etc. can go into a homemade veggie broth – the recipe is super simple – just put all of your scraps in a big pot, add 1-2 cans of organic whole or diced tomatoes and one chopped onion; cover with water and bring it to a boil. After the volume of the water reduces by one half, strain the broth from the veggies parts and pieces, discard the veggies and season the broth to taste with salt and pepper or you favorite herbs or spices. Homemade veggie broth will freeze well for up to a year.

If all else fails – compost – Honestly, this  has been a hard concept for me to wrap my head around, but it really does make sense… and so 2014 may be my year to stop tossing scraps I really don’t use and instead compost them Remember when you first started to recycling and it seems a pain to rinse out cans and jars? Then we got used to it and now it just seems like second nature – plus its so much better of our environment and our landfills. Well, just think of composting as recycling for veggies  – smart to do for your garden and for the environment!

You may start small with tabletop and indoor composters and then move to a bigger outdoor composter when you are ready.

Leek and potato Carrot top soup

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

HLNC@carolina.rr.com

www.HeidiBillottoFood.com

1 ½ lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes or slices

2 white rainbow carrots or 1 parsnip, cut into slices

4 medium leeks, chopped

1 cup minced carrot greens

4 cups water

1 cup heavy cream or half and half

sea salt and pepper to taste

minced carrot greens to serve on top

Bring the potatoes, carrots or parsnips, leeks, carrot greens and water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes,

Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Return to the pot and stir in the heavy cream or  half and half. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold garnished with additional minced carrot greens

 BEEF AND BROCCOLI CLOUDS

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

HLNC@carolina.rr.com

www.HeidiBillottoFood.com

3/4 pound lean beef – London Broil or flank steak – thin sliced

1 1/4 cups oil, or as needed

Marinade:

1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. organic sugar

1 tsp. Mushroom flavored soy sauce

1 Tbsp. water

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Sauce:

2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce

2 Tbsp. mushroom soy sauce

1 Tbsp. water

Thickener:

1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp. water

Vegetables:

1 pound fresh broccoli stalks cut into “clouds”

4 carrots, sliced or cut into tulips

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices. Add the marinade ingredients, adding the cornstarch last (use your fingers to rub it in). Marinate the beef for 30 minutes.
While the beef is marinating, prepare the sauce and vegetables: for the sauce, mix together the hoisin sauce, light soy, dark soy, and water in a small bowl and set aside. In another small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water thickener and set aside.
Wash and drain the broccoli. Cut the stalk diagonally into thin slices. Cut the flowerets into 3 or 4 pieces. Combine with the carrots and boil or steam quickly in ½ cup As soon as the broccoli turns a spring green color, drain it form the cooking water and rinse quickly with cold water. Reserve.
Heat the wok and add 1 cup oil. When the oil is medium-hot (use the wooden spoon test, add the beef. Sear quickly and remove the beef from the wok when it changes color and is nearly cooked (about 1 – 2 minutes).
Drain beef on several thicknesses of paper towels.
Pour the majority of the oil out of the wok leaving only 2 Tablespoons.
Heat wok again, when the oil is hot, add the beef with the garlic and quickly toss to combine. Add in broccoli, sprinkle with ¼ tsp. salt and ½ tsp sugar over, and stir fry briefly, turning down the heat if necessary to make sure it doesn’t burn. Toss well to combine with beef.

Add the sauce and cornstarch mixture in the middle of the wok and stir quickly to thicken. Mix everything together and serve hot over steamed rice.

Battle Goat Lady Dairy “Julian” Aged Gouda with Chef Jon Fortes, Mimosa Grill vs Chef Sam Stachon, King’s Kitchen. The sixth battle of the series and Fortes takes the cheese!

Chef Luca Annunziata from Passion 8 Bistro

Chef Luca Annunziata from Passion 8 Bistro

Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery

Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery

As I write this post it is early morning on Sept 23. Chef Luca Annunziata and his team  from Passion 8 Bistro are preparing to meet  Chef Rob Masone and his team from Heist Brewery on the culinary battlefield that is, for this competition, the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Charlotte’s historic Dilworth neighborhood.

The Kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room

The Kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room

Chefs will meet around 11 am or so to get a feel for the lay of land in the kitchen, check out the mobile pantry full of excellent product and produce from title sponsors Pate Dawson – Southern Foods; and put together their individual strategies. Around noon they  will find out the secret ingeredient for this Battle 7 of the inaugural  Fire in the City competition dining series.

As the competition’s official blogger,  I’ll be there to cover all the action  – during the day today and again during dinner tonight

The Official Blog of Fire in the Coty

The Official Blog of Fire in the Coty

Follow me on Twitter @HeidiCooks and on the Heidi Billotto Cooks Facebook page throughout the day today for updates; and then I’ll meet you back here with the play by play and photos in  the comprehensive post tomorrow morning.

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North Carolina's own Goat Lady Dairy aged Gouda goat cheese

North Carolina’s own Goat Lady Dairy aged Gouda goat cheese

But first, time for a recap on Battle 6 held just over a week ago. On the table – the secret ingredient, goat cheese, local goat cheese from Climax NC; Goat Lady Dairy “Julien” gouda, to be more exact.

Just six dinners in and this food writer is running out of superlatives – somehow the words “wonderful” and “fabulous” just don’t seem enough to describe the Sept 11 evening of Competition Dining, although the evening was every bit of that and more.

Chef Jon Fortes and the team from Mimosa Grill

Chef Jon Fortes and the team from Mimosa Grill

Chef Sam Stachon and the team from King's Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon and the team from King’s Kitchen

In the kitchen battling it out – Chef Jon Fortes, Executive Chef of Mimosa Grill with his team and  Chef Sam Stachon, Executive Chef of The King’s Kitchen with his team.

As is the case with nearly all of these dinners, the day was fun-filled from the very beginning. These two chefs met through Competition Dining, but hit it off from the get go.

“We both wanted the win,” said Sam Stachon of The King’s Kitchen. “But pretty much from the beginning, it was like we were all working together in our own place.”  It’s this good nature of friendly competition that makes these Fire in the City integrated dining events so much fun.

Sam Stachon , left and Jon Fortes enjoyed the competition and working with each other from the beginning

Sam Stachon , left and Jon Fortes enjoyed the competition and working with each other from the beginning

John "JD" Duncan and  Charlotte Fire Fighters

John “JD” Duncan and Charlotte Fire Fighters

Captain Rob Brisley and the Charlotte Fire Fighters enjoyed and every course

Captain Rob Brisley and the Charlotte Fire Fighters enjoyed and every course

As it was Sept 11, it was a special night. Early on, weeks before the battle, Chef John Fortes told me he thought the historic date would yield a smaller than usual dining audience; but no, this night played to a sold out crowd.

Host, and Competition Dining founder and creator Jimmy Crippen started the evening off with his video presentation as always; but this night included a special tribute to 9/11 with a moving rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by The Charlie Daniels Band.

To make it even more moving, John “JD” Duncan, owner at Bonterra played host to his neighborhood fire station, as he does each and every year since the 9/11 tragedy. Captain Rob Brisley of the CFD was there too, and delivered the fire safety message that has become the mantra of Competition Dining – The leading cause of home fires and burn injuries is cooking; so Keep your kitchen safe and make reservations to dine out at your favorite Charlotte restaurant!

The dinner was delicious – here’s the plate by plate , play by play…

The first course by Chef Jon Fortes

The first course by Chef Jon Fortes

My plate at the end of  the First Course

My plate at the end of the First Course

Course 1 set the tone of the evening for me – this “cheese plate” with  a trio of offerings was, as it turned out, from Chef Jon Fortes and included  “Goat Lady Julian Cheese Trio” Bacon Wrapped Julian with Port Wine Reduction; Goat Lady Biscuit with Heirloom Tomato & Chorizo Soup; and Whipped Cheesecake with Brown Butter Pine Nuts and Country Ham

The Second Course by Chef Sam Stachon

The Second Course by Chef Sam Stachon

In Course 2, Chef Sam Stachon took advantage of a product that had been the secret ingredient just nights before – the very delicious A.B.Vannoy Country Ham  and did it proud, serving it with  Fingerling Potato Hash, Pepperonata,  all topped off with a Goat Lady Julian Frico

The third course by Chef Jon Fortes

The third course by Chef Jon Fortes

Course 3 was the highest scoring course of the evening. Chef Jon Fortes’ Goat Lady Julian & Parsnip Gnocchi, Creamed Sweet Corn, Tasso Ham, Mushroom Conserva

 

The Fourth Course by Chef Sam Stachon

The Fourth Course by Chef Sam Stachon

Course 4 Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale Braised Manchester Farms Quail Warm Julian Cheese & Farro Salad with Charred Cabbage – while the cheese and faro salad was extraordinary, the quail and cabbage didn’t hold their weight and consequently, this was Chef Stachon’s weakest course and may have been what finally decided the battle

The Fifth Course by Chef Jon Fortes

The Fifth Course by Chef Jon Fortes

Gotta love cheese grits and in Course 5, Chef Jon Fortes brought it with Confit Cheshire Pork Roulade, Goat Lady Julian Grits Soufflé, Dried Apples, Smoked Blueberries

 

The Sixth Course from Chef Sam Stachon

The Sixth Course from Chef Sam Stachon

A high scoring Course 6 in the guise of a melt-in-your-mouth dessert was a hit for Chef Sam Stachon and the team from King’s Kitchen. On the plate – Julian Cheese & Apple Tart with  Mascarpone Chantilly Spiced Caramel Sauce  – a delicious end to an excellent an most memorable evening!

Chef Jon Fortes, Center with Harpers' Group's Steve Seitz, left and Tom Sasser, right

Chef Jon Fortes, Center with Harpers’ Group’s Steve Seitz, left and Tom Sasser, right

Chef Jon Fortes and his team from the Harper’s Group Mimosa Grill will now go on to compete in the quarter-final battle on October 7 against Chef Brian Mottola and the team from e2 Emeril’s Eatery.

Tickets are sold out so, live vicariously and follow this blog for the bite-to-bite action on the dinner and the day of the battle

For more information about Mimosa Grill located at 327 S Tryon St  Charlotte, NC 28202;   704.343.0700; visit www.harpersgroup.com/mimosa.asp Mimosa Grill on Urbanspoon

For more information about King’s Kitchen located at  129 W Trade St  Charlotte, NC 28202;  704.375.1990; visit www.kingskitchen.org/ The King's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

goat lady dairy

Our Friends at Goat Lady Dairy

For more information on Goat Lady Dairy Goat Cheese in Climax NC, visit www.goatladydairy.com/

For a great video on Competition Dining’s Fire in the  City check out the  video coverage that aired a week or so ago on WCNC’s  Charlotte Today – reporter Davyee Sutton was at the A.B. Vannoy County Ham Battle and got an insiders look on all the action! Thanks Davyee!!

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

Battle A. B. Vannoy Hams with Chef Brent Martin from The Peculiar Rabbit and Chef Tom Dyrness from Upstream Seafood. Martin edged Dyrness by just over 1 point!

Last night’s Battle A. B. Vannoy Country Hams was a close one.  It came down to the scoring of the last dish before it was clear that Chef Brent Martin from The Peculiar Rabbit would take this win.

The team from The Peculiar Rabbitt

The team from The Peculiar Rabbit

Cooking for team Peculiar Rabbit along with Chef Martin, were Chefs Geoff Bragg and Andrew Melton; cooking for team Upstream Seafood was Chef Tom Dyrness with Chefs Sean Anderson and Brian Williams. 

The team from Upstream Seafood

The team from Upstream Seafood

I was there for the noon welcome to the chefs and the presentation of the  secret ingredient.

Prior to that, chefs had already some time to look around the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, a neutral ground and beautiful “battlefield” for each of these Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners.  The chefs were given time to explore the mobile pantry, provided by the Competition’s title sponsor Pate Dawson – Southern Foods and  stocked full of fresh and shelf stable items with which to cook. They also were encouraged to  take inventory of ingredients and equipment and get a feel for the set up.

I asked chefs for any first impressions of the day – they were all excited, ready to begin and eagerly anticipating the presentation of the secret ingredient. ” It will either be pure joy or shear terror,” said Chef Williams from team Upstream Seafood.

As Competition Dining creator, Jimmy Crippen announced that the secret ingredient this day was Country Ham, all six chefs on both of the teams  looked  pleased. Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit told me he was happy, but that the idea of including  country ham in each dish, had thrown his dessert idea out the window – “But, we’ll regroup,” he told me. And regroup they did – more about that in a bit.

Nancy Jordon in t he Curing room with country hams from A.B. Vannoy Hams

Nancy Jordon in t he Curing room with country hams from A.B. Vannoy Hams

from left - Byron Jordon, Tom Dyrness, Nancy Jordon and Brent Martin

from left – Byron Jordon, Tom Dyrness, Nancy Jordon and Brent Martin

A Ham so good, it’ll….

It is no wonder that the chefs were pleased with the secret ingredient. Cured and distributed from A.B. Vannoy in West Jefferson, NC, these hams are slow-cured to insure a quality product. Each ham is hand rubbed with what owners Byron and Nancy Jordon deem to be just the right blend of salt and  brown sugar  then  are hung on racks to complete a 9-month curing process.   Unlike other country hams  there are no chemicals, preservatives, nitrates, or nitrites involved in the process at all. Just salt, brown sugar, fresh mountain air and time.

Gotta love it!  And Rick Stapleton, VP and General Manager – Greensboro for Pate Dawson – Southern Foods does! What does Rick think of this particular Secret Ingredient?

Heidi Billotto, official blogger for Fire in the City, with Pate Dawson-Southern Foods' Rick Stapleton and Bryon and Nancy Jordon ( seated.

Heidi Billotto, official blogger for Fire in the City, with Pate Dawson-Southern Foods’ Rick Stapleton and Bryon and Nancy Jordon ( seated)

I tweeted this quote  out last night during dinner, but in case you missed it, Rick says, ” This country ham is so good, it’ll make your tongue slap your brains out!”

Maybe, Rick; but as good as each individual NC grown product turned secret ingredient is – it is what the competing chefs do with the product that matters in these culinary battles.

Each of the six chefs from The Peculiar Rabbit and Upstream seafood worked the line to get everything plated and out to 120 hungry diners.

Each of the six chefs from The Peculiar Rabbit and Upstream seafood worked the line to get everything plated and out to 120 hungry diners.

This group of six chefs worked hard to bring out the nuances of the ham and make it work with a combination of good-tasting ingredients.

If your singular country ham experience has been on a biscuit for breakfast – you are in for a wild ride as you read the descriptives below. Each bite of each dish was full of flavor and while some dishes highlighted the ham more than others, each dish enjoyed high scores.

While chef teams prepped and cooked individually during the fast moving 6 hours prior to the dinner, they all helped each other plate and serve 120 hungry diners who enjoyed each innovative course.

While it is a competition, its also a time for chefs to work together and get to know each other. Of course, everyone wants the win, but  it’s nice to know that these chefs do have fun in the process.

Davyee Sutton from WCNC-TV covering all the action

Dayvee Sutton from WCNC-TV covering all the action

And the crowd had fun too – while everyone in attendance get to vote, there are a group of three professional judges invited each evening  and  their vote is slightly weighted. Among the “Pro” judges this night were Owner and Executive Chef of Zebra Restaurant, Chef Jim Alexander;  Linda Seligman of Charlotte Epicurean Magazine and Craig Utt of Axis Marketing. All were impressed with the venue, the concept and the culinary results.

WCNC-TV’s Dayvee Sutton was also on hand with photographer Matt taping all the action for a spot to run later this week or next on WCNC’s midday program, Charlotte Today.

Plates Please Collective Palates

Tom Dyrness' Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

Tom Dyrness’ Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

The evening started with a light and delicious plate from Team Upstream seafood and chef Tom Dyrness –  the broth was quite flavorful and while it was a simple presentation, the ham wrapped shrimp sealed the flavor deal for me.

Course 1 Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp, Country Ham Corn Pudding, Chili Oil, Curled Chives from Chef Brent Martin

Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp, Country Ham Corn Pudding, Chili Oil, Curled Chives from Chef Brent Martin

Course 2 – Interestingly this was also a shrimp and corn creation but this time by Chef Brent Martin and the Peculiar Rabbit team, The dish was comprised of  Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp atop Country Ham Corn Pudding with  Chili Oil and fun Curled Chives. This dish garnered high marks from the judges and the crowd both in taste and presentation and with that melt-in-your-mouth Country Ham Corn Pudding its no wonder – more please!

Palmetto Quail & Country Ham Roulade  with a NC White BBQ Sauce and a puree of Apple & Rutabaga

Palmetto Quail & Country Ham Roulade with a NC White BBQ Sauce and a puree of Apple & Rutabaga

Course 3 was from Chef Tom Dyrness and was the other high scoring plate of the evening  and another of this food writer’s faves-  a clever Palmetto Quail and  Country Ham Roulade sat front and center on the plate atop of round of braised leek. The roulade was finished with a NC White BBQ Sauce alongside a puree of Apple & Rutabaga – intricate, innovative and delicious, too!

Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust,  Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree

Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust, Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree

Course 4 from Chef Brent Martin – A Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust,  Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree. Honestly, too much on this plate for me and the tang of the mustard overpowered the taste of the country ham.  While the dish scored well, it was Martin’s lowest scoring plate of the evening.

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…And then there were desserts! Yes desserts, each made with  the A.B. Vannoy Country Ham. Nancy and Bryon Jordon were blown away  with these two incarnations of their hand rubbed and slow cured pork and so was  everyone else! 

Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream

Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream

Course 5 – From Tom Dyrness of Upstream Seafood –  Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream –  Yes country ham ice cream…for me it was the mix of sweet and salty that made it all work

 

Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham

Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham

In Course 6 from Chef Brent Martin – an Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham scored just point higher than Dyrness’ dessert and helped him capture the win.  If  you are asking, I think it was the oh, so, clever sparkling cider Jell-O shots that nailed it.

At Evening’s end the win went to Chef Brent Martin  and the team from Peculiar Rabbit. Congrats, Brent!!    They will go on to compete in the quarter finals on October 5 against the team from Wooden Vine.

Ticket Sales and T-Shirts

the Official Competition Dining T-Shirt - get yours today!

The Official Competition Dining T-Shirt – get yours today!

As the word is spreading, the tickets for each night are selling fast. Tickets are still available for most of the quarter final rounds and a few other nights as well. To make your reservations and secure a place at the table for more good things to come – visit the NC Competition Dining – Fire in the City page on this blog and click the links to reserve your space. Do it now – you don’t want to miss out!

And in support of the competition by sure to order your own official Competition Dining T-Shirt! These made in NC tees come in two colors and a variety of men’s and women’s sizes.

The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series is teaming up with TS Designs in Burlington, NC to bring you our 100% North Carolina-born-and-raised apparel. Our shirts are made with TS Designs’ “Cotton of the Carolinas.” The cotton is produced “dirt-to-shirt” right here in the state, and the company supports 500 jobs within a 600-mile radius.

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

Visit cottonofthecarolinas.com to trace the supply chain and meet fellow North Carolinians behind all nine steps of the manufacturing process, from growing to ginning to dying.

We are all a community of chefs, farmers, or diners. Support your neighbors and wear the shirt!

For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit located at 1212 Pecan Ave in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, 704.333.9197, visit www.ThePeculiarRabbit.com

For more information on Upstream Seafood located at 6902 Phillips Pl Ct., 704.556.7730, visit http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp

For more information on those delicious slow cured country hams – visit www.abvannoyhams.com

Homemade Creamed Corn and Heidi’s Snappy Jalapeño Cornbread

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgFeeling Corny?
Even with the effect of all the rain on our local crops, it is still the season for local corn – here’s a great blend of recipes to help you enjoy the harvest…plus lots of prep and cooking tips to make cleaning, cutting and cooking the corn a breeze…
This recipe will be featured on August 8 on WCNC’s Charlotte Today ( Channel 36) in cooking segment done with my good friends show host Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway.
The corn for the segment came from Cabarrus County farmer, Paul Brewington and his neighbor. Paul offers his corn and a bevy of beautiful produce for sale at the Atherton Mill Farmers’ Market in Charlotte on Saturday mornings.

This is an early morning post – a preview of sorts for the video and cooking tips to come – stay tuned for more details, photos and video after the show, but meanwhile, here’s the recipe…

 

 

 

 

Homemade Creamed Corn and Heidi’s Snappy Jalapeño Cornbread
Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com

For the creamed corn:
4-6 large ears corn, kernels cut from cob
2-3 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream or Coconut milk creamer

For the corn bread:
1/4 cup canola oil, shortening or your favorite Pour Olive extra virgin olive oil
2 cups organic yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. Heidi’s Hot pepper blend with Coriander from the Savory Spice Shop
3/4 cup whole organic milk
3/4 cup homemade creamed corn
1 local egg, lightly beaten
5 Tbsp. melted butter
1 whole jalapeno, seeded and minced

Make the creamed corn by placing the kernels and any liquid cut from the cob into a bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree until even more liquid is released from corn, about 3 minutes (mixture will still be coarse). Transfer one third of the pureed corn to strainer set over large measuring cup. Press on solids in strainer to extract as much juice as you can; discard solids. Transfer corn juice to medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat just until juice begins to thicken, Add remaining corn kernels and whipping cream to saucepan and stir just until corn is heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove creamed corn from heat – pull out about a cup to use in this recipe; then cover the rest to keep warm and enjoy with dinner.
To make the cornbread: Heat fat in a 9-10 inch cast iron skillet and swirl to coat the sides and bottom evenly. Place skillet in a 450 degree oven to heat.
In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients: the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper and mix well.
In another small bowl combine the liquid ingredients: the milk, creamed corn, egg and melted butter along with the jalapenos.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Immediately pour the cornmeal batter into the hot skillet. Return to a preheated 450 degree oven; bake until firm and golden brown on top, 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve.

Five Favorites for August – On the set photos and video

Chatting about five fabulous new restaurants in the Queen City

Chatting about five fabulous new restaurants in the Queen City

Monday August 5 – A quick evening post for those of you who missed the live edition of Charlotte Today on WCNC  channel 36 this morning.

Here is a link to the video interview/segment  with my friends and show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway. Our topic: my five favorite new restaurants for August . My husband Tom Billotto was there, too, behind the scenes taking photos as fast as he could – hard to catch all the action, but Tom did a terrific job !

For details on each of the restaurants read the previous post  here – Five Favorites for August and  and enjoy!

As always the show was great fun and time went by fast for this one;  but the response has been overwhelming – so glad everyone like the concept – well do it again sometime in September – stay tuned and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on details.

Meanwhile, as luck would have it , my friend Chef Jill Aker Ray was also on today’s show doing  the cooking segment . Jill is private chef in Charlotte and always comes up with something fun. Here is the link to her spot on the show – a great recipe for a seasonal salsa used three ways – delish!jill and Ramona toocharlotte Today Aug 5. 2013 001

After the  show Tom and I joined Jill and another friend for lunch at American Café. Tom enjoyed the crispy batter dipped fish and chips with a heaping helping of hand cut fries while Jill and I decide to split two different sandwiches – the steak sandwich and Luca’s meatball sandwich, I have had the meatball sub before and was already a convert – but the steak sandwich – Oh my! Off the hook, marinated then seared rare skirt steak thin sliced and snuggled into the soft bun alongside  caramelized onion and a thin layer of cheese – au jus for dipping made it even better – put this one on your must try list for sure.steak sandwich from American cafe