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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

On the Farm at A Way of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait, that’s not all…

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

Got To Be NC Pork at Your Local NC Farmers Market

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chops and tots

A Way of Life Farm “Sunshine” Sweet Tater Tots

 

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

1/4 cup self rising flour

1 Tbsp. sweet paprika

1 tsp. granulated garlic

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. sugar

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

1 cup organic Canola oil

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Home Grown Tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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Just a little reminder from my friends at Barbee Farms

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

tomato tips

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

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

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

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

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup water

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

lime

1 local jalapeno, sliced and candied*

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

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

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

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

What Would Heidi Do-

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

Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

 

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

1 small local yellow onion, diced ( optional)

2 cloves local garlic, optional ( optional)

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

3-4 Lbs. local tomatoes,  diced or quartered

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

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

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

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

Your choice of any of these veggies:

2-3 local Haikuri Turnips

1 local eggplant, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 zucchini, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 yellow squash, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced

1 yellow bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced

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

2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence

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

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

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

Summer Tomato BisqueHeidi’s Summer Tomato Bisque

 

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

2-3 firm, ripe tomatoes, diced

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

2 cups water

drizzle of Olive Crate Chile Pepper organic vinegar

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

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

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

Homemade KetchupHomemade Tomato Ketchup and Fries

For the Ketchup:

2 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate  Extra Virgin Olive Oil

½ local red onion, minced

¼ cup minced local celery

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

1/2 cup water

2/3 cup organic sugar

3/4 cup Olive Crate Honey vinegar

2 Tbsp. sea salt

Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend, to taste

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

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

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

Adjust seasonings to suit your tastes

 For the Fries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biscuits and the Big Deal about Baking with Buttermilk

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

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

I have biscuits on the brain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Heidi’s Next Day Grilled Blue Cheese Biscuits

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

1/2 tsp. OuterBanks SeaSalt

1 Tbsp. Caly’s Kitchen Baking Powder

1 Tbsp, organic sugar

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

1 cup COLD crumbled Clemson Blue Cheese

1 cup Hickory Hill Milk Whole Milk Buttermilk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

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

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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

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 2017 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 Saturday Oct 7, from 3-6 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.

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 Saturday Oct 7, from 3-6 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.comand 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!