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!

 

Farm to Fork For The Matthews Community Farmers’ Market

Six Spectacular Chefs, One Incredible Evening six chefs for the matthews market

Luca Annunziata, Passion 8 Restaurant in Charlotte, NC

Joe Bonaparte, Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach  in Myrtle Beach, NC

Tim Groody, Fork! in Cornelius, NC

Joe Kindred, Kindred Restaurant in Davidson, NC

Adam Reed, Sante of Matthews, Matthews, NC

Paul Verica, Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw, NC

 

What do these six well -seasoned North Carolina chefs have in common? A love for all things local and an abundance of culinary talent  often showcased at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market early Saturday morning series of cooking demonstrations. And now these chefs are all giving back as a part of the Matthews Market’s 25th Anniversary celebration and you are invited to join in on all the fun.

 Joe BonepartThese chefs are longtime supporters of local sustainable agriculture and lots of area markets including The Matthews Community Farmers’ Market. They are collaborating on this event to help the market raise money to meet mounting operating costs and make needed site improvements. The Matthews  Market, is celebrating its 25th season of bringing farmers and community together over locally grown food, hopes to raise $25,000 by August 1.

38c00bab-e20b-4b77-ada1-34ec19ccd227There are several ways you can support the market this year, first and foremost Shop Local every week. You’ll be amazed how easy it really is to find all the local produce, protein and product you need for your weekly shopping list and how much better tasting it is than commercially produced product.

The next way is to attend this dinner – You’ve read my blog posts before and you know I wouldn’t steer you wrong. On the contrary this is the right thing to do. You still have time to purchase tickets and, think about it, with these six chefs working together to prepare a summer feast using all local product, its a win-win. Just imagine, it’ll be like eating at SIX of your favorite restaurants simultaneously and you’ll be supporting the market at the same time.

The menu will feature the best of the seasons local harvest complete with wine pairings for each course.. The date is Monday July 18 at 7 pm. Advance reservations are a must and get excited because in addition to the dinner a wonderful silent auction will take place as well.

You are going to eat this up, quite literally, The Fun, Food and Festivity will all takes place at  Passion8 Restaurant, located at 1523 Elizabeth Avenue,  in Charlotte.

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

Cost is $150 per person.  Click here to purchase your tickets now! Don’t wait until its too late!



The Matthews Community Farmers’ Market is a taxable non-profit. Ticket purchases and donations are not eligible for a charitable tax deduction.
Want to do more? Become a “Friend of the Market” or a 2016 Business Sponsor – read more for details

Nibbles and Sips | 3.28.16

Anniversary Hors D’oeuvres, Birthday Tea Fit for a Queen, Benefits to Feed the Hungry and an Annual NC  wine-centric Tribute to Rescue Dogs

sante logoMarch 31, 2016 |  Cheers and Happy 15th Anniversary to Sante Restaurant in Matthews, NC.  Located in the heart of downtown Matthews, directly across from the Matthews Community Farmers Market, Chef Adam Reed and his wife Victoria  have been serving the Matthews and greater Charlotte communities their own style of fine dining cuisine  continuing to evolve as customers tastes and trends change. The charming historic Matthews location  remains constant, reminiscent of European eateries where candlelit dining is enjoyed in the cozy dining room or in the secluded year-round garden room. Join them to say Happy Anniversary as they treat customers new and old alike to complimentary hors d’oeuvres from 5:30-7 pm on Thursday March 31. Stay after and enjoy  springtime dinner inspired by lots of local from the farm  seasonal produce and proteins. Sante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

logo_nkhMonday April 18 | The Annual Taste of the Nation Charlotte   Every year, the country’s best chefs, sommeliers and mixologists join together with one goal in mind: ending childhood hunger in America.These dedicated culinary professionals lend their time and talents to Taste of the Nation® for No Kid Hungry events in more than 30 cities across the nation to support Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry® campaign work to connect kids in need with the healthy food they need, every day.

One hundred percent of proceeds from Taste of the Nation events benefit the No Kid Hungry campaign, locally, Harper’s Restaurant Group has been doing its part to ensure no child in America grows up hungry for more than 21 years. Tom Sasser, president of Harper’s Restaurant Group and founder of Charlotte’s Taste of the Nation, is proud to be a part of this premier culinary event each year. “Working together we are able to get healthy food to the many children in need in the Charlotte area. Remember, 100% of ticket sales from Charlotte’s Taste of the Nation benefit local organizations Second Harvest Food Bank and Community Culinary School of Charlotte.” 

This year’s Taste of the Nation takes place at The Fillmore Charlotte. General Admission is $85, doors open in 7 pm; or enjoy a special VIP admission for $120 and enter early at 6 pm. Are you a Citi cardmember? Enter the first 6 digits of your Citi card as an ACCESS KEY to enjoy 10% off!  All ticket sales are final and non-refundable.  For Tickets                               Please note: No one under the age of 21, including children in strollers accompanied by their parents, will be admitted to Charlotte’s Taste of the Nation. Please bring valid government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport for proof of age.

tea-cup-2April 20-23 , 2016 | Queen Elizabeth’s 90th Birthday Tea    One of my favorite things at The Ballantyne  Hotel & Lodge, save for dinner at The Gallery Restaurant, and perhaps a day at the spa is the fact that they serve afternoon tea with the most delicious pastry and finger sandwiches – and the addition of Champagne if you would like or an afternoon cocktail makes a Ballantyne Hotel tea party oh so grown up!  This April the chefs are raising the bar, featuring tea in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s 90th Birthday Tea from Wednesday through Saturday, April 20 – 23, 1-5 p.m. The culinary team has consulted with Buckingham Palace chefs to present Her Majesty’s favorites with the option to add a Champagne Royale for $8 or Pimm’s Cocktail (Queen Elizabeth’s beverage of choice) for $10. The cost is $36 for adults and $18 for junior patrons (excluding tax & gratuity). Reservations are required at 704-248-4100. Gallery Restaurant - Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28277 704-248-4000 www.theballantynehotel.comGallery Restaurant 704-248-4100,  www.gallery-restaurant.com

 logo_raff_medNow Until April 28, 2016 | Make Your Rescue Dog A Star     Attention animal lovers! Raffaldini Vineyards is searching for a living rescue dog to feature on the label of its red wine, Pino Vino VIII. This is the eighth release of Pino Vino, and like the previous vintages of Pino Vino, a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Pino Vino VIII wine will be donated to local animal rescue organizations in support of all rescue animals.   “Our goal for this competition is to raise awareness for rescue pets and provide them with the compassion that all animals deserve,” said Owner and Winemaker Jay Raffaldini. “We are touched by the unconditional support Pino Vino participants havepvvii shown for animals in need.”   Raffaldini Vineyards is accepting submissions of rescue dogs until April 28, 2016. The winning rescue dog will be revealed at a special unveiling ceremony at 1pm on Saturday, June 18.  Entries can be sent to pinovino@raffaldini.com. Please include your name, contact information, your living dog’s name, a digital photo of your rescue dog, and their rescue story in 50 words or less. The Pino Vino VIII winner will be notified on May 8. Every sip supports local animal shelters! Purchase a bottle of Pino Vino VII and a portion of the proceeds directly support local animal organizations.                    The 2015 Pino Vino VII rescue dog ambassador is a French Bulldog named Mac, a puppy mill survivor currently working alongside his owner as a spokes-dog for ending animal cruelty and puppy mills.  Every sip supports local animal shelters! You may still purchase a bottle of Pino Vino VII  at the Raffaldini website.                                    About Raffaldini Vineyards: One of Wine Business Monthly’s Top Ten Hot Small Brands in North America, family-owned Raffaldini Vineyards is known as “Chianti in the Carolinas,” producing Central and Southern Italian varietals such as Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and, the food writer’s personal favorite, Montepulciano. This year, the Raffaldini Montepulciano Riserva was named “Best in Class” at the California Grand Harvest Awards and San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest domestic wine competition in the United States. Raffaldini hosts public and private events throughout the year. Visit the web site, www.raffaldini.com, call 336.835.9463 or email info@raffaldini.com for more information.

 

Sugar-Shock-e1458847944119-1024x766Save the date: Monday May 16 | Sugar Shock  Ever Crave dessert for dinner?  Here is your chance! Join some of Charlotte’s best pastry chefs for a 6 course tasting of unforgettable desserts! The evening will begin with light hors d’oeuvres and each course will have a beverage pairing, featuring Old North Sodas, Topo Vodka, Pure Intentions Coffee, and wine. Take your sweet tooth to The 658 Center, 3646 Central Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28205; 7:00 – 9:00 (Light appetizers served from 6:30 – 7:00)
Tickets are $65.00   FOR TICKETS  Featured chefs include: Jossie Perlmutter, Sweet Affairs and The Asbury; Alyssa Gorelick, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen; Jason Lemon, Global; Samantha Ward, The Fig Tree Restaurant; Miranda Brown, 300 East;  Cara Jorgensen, Gâteau Baking Company; Sam Dotse, Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth.       All proceeds from the evening will go towards the Project 658 Culinary School and Community Feeding Project. We encourage you to bring a seasonal clothing donation for the Project 658 free clothing store, which provides essentials to members of the community in need.   

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Love sharing these Nibbles and Sips – My April Cooking Classes Calendar will be out in just a few days, for info directly to your inbox, subscribe to this blog on my home page.

In the meantime, here’s a taste of whats’s coming your way; Save the date and make your reservation now by emailing me at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com

May 15,  1-4 pm | A Taste of Honey On The Farm Cooking Class with Robin and Jeff Knight of Dancing Bees Honey in Monroe, NC.  Nothing sweeter than the taste of local honey! Robin and Jeff will show you how their bees do their thing and the will cook with this local liquid gold. Cost $85 per person – Farm tour plus 5  hands on courses with wine pairings. Honey and lots of other sweet things from Dancing Bee will be for sale as well. Email me and make your reservations 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.

 

 

 

 

Summer Faves: Fried Green Tomatoes

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

green tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

fried green tomatoes - gerinMaster Recipe

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

By Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

2-3 local firm green tomatoes, thick sliced

organic All Purpose Flour

2-3 local or organic eggs

dry seasoned bread crumbs

canola oil or your favorite Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joes tomato salad The Flipside Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The perfect Fried Green tomato condiment:

Bacon and Local Pepper Marmalade

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

1¼ pounds sliced bacon, diced

2  local onions, finely chopped

2 organic carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 organic celery stalks, finely chopped

1-3 sliced local jalapenos or hot peppers

2¼ cups North Carolina apple or South Carolina peach cider

⅓ cup red wine vinegar

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

In Celebration of Julia Child

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgThis past Saturday, August 15 2015  would have been Julia Child’s 103rd birthday.

julia in color photo

Julia Child on the WGBH set of The French Chef 1963-1973

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

Ask any food writer, chef or culinary professional and they probably have a Julia Child story.

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

julia child on set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heidi Billotto's much loved and much used collection of Julaa Child cookbooks

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

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

 

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

Julia Child in 1992 from kitchen at her home in Cambridge, Mass.

heidi with Julia Child tomatoes

Heidi Billotto early summer 2015 with Julia Child Heirloom variety tomatoes from The Matthews Community Farmers Market

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

If you live in or around Charlotte NC, early in the tomato season  the Julia Child variety is available from farmers Cathy and Eric McCall of Great Falls, SC at  the As Hot As Possible Hot Pepper and Herb Farm booth at the Matthews Community Farmers Market.

I look forward to tomato season every year, but ever since I realized that the tomatoes Julia herself told me about so many years ago are available locally for me, the season has taken on a whole new meaning. Sort of my own personal, you heard it here first kind of story.

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

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

Julia child in kitchenJulia Child lived a full and happy 91 years of life. Much success, many cookbooks, television shows and a multitude of special guest appearances have studded her culinary career of some 42 years. She helped to found several professional organizations for the culinary trade, including the American Institute of Wine and Food and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Thanks to Julia’s efforts and influence, many scholarships now exist for up and coming chefs who otherwise might not be able to attend culinary school or invest the time required to train in the field.

Heidi Billotto 2008

 

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

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