Summertime and the Grilling is Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As for the olive oil, select a fruity flavorful variety. I frequently pull my favorites from the current harvest selection at Pour Olive on East Blvd, but have also recently discovered another great Greek variety of oil locally bottled by a family in Waxhaw, NC.   Olive Crate’s wonderful organic  late harvest extra virgin, eco-sustainable Kores Olive oil comes from Greek Manaki olives grown by their family in Greece. The oil as well as a selection of vinegars can be found at the Saturday morning Waxhaw Farmers’ Market as well as at the charming little farm store at Grace Roots Farm on Providence Road, less than a mile from the Waxhaw market location. The flavor of this Greek oil is superb – do check them out!

Time to Get your Grill On…

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

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

Heidi’s Bistecca or Salmon Fiorentina

4 long sprigs of fresh rosemary, stripped and minced

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

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

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

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

2 lemons cut into wedges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heidi and Tom in the Booth  spring show 2-14

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

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

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

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

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

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

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

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

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

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

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

North Carolina Peanut

North Carolina Peanut

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

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman's cheese shop

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman’s cheese shop

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

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

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

 

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes form Mimosa Grill

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill

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

Carpe Diem's Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Carpe Diem’s Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

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

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

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

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

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

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

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

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

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

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

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

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

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

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

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach - just beautiful!

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach – just beautiful!

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

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

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

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

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

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

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

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

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

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

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

 

Heidi’s Cooking Stage at Charlotte’s Southern Ideal Home Show – August 23-25, 2013

home show promo

This weekend, August 23-25, 2013, I have the pleasure of once again hosting the cooking stage at the Southern Ideal Home Show, held at Charlotte’s The Park Expo and Convention Center – Its a labor of love as I get to work with some of my favorite Charlotte Chefs presenting back to back cooking demos every hour on the half hour.

Showgoers will enjoy complimentary samples at each cooking demo, recipes, giveaways and more; plus the opportunity to chat with your favorite chefs up close and personal too!

As our grand prize giveaway at the cooking stage this year, two lucky visitors to the cooking stage will win a pair of tickets to one of the Competition Dining Dinners held in Charlotte in September and October as a part of the upcoming Fire in the City Competition – more news on that to come…

Meanwhile, imagine my delight when I read this – about me – today on the  Southern Ideal Home Show’s website:
Heidi Billotto – Host and darling of the IDEAL Cooking Stage

“Everything’s cooking with Heidi at the helm of the cooking stage. She’s our darling, your darling and just about everyone’s darling in the food world. She’s a culinary expert, food writer and editor/Charlotte Living, a cooking instructor, a food stylist and caterer and host of the cooking stage. She will be on-hand to guide you through each of the fabulous daily cooking demonstrations. The cooking stage is a crowd favorite for recipes, tastes, how-to’s and everything in between for your palate and reservations are not required.”

You can plan your visit to the home show based on when your favorite area chefs will be cooking…. and if you click on the link at the right to follow this blog – I’ll have two complimentary tickets waiting for you at the show’s Will Call desk… I’ll email you the details once you sign up to follow.
So Now, Here’s the complete schedule of cooking demos for the weekend – you’ll want to come back all three days to see and taste it all! Looking forward to seeing you there!

IDEAL Cooking Stage Schedule – Friday August 23
11:30 am All you want to know about local ‘cue- how to rub Butt and more   Presented By : Pitmaster Dan “Boone” Gibson from TBE Foods
12:30 pm Mangia, its Mediterranean with Chef Gene Briggs   Presented By : Blue Restaurant & Bar and Osso Bar & Restaurant
1:30 pm Modern Southern Cuisine   Presented By : Chef Chris Coleman
2:30 pm Meet the Farmer: Heidi Billotto Cooks with local organic grass-fed beef   Presented By : Shelley Eagan with Proffitt Cattle Co.
3:30 pm Quick, Easy and oh so Good   Presented By : Personal Chef Jill Aker-Ray from “What’s for Dinner”?
4:30 pm Make it Italian   Presented By : Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto and Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy
5:30 pm Conscious Eating   Presented By : Chef Andres Arboleda from Boutique Chef Services
6:30 pm Pseudo Southern   Presented by: Chef Troy with WCCB Charlotte the CW


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IDEAL Cooking Stage Schedule – Saturday August 24
10:30 am N’awluns Inspired American Cuisine   Presented By : Chef Brian Mottola from e2 emeril’s eatery
11:30 am Conscious Eating   Presented By : Chef Andres Arboleta from Boutique Chef Services
12:30 pm Modern Southern Cuisine   Presented By : Chef Chris Coleman
1:30 pm Meet the Farmer –Heidi Billotto Cooks with local lettuces, microgreens and more with Mindy Robinson   Presented By : Tega Hills Farm
2:30 pm Quick, Easy and oh so Good   Presented By : Personal Chef Jill Aker-Ray from “What’s for Dinner?
3:30 pm A taste of Mimosa Grill   Presented By : Chef Jon Fortes
4:30 pm Meet the Farmer – Heidi Billotto Cooks with local certified organic herbs and veggies   Presented By : Mary Roberts with Windcrest Farms
5:30 pm All you want to know about local ‘cue- how to rub Butt and more  Presented By: Pitmaster Dan “Boone” Gibson from TBE Foods

IDEAL Cooking Stage Schedule – Sunday August 25

11:30 am Summer Sippin’ with Amy and Scott McCabe
Presented By : Savory Spice Shop in Southend

12:30 pm The Art of Grilled Cheese with Brian Stockholm
Presented By : Papi Queso Food Truck

1:30 pm Farm to Table Appetizers from Roots Food Truck
Presented By : Chef Craig Barbour

2:30 pm A Taste of Passion 8
Presented By : Chef Evan Micek and Chef Matthew Krenz

3:30 pm American Café – Comfort Foods
Presented By: Chef Luca Annunziata and Chef Dan Steel from American Café