Stuffed Squash Blossoms: A New Take on Ham and Cheese

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

img_2985

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

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

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

 

img_5005

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

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

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

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

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

img_5156

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

 

 

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

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

img_5267For the Squash Blossoms:

1 cup Uno Alla Volta feta cheese

3 local eggs, divided

1/2 cup chopped local parsley or spinach

½ cup shredded Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Dry Cured Country Ham

orange zest

12 squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farm

Flour

¾ cup breadcrumbs

For the béchamel

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

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

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

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Directions for the blossoms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directions for the béchamel:

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

Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture is smooth.

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

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

video graphic

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

img_5244

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

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

img_5020

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

Heidi’s Homemade Danish or Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup sour cream

½ cup organic sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup melted butter

½ cup warm water

2 Tbsp. yeast

2 local eggs

4 cups organic unbleached flour

For the cinnamon roll filling:

melted butter
, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar

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

For the dough: Dissolve yeast in warm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir and when a foam forms on the surface it is ready. If no foam appears within five minutes, then either your water was too hat or your yeast was old. Start again with cooler water and another package of yeast. 
Once the yeast starts to foam or proof, combine it with the other dough ingredients to form a soft but sticky dough.
Let rise 1 hour. Turn out onto a floured worksurface. Knead until smooth then roll dough out into a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick.

For cinnamon rolls: generously spread the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugars and cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut the log of dough into 1 ½ inch thick slices. Place the slices in a buttered pan, cut side up. Drizzle with additional melted butter
Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Feeling Romantic? Six Sensational Spots to Dine with Your Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonterra logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The McNinch House in Charlotte's historic Fourth Ward

The McNinch House in Charlotte’s historic Fourth Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

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

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

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

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

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

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

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman

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

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

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

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

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

Patty Greene's chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene's raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banche Reynolds -

Banche Reynolds-Gourmajenko

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

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

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

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

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