Delicious Ways to Eat your Fruits and Veggies

Heidi BillottoWith Chef Mark AllisonDirector of Culinary NutritionDole Food Company (1)Always great fun working with my friend Chef Mark Allison and Monday morning of this week was no different.

The occasion: a food styling gig for Dole ‘s Get Up And Grow‬ tour.

This is annual event for the California- based company, touring all over the United States challenging old and young alike to beef up (pardon the expression) our intake of fruits, salads and vegetables and  in the process  teaching us all how easy and delicious it is to cook and eat healthier.

My job this week was to prepare four recipes Dole is promoting on the tour and to arrange and “style” everything on the set so that Mark could concentrate on the message of the segment and share the details of the tour. Honored to be entrusted to prep and style Mark’s recipes, I am delighted to tell you that these are four keepers and while I don’t always make a point to share recipes I work with on gigs like this – these are definitely four I will make again and wanted to share them with you as well.

For those of you who know Mark, have seen him on television or were perhaps one of his students at Johnson & Wales, you may be interested to know what he is up to now.

The North Carolina Research CampusThe Dole Institute Kannapolis NCHis job now covers all recipe development for the Dole food company, he also write recipes and develop menus for  Dole owner Mr. Murdock,  and is  currently writing a  book on nutrition together with the Dole Nutrition Institute. Basing out of Kannapolis NC, he travels nationally and internationally on behalf of Dole giving presentations on healthy food and nutrition.

In Kannapolis, Mark’s office is located at  one of the top research centers in the world, Dole’s North Carolina Research Campus, dedicated to the advancement of nutrition, agriculture and human health.  Working along scientists from universities, industry, government and non-profit organizations who are finding new ways to promote healthy lifestyles and to prevent, treat and cure the most prevalent diseases of our times like cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s and other diet and lifestyle-related disorders.

Catch the tour, pick up fun giveaways and enter to win a dinner cooked in your homeThe Get Up and Grow Tour is Dole’s  fun and flavorful campaign to spread the good word about  good eating, one city at a time and this week they are in the Charlotte area August 18-20, 2016 check the Get Up and Grow website for specific tour dates, times and locations. Aug 18-20.

Stop by to pick up one of the tour’s bright signature blue t-shirts and other gifts reminding you to eat your fruits and veggies; and if you sign the Get up and Grow pledge, your name will be entered in a drawing to win the chance to have Chef Mark Allison come to your home and prepare a healthy and delicious dinner for 8, compliments of the fine folks at Dole.

Meanwhile, its easy to prepare the same dishes we did for the television broadcast. Here are all the recipes with my notes and a few Make-it-even-more-local suggestions. Enjoy!

Salad SippersDole’s Salad Sipper – an easy and delicious way to eat you greens!

3 cups unsweetened almond milk
4 cups DOLE® Power Up Greens Baby Kale or DOLE Baby Spinach
1 large or 2 small DOLE Bananas, peeled and sliced
1 cup fresh DOLE Tropical Gold® Pineapple, peeled and chopped
1 cup local or organic Blueberries
2 Tbsp, local honey, optional

Combine almond milk, baby kale, banana, pineapple, blueberries, and honey into blender.  Cover; blend until smooth.  Divide mixture between four glasses. Cheers!

Cafe Banana FrappeDole’s Cafe Banana Frappe – try this one as a great start to the morning or instead of a mid to late afternoon snack

3 shots espresso or 2 tablespoons instant espresso with ½ cup boiling water, cooled
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 DOLE® Banana, peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp. local honey, optional
1 cup ice

Combine espresso, almond milk, banana, honey, and ice in blender.  Cover; blend until smooth.  Divide mixture between two glasses.

Brussels Sprouts & Grilled Pineapple SaladBrussels Sprouts and Grilled Dole Pineapple Salad

1 cup fresh DOLE® Tropical Gold® Pineapple wedges
12 oz. DOLE Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
3/4 cup local or organic Blueberries
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. grated lemon peel
2 Tbsp. local honey
2 Tbsp. your favorite Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. smoked almonds, chopped
2 oz. manchego cheese, shaved or, instead, use my new cheesy favorite -Local Water Buffalo aged cheeses from Fading D Farm in Salisbury !

Try Fading D’s Sapore or Roco in this salad for a great burst of local flavor! Check out all of the other Fading D Farms cheeses on their website or on Saturdays in at the Cotswold Farmers’ market in Charlotte, NC, The Davidson Farmers’ market in Davidson NC or the Salisbury Farmers’ Market in Salisbury NC.

Here are the directions for the salad: Grill pineapple wedges. Remove from heat and dice into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine Brussels sprouts, pineapple and blueberries in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine lemon juice, grated lemon peel, honey and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk until blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over s Toss gently to coat evenly. Divide salad evenly between six serving plates and top each with smoked almonds and cheese.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook or who have read other recent blog posts here, this next recipe could also be called How-I-Used-My-Uno-Alla-Volta-Cottage-Cheese-This-Week.

On Dole’s Get Up and Grow website, the name of this recipe is  simply Strawberry Toast, but on air on Monday Mark called them Strawberry Toasties which I love so much more, so strawberry toasties it is! For a fun colorful and nutritious twist blend an avocado in the ricotta or cottage cheese mixture for a slight different spin on the original recipe

Strawberry ToastiesDole’s Strawberry Toasties

2/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese ( instead I used 2/3 cup of Charlotte’s own Uno Alla Volta locally made Cottage Cheese with amazingly scrumptuious results!)
1 DOLE® Banana, peeled
1-1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp. local honey
8 toasted whole grain baguette slices
1-1/4 cups sliced DOLE Strawberries
1 cup DOLE Spring Mix
1-1/2 tablespoons Honey Balsamic Dressing (see below)
1 Tbsp. sliced almonds

Combine together ricotta cheese and banana. Stir in grated lemon peel and honey.  Spread ricotta mixture over toasted baguette slices and shingle sliced strawberries on top.  Tuck several spring mix greens under strawberry slices, securing them on the toast.  Drizzle with honey balsamic dressing and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Honey Balsamic Dressing: Whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey and 1 tsp. chopped Green Onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Finally, you may have noticed that the drink recipes all call for almond milk. Lots of good brands on the market, but even more fun to make you own and here is my recipe for how to do it. For Chef Mark Allison’s Salad Sipper and Cafe Banana Frappe Recipes just use your almond milk unsweetened, but for regular drinking or in other recipes fro baking or smoothies you might want to sweeten or flavor it slightly with vanilla or local honey.

Make Your Own Almond MilkMake It Yourself Almond Milk

1 cup raw organic almonds

2 cups filtered water

Soak the almonds in water overnight at room temperature or for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. The longer they soak, the creamier your final product will be. Drain and rinse the soaked almonds and place them in a blender. Add 2 cups of filtered water to cover. Blend on high speed for 2-3 minutes. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth lined fine strainer. Sweeten to taste – or not. Fresh made almond milk will keep int he refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Keep the leftover almonds by drying them in a dehydrator  ( as per the instructions that come with your unit) or in low over for several hours and then using them in any recipe as almond meal or grind the dried almond meal for your own almond flour.

 

 

 

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater | Seasonal Squash Aren’t Just for Carving

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODWhen the Colonists first landed in North America they found the Indians growing and using pumpkins. The new Americans were quick to enthusiastically embrace the large round and sometimes ungainly fruit, which is actually a member of the gourd family, and subsequently pumpkin pie became an American tradition.

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

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

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

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

In this post I’ve included a recipe originally given to me by my friend Linda Singerlie,  for one of the best pumpkin cheesecakes I have ever tasted. I tweaked it a bit to make it more local with the inclusion of local Una Alla Volta ricotta, local eggs and homemade brown sugar made from organic sugar and local molasses – instructions all to come.

But, before you cook, you must carve…

PCG_carved14_FB_highlightIf you are looking for some  inspiration before you carve, why not join me  and 25 plus other Charlotte chefs, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild on Sunday October 19 at 4 pm for the Guild’s annual fall fundraiser at 7th Street Market in Uptown Charlotte: a family event appropriately dubbed, CARVED. In attendance, skillfully wielding their knives and sharing their pumpkin carving skills will be the likes of Larry Schreiber from the Moffett Restaurant Group; Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery; Chris Coleman from The Asbury; David Feimster from Fahrenheit; Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder; Gregory Collier from The Yolk; Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort; Miles Payne from Little Spoon Eatery; Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine; and Paul Verica from Heritage – just to name a few! For more info about these chefs and their restaurants – check out the links in the “shopping” portion of this post.

In addition to the two hour pumpkin carving competition all of the shops at the Market will be open for business and the Guild will have a tasty apple cider press demonstration complete with samples presented by Coldwater Creek Farms; and a beekeeping demonstration by Art Duckworth of Apple Orchard Farm.

Lenny Boy Brewery will be on hand with a special sweet potato beer.  As a ticket goer, adults will receive a souvenir CARVED 2014 cup good for two (8 oz) pours and one ticket to vote for your favorite pumpkin. The guild will be also be selling more tickets on site if people want to vote more than once.

Advance tickets are still on sale – links to purchase are at the end of this post. Tickets are $10 in advance  or $15 at the door. Kids 18 & under: $5 (unless they bring their own already carved jack-o-lantern and then it’s free!) Proceeds go to Piedmont Culinary Guild and Slow Food Charlotte’s Farmer Fund.

From carving to culinaria

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

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

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

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

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

From little seeds, big pumpkins grow

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

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

 

pumpkin cheesecakePUMPKIN STREUSEL CHEESECAKE

Recipe adapted by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

For the Crust:

2-1/2 cups crushed  graham crackers

3 Tbsp. your favorite cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

For the Filling:

2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

1 (8oz) container Una Volla Alta locally made ricotta cheese (available at Pasta & Provisions)

1 cup organic sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

2 tsp. your favorite Savory Spice Shop cinnamon

1 Tbsp. fresh minced Windcrest farms local organic baby ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 Tbsp.  fresh grated nutmeg

1-1/2 cups of your own fresh made roasted pumpkin puree ( or use an equal amount of organic canned pumpkin)

4 whole local eggs

For the Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar ( i like to make my own by combining about a cup of organic sugar and about 1/4 cup of local Molasses ( I love Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses) – it makes the most delicious brown sugar you will ever eat!)

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup cold butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix well. Press in bottom and up sides of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 10 minutes and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the first seven ingredients  together; add pumpkin and eggs, mix until well blended. Pour into prepared crust; bake 55 minutes on middle rack. Place a shallow cake pan partially full of water on the bottom rack of the oven to provide moist heat in the oven and keep the cheesecake from drying out.

Carefully remove cheesecake and gently sprinkle streusel over the top before returning to oven for another 10 minutes. To help avoid cracking, turn oven off but leave cheesecake in oven with door cracked for a slow cooling process – about 30 minutes or until cheesecake center is set.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate cheesecake at least four hours or preferably overnight in the pan then removed sides and gently slide the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto a cake stand. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and enjoy!

Shopping and Contact info for tickets, products and chefs mentioned in this post:

Visit the events page of the Piedmont Culinary Guild website, to purchase advance tickets for the Oct 19 CARVED event online and remember tickets will also be available at the door

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For all of the spices mentioned in the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe above, visit my friends Amy and Scott McCabe at the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd at Atherton Mill. 2000 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203   980.225.5419

una alla volta

 

Uno Alla Volta cheeses are available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and  at the regional Yorkmont Road Market on Saturdays and at cheese shops around town. For more info visit and “Like” them at  https://www.facebook.com/unoallvoltacheese 

 

hhfmolasses

 

Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses is available by contacting the farm in Bakersville, NC – contact information is on the farm’s website at http://harrellhillfarms.com/molasses.htm 

 

Lots of great area chefs are members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild – for more info or, of you are an interested chef, to become a member yourself, check out the Guild’s website at http://piedmontculinaryguild.com/what-is-the-piedmont-culinary-guild/  

For more info on the chefs and restaurants mentioned in this post, just click on the Urbanspoon or website links here:

Larry Schreiber from Good Food on Montford –Good Food on Montford on Urbanspoon

Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery Earl's Grocery on Urbanspoon

Chris Coleman from The Asbury The Asbury on Urbanspoon

David Feimster from Fahrenheit Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Gregory Collier from The Yolk The YOLK on Urbanspoon

Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Miles Payne from Little Spoon  http://www.littlespooneatery.com/

Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Paul Verica from Heritage Heritage Food and Drink on Urbanspoon