Home Grown Tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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Just a little reminder from my friends at Barbee Farms

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

tomato tips

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

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

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

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

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup water

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

lime

1 local jalapeno, sliced and candied*

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

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

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

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

What Would Heidi Do-

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

Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

 

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

1 small local yellow onion, diced ( optional)

2 cloves local garlic, optional ( optional)

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

3-4 Lbs. local tomatoes,  diced or quartered

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

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

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

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

Your choice of any of these veggies:

2-3 local Haikuri Turnips

1 local eggplant, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 zucchini, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 yellow squash, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced

1 yellow bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced

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

2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence

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

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

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

Summer Tomato BisqueHeidi’s Summer Tomato Bisque

 

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

2-3 firm, ripe tomatoes, diced

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

2 cups water

drizzle of Olive Crate Chile Pepper organic vinegar

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

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

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

Homemade KetchupHomemade Tomato Ketchup and Fries

For the Ketchup:

2 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate  Extra Virgin Olive Oil

½ local red onion, minced

¼ cup minced local celery

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

1/2 cup water

2/3 cup organic sugar

3/4 cup Olive Crate Honey vinegar

2 Tbsp. sea salt

Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend, to taste

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

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

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

Adjust seasonings to suit your tastes

 For the Fries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Your Charlotte Restaurant Radar: 5 Asian Restaurants you must not miss!

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Plating and setting up the line up of Asian Flavors featured in my December Restaurant Round up for Charlotte Today

After all the holiday trimmings, visions of sugarplums, Hanukkah candles and potato latkes have come and gone this holiday season, lets take a break and head out to enjoy some of Charlotte’s delicious Asian cuisine.

There was a time, not so many years ago when all the Charlotte  Asian offerings were Chinese-American options, but times have changed and as our community has grown, our Asian food alternatives have as well.  No matter the country of origin, Asian food is all about flavor and with so many excellent choices, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share  five of our favorites. It gives me even greater pleasure to say that these spots are all family owned, local business. All but one are family friendly  and all provide dine in and take out options, too.

In my December Restaurant Roundup segment on the WCNC Charlotte Today program I shared all five of these restaurants as well and talked about three different dishes from each of them. In case you missed it, here is the video segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson. Take a look, then scroll down for more photos and all the delicious details.

Thai Orchid Restaurant

In classic Thai recipes the flavors of sweet, sour, salty and hot are featured in each dish. The team at Thai Orchid has been serving up delicious plates of classic Thai Cuisine for years, in fact, in 2005 this restaurant was on my Top Ten List.  It has recently come back on my restaurant radar and I am delighted to report that things are better than ever! Open for lunch and dinner.  Pictured below – from right, Classic Pad Thai; The Mee Krob, a Thai lettuce wrap, to start; and finally my new Thai Orchid Favorite: Pad See Ew – each finished with a beautiful edible purple orchid!

Thai Orchid, 4223 Providence Road, In the Strawberry Hills Shopping Center, 704-364-1144. Eat In, take and out and delivery, too! Holiday hours:Closed for Christmas weekend Dec 24-26 – open again regular hours Dec 27.

Doan’s Vietnamese

What I love about Vietnamese food is the light fresh  flavors. Some hot and spicy, some sweet or sour -all of it delicious. Hands down my favorite Vietnamese dish is Pho, the big bowl of noodle soup with fresh herbs, veggies and often beef or tofu. Time for true confessions here. The television segment that paired with this post, aired on Wednesday, and so usually I drive around the night before picking up all the food I will showcase. With all the holiday hubbub, I forgot that Doan’s Restaurant, one of my favorite Vietnamese places is closed on Tuesdays, so for the show for these photos we have my interpretation of the Make-your-own Spring Roll Plate at Doan’s. Fresh cilantro, mint and basil with rice noodles, lettuce, sprouts and your choice of protein ( we love it with tofu). Dip the crisp Vietnamese rice papers in water and they take on the texture of a soft noodle,  so you can wrap all the fresh flavors up inside. Other not to be missed dishes at Doan’s – the Vietnamese Pancake, the hot pots and the fried crispy quail. For more, do check out the article I wrote about Bone Broths and the fabulous Pho at Doan’s in the spring 2016 issue of Charlotte Living Magazine 

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All the makings for the spring rolls at Doan’s come to your table on a large platter and then you have the fun of rolling your own!

Doan’s Restaurant,5937 South Blvd near the corner at Archdale, 704-733-9077. Eat in and take out

88 China Bistro

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88 China Bistro’s Kim Lam poses with the first article I wrote about this wonderful spot for Chinese Cuisine back in 2005. I am proud to be framed and on the wall!

I first wrote about  88 China Bistro in 2005 when I had the great pleasure to meet owners Kim and Chung Lam. Prior to opening their own place, Chung was the chef at Baoding in Charlotte’s SouthPark neighborhood and Kim worked the front of the house at Wan Fu just off of Hwy 51 near Pineville. Both restaurants were then owned by Robert Lee, a front runner in Charlotte’s restaurant community. In 2005 the Lam’s opened their own place on 4th street near uptown and have been going strong since. Look for the classics here with the traditional  slightly thicker Chinese sauces than you will find in most Asian cuisines

For the television segment we showcased three of 88 China Bistro’s most popular offerings: Pineapple Chicken, beautifully presented in a carved half pineapple; Salt and Pepper shrimp with stir fried veggies and Singapore Noodles with shrimp and chicken. The Singapore noodles are a thin vermicelli seasoned but essentially served unsauced – all three delicious ways to enjoy what 88 China Bistro has to offer.

China 88 Bistro, 1620 E 4th Street ,704-335-0288. Open regular hours through the holiday weekend. Eat in and take out. Private dining room as well!

Baku Restaurant

Used to be, when I wrote for a weekly publication, I published a Top Ten list of restaurants I had enjoyed over the year during the week between Christmas and New Year. Now, I find there are just too many great restaurants in Charlotte and surrounds to narrow it down to a list of ten. That said, if I was going to pick a restaurant of the year this year, it just might have to be the next spot on the list for this roundup:  Baku.

Interestingly I might not have said that two months ago. Recently Baku was purchased by Birdie and Janine Yang, also owners of Yama in the Southpark area and Yama Izakaya in PlazaMidwood.  Birdie talks the talk and walks the walk and has, seemingly overnight, taken Baku up a huge notch.

img_7682Now, with much more of a focus on traditional  high end Japanese cuisine, the food at Baku is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. Look for Waygu Beef, specially ordered seafood offerings, as well as a host of excellent sushi. There are Robata bar specialties grilled over imported Japanese wood charcoal and without a doubt the best and most inclusive list of high-end Japanese  Sake in town, maybe in the state.

If there is something you want, Birdie Yang is determined to make it happen! Plan to enjoy tasting dinners, wine and sake specials and more. The bar is still upstairs and with the new year, there is still a focus on spectacular sushi, but Birdie is transforming the sushi bar downstairs to serve sushi and Omakase, a chef’s choice of traditional small plates as well.

For the televised segment and this blog post, just a taste of all that is happening at Baku – classic Kamameshi pots -sweet Japanese rice cooked to order and topped with a variety of proteins – here we have a rosette of salmon and Ikura or salmon roe; two fabulous sushi rolls, one a spicy tuna with yuzu cream and tobiko; and the other King salmon, bruleed with a torch just before serving; and a starter of Alaskan King crab, charred over the coals at the Robata bar then cracked, bathed in butter, sprinkled with black sesame seeds and served. My oh my!

Baku , 4515 Sharon Road, 704- 817-7173. Open for dinner only;  you’ll see me for sure at the Tuesday night sake flights – $10 gets you an unstructured tasting of three incredible sakes and a special pricing should you wish to by a bottle of your favorite

The Korean Restaurant

Finally our Asian restaurant travels across the city of Charlotte takes us to Korea. Charlotte is  still building a series of good traditional Korea restaurants in the city, but with time they will come. Meanwhile you should check out The Korean Restaurant in the Super G Mart in Independence Blvd. The Korean Restaurant is the anchor tenant is a food court of sorts in the back corner of Super G. Korean flavors center in tastes that are hot, salty and fermented and dishes are rustic, and I say that in the very best home-style cooking, sense of the word.

I am relatively new to Korean Cuisine and so I just keep going back and tasting different dishes and am sharing two of my favorites here: the classic Bibimbap ( as much fun to say as it is to eat!) Served with or without meat, in a platter to go, or in a hot pot on site. This is  rice, served with sautéed and seasoned veggies, chili pepper and fermented soy bean paste all topped with a fried egg. Stir it up before you eat to get a taste of all the flavors in one bite.

I also enjoyed the simply but delicious Galbi ( pronounced Ka-bee) that is short ribs seasoned, seared and served over rice. To round out each plate, enjoy any version of The Korean Restaurant’s Kim Chi a spice fermented vegetable served as a condiment with almost every dish – here I showed the fermented baby bok choy – hot, spicy and delish!

The Korean Restaurant in the Super G Mart , 7323 E. Independence Blvd.  Open Christmas Eve till 6 pm, Closed Christmas Day and Dec 26. for the New Year Holiday The Korean Restaurant is Closed at 6 on New Years’ Eve and closed Jan 1 and 2. 

heidi-billotto-2017-headshot#IllHaveWhatHeidisHaving   If you love hearing about all the Charlotte restaurant scene in general and other great spots across the Carolinas that really should be on your dining out radar, stay tuned, because there is a lot more to come in 2017. Three day weekend jaunts, recipes, great ways to Eat Local and more, all on the docket as well.

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