Seasonally Speaking: It’s Time for Local Organic Baby Ginger

img_4511To every time (and to every fruit, flower, herb and vegetable) there is a season.

Back in 2011, it was my pleasure to join a small but excited group at  Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC for the first harvest of a new crop of  organic baby ginger! Mary  and Ray Roberts-Tarlton, owners and farmers at Windcrest, a certified organic farm, grow all kinds of cool and unusual herbs and veggies, but this first crop of baby ginger was something special. Fast forward these past five years and the annual every growing ginger crop at Windcrest has become an occasion to celebrate!

Roberts and her team start the ginger from organic seed from brought in from Hawaii early in the year and then transferred the tender young plants to their home in the ground in one of Windcrest’s many greenhouses. As the tubers grow beneath the ground, the stalks and leaves shoot up to heights from 4-6 feet tall. The joy here is that the whole plant can be used from stem to stern. The leaves can be dried and crumbled for tea, to add to various dried spice, salt or pepper mixes and the roots can be candied, pickled, stewed, sautéed, simmered – the list goes on and on.

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Heidi Billotto on the cooking set of Charlotte Today with show hosts Coleen Odegaard & Eugene Robinson

 

Each year around this time, I feature the Windcrest organic baby ginger in one of my television cooking segments. This week I was on WCNC’s Charlotte Today and ginger was the star of the show as I used it to prepare one of my favorite recipes for quick and easy local BBQ baby back ribs.

The glaze on these ribs was inspired by one of my favorite cocktails made with bourbon, a ginger-honey simple syrup, orange and ginger ale, and believe me, its a keeper! What I love about it is that its not too thick, so while the gingery glaze adds a fabulous sticky sweet and spice flavor, it doesn’t overwhelm and one can still taste the meat.

img_5026I recommend using local pork – lots of choices at any one of Charlotte’s several Farmers’ Markets, and if you can’t find pork ribs, use chops instead. The key to make the recipe move along faster cut the rack of ribs into double chops. The recipe also works well on chicken, seafood and tempeh ( although cooking times will vary slightly) – see my variation notes at the end of the recipe.

Several recipes to share hereCandied Ginger and as a result a Ginger Simple Syrup to use in cocktails  or to make your own ginger ale. The recipe for the ribs I cooking on television this week and a fun recipe for the Japanese Ginger Salad Dressing we all love each time we eat at a Japanese steakhouse.  You’ll find the video from the Charlotte Today segment at the end of this post  – just look for the pink television screen with my logo!

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgOctober 2017 On The Farm Cooking Class For more ginger how-tos and to see it for yourself, I’d love to have you join me and Mary Roberts for a ginger-centric On The Farm cooking class at Windcrest on Saturday Oct 7, from 3-6 pm. The class includes a farm tour where we see the farm up close and personal and will hear from Mary about sustainability, why it is important to her to grow organically and all about raising crops year round in a greenhouse environment. Plus we’ll cook and enjoy 4-5 new recipes for 4-5 delicious courses of local fare all with a ginger-centric theme. In addition to the tour and the food, the class also includes wine pairings from Assorted Table Wine Shop with each course, a recipe packet for each participant, and gift bag with sample sized local goodies and coupons. Cost is $85 per person. To make your reservations, simply email me directly at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com. 

The lovely thing about cooking with baby ginger  is that when it is harvested it comes without the hard, heavy skin grocery store ginger always has – the ginger develops that skin as it ages – and has a light and delicate flavor plus tons of health benefits as well.

Hope you’ll  attend our On the Farm cooking class later this month – reservations are a must, please, and visit Mary at the market this week and next to get a taste of the 2016 local ginger harvest and enjoy  the pleasures of cooking with the baby ginger while it is here and available, fresh and in season – its really something special!

Classic Japanese Steak House Ginger Salad Dressing

3 Tbsp. minced onion

3 Tbsp. canola oil

2 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar

3 Tbsp. finely minced baby ginger

2 Tbsp. organic ketchup

1 Tbsp. Mushroom-flavored soy sauce

1/2 clove minced garlic

Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Combine onion, oil, vinegar, ginger, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender and process until combined.Spoon over a plate of your favorite mixed greens.

Homemade Candied Baby Ginger

1 pound fresh baby ginger, thin sliced

4 cups organic granulated sugar

4 cups water, plus more for the initial cooking

pinch of salt

Put the thin baby ginger slices in a large stainless steel pot, add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for ten minutes. If you are making this recipe with older store-bought ginger you will want to repeat this precooking process one more time.

Mix the sugar and 4 cups of water in the pot, along with a pinch of salt and the ginger slices, and cook until the temperature reaches 225F measured on a candy thermometer

Remove from heat and let the ginger stand in the syrup for at least an hour while the mixture cools.

Remove the ginger from the syrup, reserving the syrup, and place the sliced ginger on a cake rack fitted over a baking sheet with sides. Drain the ginger and then sprinkle with additional sugar to coat both sides of the ginger. As the ginger cools more sprinkling sugar may be necessary.

For your own Ginger Ale

Combine:

1 to 2 Tbsp. of ginger syrup left over from making the candied ginger

sparkling water

Juice of one lime

Fill a tall glass filled with ice, add ginger syrup and the juice of a half of a lime and top with soda water. Adjust flavor adding more ginger syrup or lime as needed. Stir to blend and garnish with lime wedge or a sprig of fresh mint

And finally for the Ginger and Honey glazed baby back rib recipe that Charlotte Today co-hosts Eugene Robinson and Coleen Odegaard raved about on air –

Heidi’s Local Honey and Organic Baby Ginger Baby Back Ribs

img_5032One of my favorite honey-centric cocktails is with bourbon or aged rum, honey, orange and ginger ale – take the same flavors mix them with the baby ginger and apply then to a glaze or marinade and viola…

For a fuller orange flavor in this recipe, I used the Blood Orange infused EVOO from Pour Olive, my go-to artisan olive oil shop on East Blvd. in Charlotte

What make the ribs tender enough to saute is parboiling them first. Bit be sure that the Parboiling Liquid has plenty of flavor – for the parboil, combine

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Make your parboiling liquid flavorful!

2 Tbsp. Pour Olive Blood Orange EVOO

4 thick  slices of Windcrest Farms Organic baby ginger, minced

1 cup toasted  baby ginger leaves – simply crisp them up in a 200 degree over for 10-15 minutes to concentrate their delicate flavor

¼ cup fresh Italian leaf parsley

1 bottle of pale amber beer

2 cups mushroom broth

1 rack local Baby Back Ribs, cut into double ribs

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Glazing the ribs with the basting liquid sears the flavor on the meat

 

Basting sauce:

2/3 cup teriyaki, ponzu or hoisin sauce

¼ cup dark sesame oil

¼ cup minced fresh Windcrest Farms Organic Baby Ginger

1 cup aged whiskey or aged Rum ( I love to use NC’s own  organic TOPO aged whiskey here)

Juice and zest of two oranges or 2 Tbsp. Blood Orange EVOO from Pour Olive

Dash or two of  Crude Bitters orange & Fig bitters ( available at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte

1 cup Spicy Hot Blenheims Ginger Ale – made in Blenheims, SC!

½ cup Dancing Bees Farm Honey – your favorite variety ( I love the sourwood honey here and its available on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Market on Yorkmont Road.

 Condiments to serve – Texas Pete (if you’d like to spice it up a bit!)

img_5038Combine parboiling ingredients in a stock pot. Bring to a boil, add the whole racks of ribs. Allow to come back to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer of 30-40 mins or so.

While ribs are simmering, prepare basting sauce by combining all of the ingredients, except the honey and ginger in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce by one third. Remove from heat and stir in honey and ginger.

Remove ribs from the simmering liquid. Bathe the ribs in the glaze and place the ribs on a saute pan or grill pan, basting with the glaze until it just starts to brown on the meat, or  place in a roasting pan under the boiler for 2-3 mins on each side.

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Use chicken, seafood or your favorite vegan or vegetarian tempeh with the same delicious ginger glaze

 

To make a vegetarian version of the same – use tempeh or tempeh style “chicken” patties ( available at Earthfare in Charlotte) No parboiling needed – just saute the patties in the Blood Orange oil until nicely browned, then bathe in the glaze and cook down until the glaze has thickened slightly. Same method will work well for your favorite seafood.

For chicken –  no parboiling needed – simply season  bone-in ( this adds more flavor) pieces with salt and pepper and bake  in a preheated 400 degree oven in a covered roasting pan for 30-40 minutes. Remove the lid of the pan and add the basting  liquid. continue to bake for another 5 minutes  or broil the chicken for 2-3 minutes until the glaze starts to brown.

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Watch the video from my October 2016 cooking segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today here.

For more ginger how-tos and to see it for yourself, I’d love to have you join me and Mary Roberts for a ginger-centric On The Farm cooking class at Windcrest on Saturday Oct 7, from 3-6 pm. The class includes a farm tour where we see the farm up close and personal and will hear from Mary about sustainability, why it is important to her to grow organically and all about raising crops year round in a greenhouse environment. Plus we’ll cook and enjoy 4-5 new recipes for 4-5 delicious courses of local fare all with a ginger-centric theme. In addition to the tour and the food, the class also includes wine pairings from Assorted Table Wine Shop with each course, a recipe packet for each participant, and gift bag with sample sized local goodies and coupons. Cost is $85 per person. To make your reservations, simply email me directly at Heidi@HeidiCooks.comand I’ll send you all the info you need to complete your reservation. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Get Your Panther Game Day Eats On

img_4477Football season 2016 is kicking off and Carolina Panther’s fans of all ages are feeling the roar!  Time to suit up for the season, and start planning your tailgate!

If you don’t have season tickets (or a friend with season tickets) at the stadium, you might be looking for a new great place stop and take in all the action.

Sports bars may be the place that first comes to mind, but honestly, they aren’t  everyone’s cup-o-tea; and although they are often packed on game days, sometimes you just want more than the obligatory wings and spinach artichoke dip to go with your game.

Enter this month’s list for my Charlotte Today September Restaurant Roundup : Places you may not think of ( but you should) to go for Panthers’ game day eats in and around the Queen City.

This list was originally broadcast on WCNC’s Charlotte Today on Friday Sept 16. In case you missed it, you can watch the original video with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson here, then scroll down for photos, details and links to all the restaurant websites.

img_4494First up with the coin toss, Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte, located at 327 S Tryon Street. While Mimosa may not be the place to go and watch the game, it is definitely THE place to go to start your game day activities. A Panther Game Day -themed Sunday brunch starts at 10:30 am with a delicious hearty buffet plus several ala cart items and daily specials. Enter the Game Day Burger I featured on the show. This beefy  burger made from a ground mix of chuck, brisket and short ribs served grilled to order with bacon, cheese and  garlic aioli with salt roasted  fries is sure to fit the bill and is served on Panther game days only.

img_4490If you live north of the Queen City, make your running pass to the relatively new Novanta 90 Pizzeria Napoletana -120 Langtree Village Dr #102, Mooresville, NC 28117. In the Langtree complex right off of I-77 this family run, authentic Napoletana restaurant is the real deal with  a matching pair of wood fired pizza ovens from Naples that turn out true Italian pizza in just 90 seconds.  My favorite pastas on the menu as of this writing include the Peppedew pepper puttanesca with buccatini pasta (pictured here) and the made to order deconstructed lasagna – in both beefy and vegetarian variations. Hot and bubbly  with just the right bit of char on the crust, the pies at Novanta are deliciously different from NY style pizza or Chicago pies or even other wood fired pizza’s you’ll find in the area. The magic is in the dough, made with Italian Typo 00 flour, just the right amount  of rising time and a lotta love. They are big enough to share, but small enough to order for yourself or to order a couple of alternatives to enjoy several variations as you watch the game from the bar or pizza bar at Novanta. Mozzarella is fresh made in house every day, meats are all local from Mills Family Farm in Mooresville and other ingredients are imported direct from Italy, including the vodka served on the rocks or straight up in the lemoncello martini – just sayin’.

img_4496Perhaps you do have tickets to the game and a space to tailgate, or you’re hosting a Panther party at your home in front of your own big screen, but you just don’t want to cook. While you play armchair quarterback, turn to any location of Midwood Smokehouse – there are  three around Charlotte – as your own personal offensive lineman when it comes to putting together your buffet. This season they are offering three different packages of your choice of smoked meats, sauces, sides and rolls each specifically designed to suit the size of your crowd.  Locations  at 1401 Central Avenue in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood;  in Ballantyne at 12410 Johnston Road; and now the new Midwood Smokeshack in Matthews at 3335 Siskey Pkwy. 24 hours notice is needed for the package deals, but you can always go in and order to go anytime. The Pittmasters at Midwood burn hickory wood, 24/7, so things are always smokin’.

img_4500If your looking for someplace you probably haven’t thought of yet to watch from the sidelines, check out Vivace in Midtown Charlotte, located at 1100 Metropolitan Avenue.

This contemporary Italian trattoria may not be a place you would think of for game day eats, but think again. With new executive chef Rodrigo Velazco now heading the culinary team, Vivace boasts a new line up of bar bites perfect for game day munching, among them this order of three algrodolce drumsticks with a balsamic drizzle and delicious crispy prosciutto crusted melon.

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There are televisions around the bar at Vivace but if you head upstairs, where there is also a beautiful view of the city; the game is piped in over the speakers and you can enjoy the action and the fabulous food play by play.

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Set on taking the game in at a sports bar? Then head to the Uptown Charlotte location of Duckworth’s, also home to The Cellar at Duckworth’s all at  330 N Tryon Street. As I said to Colleen and Eugene on the show, just five words for you here: “one-hundered-seventy-five-televisions” No doubt you can get a great view of the game from any seat in the house. Typical sports bar game day fare here, but the nachos are the bomb, constructed in layers of fresh house-fried tortilla chips, a mix of cheeses with or without chicken or chili and toppings that include jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, guacamole and sour cream. plenty for your team to share.

img_4473While Duckworth’s boasts an outstanding offensive line of cooks ( shown here) in the kitchen creating each platter of game day nachos, wings and more. Downstairs at The Cellar at Duckworth’s – open from 5-11 pm on Sundays, you can take a break from the game day festivities,  or enjoy an afterparty dinner and craft cocktails from  the creative gastrobpub menu.

 

img_4504Look for more of my Restaurant Roundup posts on this blog once or twice, each and every  month , or just subscribe to the blog and posts will come to your inbox as soon as they go up.

Also check out the  Saturday morning news on WCNC in the weeks ahead  for my appearance with Colleen on a segment called Tackle Your Tailgate for a slightly different version of our original Panthers-centric Restaurant Round-up video.

Tomato Time

Tomato TimeFresh off the VineFor years – honestly,  more summer seasons than I would like to admit –  I have  tried to grow my own produce. Nothing big, mind you, just some patio tomatoes, a few cucumbers and maybe a melon or two. A couple of seasons ago I finally decided to admit defeat.

I still do plant in my raised bed garden and patio pots each season, but now its really more for the fun of it than the anticipation of any great harvest. Tomatoes, in particular have seemed to be my nemesis.

After buying the plants, the potting soil, the lime so the soil will be well balanced, the food, the stakes, the natural bug spray so I wouldn’t get bitten while I was out planting, and all of the stuff to keep the squirrels and other  critters away, I figured that any tomatoes I might be lucky enough to harvest without the dreaded circle of black bottom rot that seems to appear overnight would wind up costing about $50 a piece, to say nothing of what the maintenance and upkeep of the cucumber and melon plants might run me. While I guess I could say that the process does prove therapeutic; I just finally  decided it’s just easier, cheaper and frankly much more fun to make a regular trip’s to any one of our areas fine local farmer’s markets  and buy from growers who know what they are doing.

To that end, my purple thumb and I have retired from the vegetable garden business and have spent this summer season resigned to the kitchen where we seem to know what we are doing. These mid to late-summer months find us at the height of the season for an abundance locally grown tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, melons, squash, zucchini, eggplant and berries and I am having a ball with the abundant harvest. Today we’ll leave the other veggies for another post and concentrate on my love of local tomatoes..

I think I could eat fresh picked ripe and ready tomatoes everyday till the season has passed and still not tire of the flavor. So many ways to prepare them it’s uncanny; but then you could can (or freeze) and have that fresh off the vine flavor for cooking all year round.

You Say Tomat-ah, I say Tomato Sandwich and Tomato Pie

tomato sandwichToday I share my favorite recipe for Tomato Pie, as recently seen on the WCNC broadcast of Charlotte Today.  But before you slice and bake, though, don’t miss one of summers greatest pleasures – the unadulterated old fashioned ‘mater sandwich – a classic for sure.

Don’t even think of adding sliced turkey, roast beef or a leaf of lettuce to this one. The classic recipe calls only for two slices of soft white bread dressed with a little mayo ( Your choice of brands, but I’m a Duke’s gal). Sandwich thick slices of firm but ripe tomato seasoned with a little salt and pepper in between and have at it. If you have really gotten it right, you’ll have to lean over the kitchen sink to eat it as the tomatoes will be so ripe and juicy, that has you take each bite the juices will run from your mouth and hands down to your elbows – consider it a rite of passage of eating your first  (or your 100th) tomato sammy of the season..

For a little more elaborate sandwich, use whole grain bread, spread with homemade  pesto and layered with thick slices of ripe tomato and locally made Uno Alla Volta mozzarella cheese in between. To turn this sandwich into a summer comfort food, wrap it in foil and warm it in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes or so.

tomatoes and uno alla volta cheeseMarinate tomatoes for full-flavored summer salads. Use your favorite vinegar based dressing or  make your own by combining a half cup or so each of red and balsamic vinegars seasoned with a couple of tablespoons of local honey,  one quarter cup of fresh minced basil leaves and a small minced shallot. Layer the tomatoes in a shallow glass or plastic dish,  top with the vinaigrette, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three to four hours. Serve over a bed of crisp greens or toss with fresh sliced Kirby cucumbers and enjoy.

This summer has proved to be a season to indulge, as my friends Zack and Victoria Gadberry have added a new hand crafted cheese to their line up of  already fabulous locally made artisan mozzarella, ricotta, buratta and feta cheeses – behold, local Uno Alla Volta Cheese Cottage Cheese. I swooned at first taste. We all know the joyful burst of flavor to be found in the combination of mozzarella and tomatoes – but just try a ripe and ready-to-slice local love apple with Uno Alla Volta Cottage cheese – my oh my!

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Cottage Cheese Pie By Chef Matthew Krenz The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte, NC

Must give credit where credit is do – Chef Matthew Krenz at The Asbury at the Dunhill in Charlotte, NC is the first to ask Zack to make cottage cheese and even provided him with the recipe. Zack has made it his own and Matthew often features this new cheese  of the summer season on The Asbury’s menu – go to The Asbury and look for Krenz’s cottage cheese pie on the menu this summer season – its a keeper for sure! When you go to The Asbury , be sure to tell them Heidi sent you!

Aside from pairing them with cheeses of all sorts, tomatoes go great on the grill as well – use firm but still ripe tomatoes and a grill grid, so nothing will fall through the cracks. Slice the tomatoes thick and grill for a minute or two on each side or until the surface starts to char a bit. No need to add any olive oil prior to grilling, save any dressings for after the tomatoes are cooked. Serve the grilled tomatoes, just as they are, chopped and stirred into your favorite gazpacho recipe, topped with grated parmesan, tossed in salads or in the Tomato Pie recipe below for a slightly richer taste.  Grilled charred tomatoes also do well chopped and combined with grilled onions, jalapenos, grilled corn, grilled red bell peppers, salt, pepper and lime juice for a terrific grilled summer salsa – ole!

But on to matters at hand, my recipe for tomato pie. You’ll find a link to the video at the end of this post, so you may want to watch before you cook, but the recipe is an easy one…and technique is little more than layering. Use any variety of local and just harvested tomato that you would like, slice or chop. I love the  vodka pie crust recipe I have included below, but if you want a store bought one to make things easier, I recommend the Immaculate Baking Company’s organic refrigerated crust. Love that it is organic – always nice, and important, to know what is in the food we eat.

Heidi Billotto's Tomato Pie

 

Heidi’s Taste of Summer Tomato Pie

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

Pie crust recipe for a 1 crust pie ( see below)

3-4 firm but ripe local tomatoes cut into thick slices, or use small chopped tomatoes, or a combo of both 

fresh locally grown basil

Fine grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Panko Crumbs

1 local egg ( I used Rowlands Row Family Farm eggs here, available from The Queens Pantry at the Atherton Farmers’ Market)

1 local egg yolk

1 cup local whole milk or heavy cream ( Homeland Dairy Milk again from the Queen City Pantry at the Atherton Farmers’ Market)

Roll the pie crust out to 1/4 inch thickness and fit into a 9-inch French false-bottomed tart pan. Layer tomatoes basil, grated Parmesan and Panko crumbs in the crust until you come to the top – finish with a layer of Tomatoes. Combine the eggs and milk, Pour the custard into the filled pie shell. Top with shredded basil, Panko crumbs and cheese. Carefully place the pan on a baking sheet and bake the pie in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 mins.

Cool slightly, remove from the pan and cut into wedges. Make your pie ala mode topped with a scoop of Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese ( available on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market or the Yorkmont Road Charlotte Regional Market, directly from Zack or Victory themselves.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving. 

If you want to do a Gluten Free version of the same – skip the crust and use finely ground local grits ( you can fine ground stone ground grits in a coffee mill ) and then use them as you would the panko)

Gadberry's Uno Alla Volta Cottage Cheese Tomato PieI’ve used Parmigiano-Reggiano in the recipe here – not a local cheese, of course, unless you are from Parma Italy; but obviously one of the best. Feel free to substitute any kind of local cheese -If you are in the Carolinas, Uno Alla Volta regular or smoked mozzarella, Ashe County cheddars, Clemons Blue cheese, and Bosky Acres Feta cheese all work well – as does the Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese and I am proud to say my television spot even inspired the cheese makes to get creative with there own cottage cheese tomato pie – just take a look at these photos I received by text from Zack Gadberry last night – yum!

Easy Vodka Pie Crust

– Its the Vodka that keeps it light and flaky – who knew??

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp  salt

1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces

1/4 cup cold vodka

1/4 cup cold water
Use a food processor fitted with the metal blade to pulse together  flour and salt. Add butter and shortening and process until blended just the dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, but there is no trace of the flour.

Add the cold vodka and cold water over mixture. Pulse again with the processor just until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the bowl. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days, the roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and use in your favorite pie recipe.

video graphicHere is the link to the video Always so much fun cooking on Charlotte Today. Thanks to guest host Ramona Holloway and host Eugene Robinson for making this segment so much fun. And as a bonus – here is the link to a related blog post from this site with a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes so much fun to cook with all of this seasons bountiful harvest!

 

5 Cool Places to Put on Your Dining Out Radar

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODTiz the time of the year for lists  and count downs. Today, I offer you my dear readers, a quick catch up on a blog post that never posted – originally presented as “Where to Eat Once the Thanksgiving Leftovers Are Gone” it is now  ” 5 Cool Places to Put On Your Dining Out Radar” this week, this weekend and into the new year.

I originally presented this list on my November  “Five Faves” Restaurant segment on Charlotte’s WCNC’s Charlotte Today  the day before Thanksgiving – but just in case you missed it; or in case you were elbow deep in apple pie fixin’s and couldn’t write anything down; or if perhaps you have just been waiting for me to get it all down  in writing…here are all the details.

On the list for this post … Two fine, fun and family friendly new spots to check out in Pizzeria Omaggio and Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India; and tasty Take and Bake suggestion in The Scone Shop; an old favorite in Fork Restaurant in Cornelius and a taste of Japanese food and drink from Yama Izakaya.

First in the line up for this segment is a new Indian restaurant in town, Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India.

Located in  Matthews Festival Shopping Center  at 10416 E Independence Blvd. in Matthews NC   Tamarind is open for lunch and dinner 6 days a week. Closed on Mondays.  You can call for take out or make reservations at 704.841.8979.

tamarind indianTamarind is a dream come true for chef and owner Bhim Thapa. My husband Tom and I first met Bhim when he was a waiter at Blue Taj in Ballantyne. Then we followed Bhim to Persis Indian also in the Ballantyne area; here Bhim was a manager and helped to get Persis off to a great start.   I consider Blue Taj and Persis both excellent Indian restaurants, worthy of your dining out consideration when you are in the SouthCharlotte/Ballantyne area; but I digress…

All along, through the years that we have known Bhim, we knew it was his dream to open his own restaurant. The native of Nepal is quite versed in cooking in general and int he  cuisine of India in particular. At Tamarind, he finally has a venue to share his talent, his knowledge and his passion.

He plays with flavors and technique, presenting Southern Indian spices and flavors cooked in the manner of Northern Indian Cuisine and visa versa. The results are really quite spectacular. One of our favorite dishes is the cauliflower entree I shared on the show – a dish created by Bhim – he says its one of his most popular.  Pair that with a sensational  whole wheat flatbread stuffed with spinach and  fenugreek leaf and you have a truly spectacular meal.

A host of new found favorites will await you at Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India located in Matthews NC

A host of new found favorites will await you at Tamarind Fine Cuisine of India located in Matthews NC

I joked during the segment, that while most chefs I feature on these monthly restaurant segments give me drawings and details of how the food should look on the plate, Bhim gave me a dictionary and a lesson in the culinary language of India.

Once you understand, you’ll get the info on what is in every dish. No worries though, you don’t need a dictionary to enjoy. Between dishes Bhim steps out of the kitchen as he can, to meet and greet customers, explain his philosophy and educate consumers on the cuisine of his homeland.   Go to Tamarind soon, and in addition to the mix of Indian flavors,  look for more Nepalese specials on the menu as we roll into 2016.

In the meantime, here is what I suggest for your first time out… as seen on the show – Gobi (Cauliflower) Matar (Chickpeas) Paneer (Cheese) Keema (Minced) a delicious blend of spice roasted minced cauliflower with chickpeas and cheese served over basmati rice – truly outstanding; and Palak (Spinach) Methi (Fenugreek) Paratha (whole wheat flout)  – some of the best tandoor baked bread ever! For more info follow Tamarind on Instagram and Facebook and visit TamarindMatthews.comTamarind Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

iphone Nov 30 2015 1459Next, a new Pizzeria in midtown at the Metropolitan, Pizzeria Omaggio  – a great find for a quick, well done lunch or dinner. 1055 Metropolitan Ave is the address, but this great little place is actually located streetside directly across from Target. Call 704.370.0777  for to go orders and catering questions.

I must admit I found this little place first on some other writer’s list, but then, ever in search of a good pie, I had to go in and see it for myself. These are individual sized pizzas made the way they do them in Italy. Great dough and high quality ingredients make for a crispy oven baked crust with a line up of toppings that range from the traditional to a bit more unusual –

compdining battle of champions 1074 My three favorites (so far) include the blue cheese and pear – ask for a bit of arugula to top it off and its heaven on a plate!  The Reggina Margherita is a delightful no meat offering perfect when you are craving the classic combo of tomato and basil; and for the meat lover, might I suggest the Abruzzo, made with delicious homemade meatballs, fresh mushrooms and pecorino Romano cheese. Ah yes!

Salads here are fresh and delicious and made with love, as are the soups and varieties of Panini. In particular, I loved the eggplant tower appetizer and the Sicilia Italian sandwich on ciabatta, stuffed with balsamic marinated eggplant, melted mozzarella, roasted red peppers, fresh arugula and a red pepper aioli. Served with Rosemary potato chips is the bomb.Pizzeria Omaggio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dine in or take out – you’re gonna love it! Prego, Prego! For more info and to see the entire menu, visit PizzeriaOmaggio.com or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

For A taste of Japanese and the very best selection of sake in town, turn to Yama Izakaya, located in Plaza Midwood at  1324 Central Ave  704.910.6387

yama izakaya storefrontIzakaya is the sister restaurant to Yama Asian Fusion, located at 720 Governor Morrison  across from the SouthPark area EarthFare.  704.295.0905. While Yama is more a standard Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, Izakaya  are Japanese taverns of a sort. A place to go after work for a beer or sake and some snacks.

In Charlotte, Yama Izakaya serves Japanese bar food, but make know mistake, these are not your mommas chicken wings – instead everything at Yama Izakaya, as at Yama, is done to the nines –  its a wonderful place to dine and fill up on all the little plates of ramen (noodles) served in a housemade slow cooked broth,  Yakatori (grilled skewers), sushi, sashimi and more.

iphone Nov 30 2015 1462Both restaurants are owned by Birdie Yang. Birdie and his dad Larry, originally brought the Yama concept to Charlotte in 2007. Larry  a trained sushi chef and Birdie, who knows sake like few people in the world  – in fact he holds a the highest degree in sake there is:  the Advanced Sake Professional certification issued  by Japan’s Sake Education Council.  Yang is one of fewer than 100 ASPs in the world and he is happy to share his knowledge and the incredible assortment of delicious sake at both of the Yama restaurants. We order a different bottle each time we go for sushi  and Birdie has never steered us wrong.Yama Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more information, follow Yama and Yama Izakaya on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or visit YamaIzakaya.com 

forkNext a little place in Cornelius, you’ve heard me talk about a lot lately, Fork!  located at 20517 N Main St in a restored old house in Cornelius, NC, just north of Charlotte proper.  Call 704.655.7465 for reservations and do check out their New Year’s Eve dinner menu as well

Chef Tim Groody takes his cuisine from Farm to Fork, quite literally, sourcing from dozens of local farms throughout the year. You can read all about Tim, his philosophy of cooking and sourcing from local farms in the winter issue of Charlotte Living magazine, on newstands soon. In the meantime follow this link, to the online flip book (you’ll find the Fork! story in my culinary section on the flipbook’s page 59).

Fork! is perfect for dinner, but as I mentioned in this televised segment, don’t pass up the wonderful Sunday brunch. A great way to celebrate the joys of loving local at the beginning of each and every week.  Follow Tim Groody and Fork! on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or visit ForkDining.comFork! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Finally this post, a take and bake Charlotte offering you simply must keep on hand. If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, you know I love to promote local product; so, here you go –  from-scratch scones from Charlotte’s own The Scone Shop.

iphone Nov 30 2015 1467These fresh made and frozen scones are the brainchild of Charlottean Feilding Williams, who sells her tasty creations in 14 locations across the Carolinas including Whole Foods in Charlotte at SouthPark and in Lake Norman; and the Central Avenue location of Healthy Home Market.

The dough is frozen and scored into 8 sweet wedges or 12 savory wedges. No defrosting necessary, baking them is as easy as cutting them up, placing them on a baking sheet and popping them in the oven. 10-15 minutes later – viola! The Scone Shop scones come in 4 sweet varities and two savory flavors including  Cinnamon Chip, Chocolate Cinnachip, Cranberry Orange, and spinach feta. it is enough to simply say I am addicted and there are two packages in my freezer ready  for New Year’s Day guests, even as I write this!

You can read more about The Scone Shop is the winter issue of Charlotte Living magazine, sorry it’s another shameless plug, I know – but the flip book for the winter issue is up online and you’ll find an adorable photo of Feilding and  The Scone Shop story on page 64 in the flipbook   read it all by clicking here once you finish up with this post.

Meanwhile I suggest you try the Bacon Cheddar Scone  found exclusively at the ebar Internet Cafe at ebar at Nordstrom Southpark.  ebar offers freshly baked Cranberry Orange Scone Shop Scones as well – both sweet and savory varieties are fresh baked each morning, ready to eat with your favorite ebar beverage. You can also find The Scone Shop scones, fresh baked and ready to enjoy offered at the cafeteria at Carolina’s Medical Center Main at 1000 Blythe Blvd. in Charlotte.

To find out more about The Scone Shop and to put your information on Feilding’s direct email mailing list, visit TheSconeShop.com

On set talking restaurants with Charlotte Today's Colleen Odegaard and guest co host Ramona Holloway

On set talking restaurants with Charlotte Today’s Colleen Odegaard and guest co host Ramona Holloway

Now that you are done reading – watch it all up close and personal. Here is the link to the video from the Charlotte Today segment – have fun – we did – and then come back to the blog to reference the details….

Charlotte Today FIVE FAVE November Restaurant Segment

After the show 

kids bestAs I do each of these restaurant segments on WCNC’s Charlotte Today, I always think it would be fun to film what happens after the show airs. We gather up all the food I’ve featured and everyone in the studio gathers round for a taste of this and that. Here two young viewers, the sons of one of this day’s guests, asked to hang around after their dad’s interview was over so they could taste the pizza – always my pleasure to share!

Cheers! and stay tuned for my first Restaurant Roundup of 2016 on Charlotte Today with hosts, and my buds, Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson on January 8, 2016 at 11 am  – see you then when I’ll have 5 more cool spots that simply must be on your dining radar! Don’t Miss It!

 

Get your Grill On – Good-to-Grill tips to get you Going

grilling out shotSpring and Summertime cookouts are a great way to entertain this season and the convenience of a backyard grill offers a healthier way to cook all year round. Just a couple of dos and don’ts will yield fabulous results.

As many of you might realize, this post coordinates with a cooking tip segment originally aired on WCNC’s Charlotte Today on Tuesday May 20, 2014 –  Click here for the link to the video. Everything I talked about on air and more follows in this post – enjoy!

And, so that you can put these tips to action right away I’ve also included one fun seasonal recipes at the end – its homemade ice cream to serve with a bevy of fresh fruit hot off the grill.

But, before dessert, my good-to-grill tips – just one quick read and you are on your way to getting your grill on for 2014!

You can grill almost any vegetable in season - I'm partial to eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell pepper and bite sized grape tomatoes - serve with a drizzling of your favorite balsamic after they come off the grill and pair with some fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese and a loaf of grilled bread and you have the perfect party appetizer

You can grill almost any vegetable in season – I’m partial to eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell pepper and bite sized grape tomatoes – serve with a drizzling of your favorite balsamic after they come off the grill and pair with some fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese and a loaf of grilled bread and you have the perfect party appetizer

First and foremost – don’t place oil-laden foods on a hot grill.

Oil ignites and will burn quickly, so marinate to your heart’s content, but before placing food on a hot grill, pat it dry first, and then cook. Vegetables and fruits grill perfectly fine without the addition of any oil at all. Just salt and pepper and perhaps place smaller things on a non-stick grill grid for perfect results every time.

Do grill chicken, but don’t feel you need to boil it or microwave it first – it will cook perfectly from beginning to end if you follow a few easy steps along the way.

Start by grilling pieces (with or without the skin attached), simply seasoned salt and pepper – I suggest using my favorite coarse pink Himalayan sea salt and my special pepper blend from the Savory Spice Shop in Charlotte’s SouthEnd. Place the chicken on the grill skin side up, boney side down.

 

Grilled chicken pieces without the barbecue sauce finish. Just salt and pepper and about 6-8 minutes on each side over high heat

Grilled chicken pieces without the barbecue sauce finish. Just salt and pepper and about 6-8 minutes on each side over high heat

This will help to help render the fat. By the time you turn the poultry, the fat has cooked down affording less opportunity to flame up. If a piece does start to flame, just take it off the grill and get it out of the way. Do not douse it with water – you will just make a bigger mess.

Don’t marinade raw poultry (or any other meat) in barbecue sauce as the sugar in the sauce will burn on the grill long before the chicken, pork or beef is cooked inside.

Instead, do salt and pepper your favorite cuts and grill on each side over a low to medium flame to cook through and brown slightly – about 4-6 minutes on each side. Then baste the top of each piece with sauce, close the lid of the grill and allow the sauce to cook for 2-3 minutes before you flip. Repeat with the other side. Results will cook up tender, juicy – not charred – barbecued meats and poultry every time.

Grilling a whole chicken is a whole other story, so I’ll save the details on that for a future blog post or a future segment on the Charlotte Today broadcast.

For fish, use the Canadian rule. That’s ten minutes of grilling time for every inch of thickness when you measure the fish fillet or steak at the thickest part. Make sure that the fish is not frozen when you start for best results. Turn the seafood once during the cooking process.

Shimp is most easily grilled when it is double skewered - don't forget to skewer and grill single shrimp for a fun "Shrimp on a Stick" app

Shrimp is most easily grilled when it is double skewered – don’t forget to skewer and grill single shrimp for a fun “Shrimp on a Stick” app

The exception to this rule is shrimp and tuna steaks. Most people like their tuna raw to rare in the middle and seared on the outside, honestly its probably easier to do this indoors in a hot sauté pan with a little high quality extra virgin olive oil or your favorite sesame oil; but it works on the grill too. Just season with salt and pepper and place the steak on a hot grill for a minute or so on each side.
For shrimp, use small thick wooden skewers for best results – soak them in water if you would like, but the truth is if the skewers are thick enough, its so fast that they won’t burn in the time it takes the shrimp to cook. Skewers a servings worth of shrimp at a time – 4-6 in each set and use two skewers instead of just one. This keeps the shrimp flat and easier to turn over with the simply flip of a spatula. You may grill them in or out of the shell – or for a fun hors d’oeuvre you may run a skewer up through a single shrimp and grill it that way then serve with a sauce for dipping – who wouldn’t love shrimp on a stick?

You can marinade if you would like, but I think a sprinkling of high quality salt and flavorful pepper brings out the true taste of the beef

You can marinade if you would like, but I think a sprinkling of high quality salt and flavorful pepper brings out the true taste of the beef

Do season beef and pork with a coarse-grind sea salt or Kosher salt to add flavor but not dry out the meat as finer ground salts tend to do. Flipping burgers and steaks with a spatula or tongs instead of a fork will help to keep a moist juicy texture as well.
You may marinate if you would like. Be sure to pat marinated beef, chicken or fish dry with several thicknesses of paper towels before grilling, remembering that wet product will not brown even on the grill, it will only steam instead.
Once marinated meat has begun to brown, you can continue to baste with the marinade as you cook. Once the cooking is done, toss any leftover marinade.
Timing depends on your desired doneness. For the perfect steaks – start with 4-5 minutes on the first side then turn and cook 3-4 minutes more for rare, 4-6 minutes more for medium rare and, if you must, 8-10 minutes more for well done.

For the perfect London Broil as shown on the Charlotte Today spot – cook it for three minutes over high heat, the turn the meat at an angle to get the look of those professional crossed grill marks and grill for three minutes more. Turn the steak over – with tongs – not with a fork – and repeat the three and three grilling times. Take the meat off the grill; let it rest for 8-10 minutes and then slice at a slight angle. You’ll find the results are perfect and tender every time – with or without the addition of a marinade!

The entire grilled spread from the May 20 2014 segment at WCNC's Charlotte Today

The entire grilled spread from the May 20 2014 segment at WCNC’s Charlotte Today

Finally, don’t put cooked meat back into a marinade that once held raw meat – the result will be a bacteria hey-day Likewise for putting the cooked product on the same serving platter that once held raw meat or fish.
Do use a clean serving plate to bring your grilled goods to the table.

For dessert, who doesn’t love a banana split with homemade ice cream? Putting the bananas on the grill adds a richer toastier taste plus its fun to eat your own banana splits right out of the peel!

The ice cream recipe is for a basic vanilla. If you’d prefer to add another flavor do it right before churning – fresh strawberries, ½ cup of strong coffee, chocolate chips or crumbled Oreos all work well.
To freeze the ice cream without an ice cream freezer, divide the mixture into cupful servings and place each cupful into a pint sized freezer strength zip lock bag. Place the small sealed bag inside one gallon-sized Ziploc bag and then fill the big bag half full of ice and add six tablespoons of rock salt. Seal the bag. Shake for 5-10 minutes or so until the mixture in the small bag freezes and becomes ice cream.

Grilled Banana Splits
Place 4 unpeeled bananas on medium-hot grill; grill 4-5 minutes on each side, until bananas darken and slightly soften. Cut into the peel to expose the banana and serve warm topped with Biscoff, marshmallow fluff and nutella – oh my! Of course you can add ice cream if you would like…

Homemade Ice Cream
2 cups whole organic or local milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla
1 cup organic sugar
6 local egg yolks
1 cup organic or local heavy cream

1, Combine the milk and vanilla.
2, Beat the egg yolks and sugar well, until the mix is thick and almost white.
3. Add the milk to the egg mix. Transfer to a large saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the custard starts to thicken.
4. Remove the pan from the heat; add in heavy cream to the custard and blend well.
5. Cool the mix to room temperature and then transfer the mix to the refrigerator to chill it down completely.
6. Pour the cold custard into the ice cream freezer and freeze according to machine instructions.

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!

Eat your Peas and Carrots ( and the pods and the stems as well) Repurposing Your Produce Scraps

Heidi Billotto in the kitchen with Charlotte Today hosts Coleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

Heidi Billotto in the kitchen with Charlotte Today hosts Coleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

Heidi Billotto’s Shares Fun Produce Tips

on WCNC’s Charlotte Today 

Jan 15 , 2014

Save the Scraps and Repurpose Your Produce…

If you have just made a salad or prepared a fresh veggie or two for dinner, think twice before you toss the scraps in the garbage.  This morning on WCNC’s Charlotte Today I did a fun “cooking” segment with my friends, show hosts Colleen Odegaard  and Ramona  Holloway. How to repurpose your produce “scraps”. This cooking “tip and tricks” topic was producer Allison Andrews’ idea but I was up to the challenge and came up with five or six tasty solutions to avoid wasting the good stuff.

Click here for the  Jan 15 video of Heidi Billotto on WCNC’s Charlotte Today 

And here is what we chatted about during the segment…. 

regrown celeryCelery – First of all, purchase whole celery heads, not just celery hearts – you’ll get tons more flavor and then  when you need celery – slice across the whole head for more flavor than you can get simply slicing up  one stalk. Then when you are done and down to the root, put the root end of the celery in a pot of dirt and believe it or not you can regrow it! use the new celery leaves as you would any flavorful herb.

 

broccoli crowns, stems and leaves are all great to eat!

broccoli crowns, stems and leaves are all great to eat!

Broccoli  – You can buy crowns of broccoli as easily as you can purchase whole stalks, but the stalks are every bit as good as the flowers. So just cut the whole stalks so that your blossom ends have a stalk and then peel the stalk with a vegetable peeler so that it will be more tender as your steam or boil it.  You may also cut the stems for the blossom end, peel and then cut into sticks to serve on a raw veggie tray, or the stalks may be peeled and shredded for broccoli slaw. Or steam or boil the blossoms and then cut the stalks into slices – they will resemble little clouds and you can use them in stirfries or instead of or in addition or in place of the peas in  pot pies

What to do with orange and citrus peels?

What to do with orange and citrus peels?

Orange, grapefruit, lemon or lime peel – Its so easy to repurpose any citrus peel –  just cut it into thin strips and then candy it in a simply syrup made with one cup of sugar and one cup of water .

Make candied citrus rind by puuting the cut rind into a simply syrup - 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. bring the mix to a boil and then let cool .  Pull candied rind out of the syrup and dust with organic granulated sugar

Make candied citrus rind by putting the cut rind into a simply syrup – 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. bring the mix to a boil and then let cool . Pull candied rind out of the syrup and dust with organic granulated sugar

The candied peel can be used to garnish desserts and the leftover syrup is delicious mixed with you favorite pour in cocktails or used over ice with a splash of sparkling soda for the family to enjoy instead of a soft drink.

Candied orange rind with a orange peel rosette

Candied orange rind with a orange peel rosette

Buy organic carrots for the vey best flavor in the root and greens as well

Buy organic carrots for the vey best flavor in the root and greens as well

Carrot tops  – I have been enjoying the fabulous harvest of local carrots Charlotte has had this year and always opt to take my carrot purchase home from farmers markets with the greens attached. As I had the greens on hand, I  have been doing a bit of research and while I
knew that the carrot tops are as healthy as the carrots – I didn’t know just how healthy.

Carrots themselves are high in beta carotene, Calcium and Potassium, and vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and E.

The carrot greens  contain 6 times the vitamin C in the carrot and are a great source of potassium. They are also an excellent source of magnesium, which promotes healthy blood pressure as well as strong bones and muscles.

So buy  the carrots with the greens still attached.  Cut of the greens and cook, juice or use them first  – carrots have a longer refrigerator shelf life than do the greens – carrot greens are delicious as the herb in  homemade vinaigrettes ( see my favorite vinaigrette recipe  in the Jan issue of Charlotte Parent Magazine  (http://www.charlotteparent.com/articlemain.php?10-Healthy-Ways-to-Use-Vinaigrette-4890)  and simply add in 2-3 Tbsp. of carrot tops with the dried herbs. You can use minced carrot tops in pestos or to flavor  vegetable, potato or carrot soup as well.

 

Make the leek and potato soup recipe below garnished with minced carrot tops and "hearts" of heavy cream

Make the leek and potato soup recipe below garnished with minced carrot tops and “hearts” of heavy cream

More scraps and peels? Any other veggie peels and stems, stalks etc. can go into a homemade veggie broth – the recipe is super simple – just put all of your scraps in a big pot, add 1-2 cans of organic whole or diced tomatoes and one chopped onion; cover with water and bring it to a boil. After the volume of the water reduces by one half, strain the broth from the veggies parts and pieces, discard the veggies and season the broth to taste with salt and pepper or you favorite herbs or spices. Homemade veggie broth will freeze well for up to a year.

If all else fails – compost – Honestly, this  has been a hard concept for me to wrap my head around, but it really does make sense… and so 2014 may be my year to stop tossing scraps I really don’t use and instead compost them Remember when you first started to recycling and it seems a pain to rinse out cans and jars? Then we got used to it and now it just seems like second nature – plus its so much better of our environment and our landfills. Well, just think of composting as recycling for veggies  – smart to do for your garden and for the environment!

You may start small with tabletop and indoor composters and then move to a bigger outdoor composter when you are ready.

Leek and potato Carrot top soup

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

HLNC@carolina.rr.com

www.HeidiBillottoFood.com

1 ½ lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes or slices

2 white rainbow carrots or 1 parsnip, cut into slices

4 medium leeks, chopped

1 cup minced carrot greens

4 cups water

1 cup heavy cream or half and half

sea salt and pepper to taste

minced carrot greens to serve on top

Bring the potatoes, carrots or parsnips, leeks, carrot greens and water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes,

Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Return to the pot and stir in the heavy cream or  half and half. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold garnished with additional minced carrot greens

 BEEF AND BROCCOLI CLOUDS

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

HLNC@carolina.rr.com

www.HeidiBillottoFood.com

3/4 pound lean beef – London Broil or flank steak – thin sliced

1 1/4 cups oil, or as needed

Marinade:

1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. organic sugar

1 tsp. Mushroom flavored soy sauce

1 Tbsp. water

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Sauce:

2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce

2 Tbsp. mushroom soy sauce

1 Tbsp. water

Thickener:

1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp. water

Vegetables:

1 pound fresh broccoli stalks cut into “clouds”

4 carrots, sliced or cut into tulips

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices. Add the marinade ingredients, adding the cornstarch last (use your fingers to rub it in). Marinate the beef for 30 minutes.
While the beef is marinating, prepare the sauce and vegetables: for the sauce, mix together the hoisin sauce, light soy, dark soy, and water in a small bowl and set aside. In another small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water thickener and set aside.
Wash and drain the broccoli. Cut the stalk diagonally into thin slices. Cut the flowerets into 3 or 4 pieces. Combine with the carrots and boil or steam quickly in ½ cup As soon as the broccoli turns a spring green color, drain it form the cooking water and rinse quickly with cold water. Reserve.
Heat the wok and add 1 cup oil. When the oil is medium-hot (use the wooden spoon test, add the beef. Sear quickly and remove the beef from the wok when it changes color and is nearly cooked (about 1 – 2 minutes).
Drain beef on several thicknesses of paper towels.
Pour the majority of the oil out of the wok leaving only 2 Tablespoons.
Heat wok again, when the oil is hot, add the beef with the garlic and quickly toss to combine. Add in broccoli, sprinkle with ¼ tsp. salt and ½ tsp sugar over, and stir fry briefly, turning down the heat if necessary to make sure it doesn’t burn. Toss well to combine with beef.

Add the sauce and cornstarch mixture in the middle of the wok and stir quickly to thicken. Mix everything together and serve hot over steamed rice.

Homemade Creamed Corn and Heidi’s Snappy Jalapeño Cornbread

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgFeeling Corny?
Even with the effect of all the rain on our local crops, it is still the season for local corn – here’s a great blend of recipes to help you enjoy the harvest…plus lots of prep and cooking tips to make cleaning, cutting and cooking the corn a breeze…
This recipe will be featured on August 8 on WCNC’s Charlotte Today ( Channel 36) in cooking segment done with my good friends show host Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway.
The corn for the segment came from Cabarrus County farmer, Paul Brewington and his neighbor. Paul offers his corn and a bevy of beautiful produce for sale at the Atherton Mill Farmers’ Market in Charlotte on Saturday mornings.

This is an early morning post – a preview of sorts for the video and cooking tips to come – stay tuned for more details, photos and video after the show, but meanwhile, here’s the recipe…

 

 

 

 

Homemade Creamed Corn and Heidi’s Snappy Jalapeño Cornbread
Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com

For the creamed corn:
4-6 large ears corn, kernels cut from cob
2-3 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream or Coconut milk creamer

For the corn bread:
1/4 cup canola oil, shortening or your favorite Pour Olive extra virgin olive oil
2 cups organic yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. Heidi’s Hot pepper blend with Coriander from the Savory Spice Shop
3/4 cup whole organic milk
3/4 cup homemade creamed corn
1 local egg, lightly beaten
5 Tbsp. melted butter
1 whole jalapeno, seeded and minced

Make the creamed corn by placing the kernels and any liquid cut from the cob into a bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree until even more liquid is released from corn, about 3 minutes (mixture will still be coarse). Transfer one third of the pureed corn to strainer set over large measuring cup. Press on solids in strainer to extract as much juice as you can; discard solids. Transfer corn juice to medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat just until juice begins to thicken, Add remaining corn kernels and whipping cream to saucepan and stir just until corn is heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove creamed corn from heat – pull out about a cup to use in this recipe; then cover the rest to keep warm and enjoy with dinner.
To make the cornbread: Heat fat in a 9-10 inch cast iron skillet and swirl to coat the sides and bottom evenly. Place skillet in a 450 degree oven to heat.
In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients: the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper and mix well.
In another small bowl combine the liquid ingredients: the milk, creamed corn, egg and melted butter along with the jalapenos.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Immediately pour the cornmeal batter into the hot skillet. Return to a preheated 450 degree oven; bake until firm and golden brown on top, 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve.