Oyster ice cream: A surprising scoop of American food history

“People actually ate this...It was once a big deal in Read more

Chocolate, ice cream and N.C. root beer!

In my favorite round, Battle Uncle Scott's Root Beer, Merrell, who runs the tapas restaurant and "cocktaileria" Circa 81 restaurant in Morehead City, prepared one heck of a riff on a Black Cow, that famous chocolate, ice cream and Read more

Cooking lessons learned at 2014 Fire on the Dock

As the contest moves into its final battle tonight, I'm thinking back to the ideas I got during the 2014 tournament, part of the statewide Competition Dining Series that ultimately crowns an overall North Carolina winner from four regional Read more

Southern Collards should be the new kale

Will collards be the new kale, darling of diners seeking farm-to-table fare? If the 2014 Fire on the Dock chef competition is any indication, maybe. Read more

Food touring in Carrboro with Taste Carolina

As I often say, "I'm eat up with it," and Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours fed my obsession quite well this past weekend. Read more

Chefs

Cooking lessons learned at 2014 Fire on the Dock

Everyone loves to eat at the Fire on the Dock cooking competition. After all, that’s what diners are there to do, but one of the my favorite things about the contest is discovering ingredients and learning from chefs.

As the contest moves into its final battle tonight, I’m thinking back to the ideas I got during the 2014 tournament, part of the statewide Competition Dining Series that ultimately crowns an overall North Carolina winner from four regional contests.

Each cook-off features a secret, local ingredient that chefs must use. My favorite so far this year was Uncle Scott’s Root Beer. Hops Supply Co. chef Tiffany Eslien used it for a luscious demi-glace she successfully paired with seared scallops and sweet potato hash. Do yourself a favor this Thanksgiving: Find a way to use root beer with sweet potatoes, whether its pie, candied yams or something else. The flavors meld so well.

chaIn that same root beer battle, chef Clarke Merrell of Circa 81 in Morehead City featured creamed collards with truffle oil. I’ve seen truffle oil on collards in previous years’ Competition Dining Series matches, but in this creamed dish, the humble greens truly reached sophistication.

Collards always appear at Fire on the Dock, this year also brought collard soup and deep-fried chiffonade of collard leaves used to garnish fried trout.

Texas Pete is another favorite ingredient that pops up at Fire on the Dock. This year, the company provided a new twist with its tangy, spicy, sweet Cha! sriracha sauce. I see Cha! Buffalo wings in my future as well as Cha!-seasoned brownies.

I sampled elk for the first time at Fire on the Dock. The super lean meat needs little cooking time to avoid tasting dry, which suits my rare preferences. Try it at home, but don’t cook it beyond medium rare.

I know I’ll learn more when Fire on the Dock ends tonight. 1900 Restaurant & Lounge chef Kirsten Mitchell meets Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray.

Competition Dining Series battles move on to Asheville in March and other parts of the state in coming months. Tickets are on sale for tonight’s final Fire on the Dock and future regional battles.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Cooking classes, Fire on the Dock, Midtown Wilmington, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Fall delights on Wilmington menus

Sometimes it feels as if autumn is nothing but a leadup to Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie. As soon as summer temperatures drop down to fall, pumpkins become cool.

Port City Java stores in Wilmington are serving pumpkin muffins. The shop’s pumpkin pie shake contains chai tea, ice cream cinnamon and Irish cream syrups and pumpkin pie spice. Pumpkin pie latte blends espresso, steamed milk, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla and cinnamon syrups.

Coastal Cupcakes downtown and at Wrightsville Beach is asking customers to suggest fall flavor ideas for the October and November cupcake list. Pumpkin was the No. 1 vote recently at the company’s Facebook fan page.

Pumpkin is not the only flavor on fall menus.

Salad turnips from Black River Organic Farm, one of the vendors you'll find at the downtown Wilmington Riverfront Farmers Market that happens 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays April-December.

Salad turnips from Black River Organic Farm, one of the vendors you’ll find at the downtown Wilmington Riverfront Farmers Market that happens 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays April-December.

The annual Oktoberfest celebration has begun at downtown’s The German Café, at The Cotton Exchange. Oktoberfest specials available until Oct. 31 include a $10 lunch and dinner special of grilled bratwurst on a bun with sauerkraut, a side of warm German potato salad, a 10-ounce German draft beer and a slice of strudel.

Collard greens have made appearances on Kornerstone Bistro’s menu, which regularly taps local growers for ingredients. At area farmers markets, look for more greens and lettuces, muscadine grapes, late-season peaches and tomatoes and, my favorite ingredient this year, tender, little salad turnips.

The turnips have a mild bite that is delicious raw or cooked. My Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class have been playing with the turnips. Recent dishes prepared during class include roasted pumpkin and salad turnip risotto and a salad blending salad turnip roots and greens with poached pears and a firm, Havarti-like goat cheese from Nature’s Way.

Fall also brings Encore Magazine Restaurant Week, happening Oct. 23-30. Forty-three Cape Fear-area restaurants will offer nightly specials throughout the period. One of my favorite restaurant week stops is Caprice Bistro, which usually offers three fantastic courses for just $25! Menus will be posted soon.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Cooking classes, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, French, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wilmington Restaurant Week Leave a comment

Cooking Classes: Vegetarian chili, holiday treats & more

I’ve got 2 hot cooking classes among a great fall lineup of classes at The Seasoned Gourmet.

I’m giving up my vegetarian chili recipe Sept. 26, and on Oct. 2 I share my recipe and ideas for my cranberry chutney, which was the most-requested recipe from the years that I operated the full-service Liz Biro Catering company.

Forget those vegetarian chili recipes that call for eggplant, mushrooms and all manner of vegetables to produce stews that are nowhere near chili. This version is one that has received many thumbs-ups from meat eaters. Rich and dark, full of texture, it’s great on its own or combined with other ingredients to create different meals. During the class, I’ll show you how to make  Chili Nachos with Salted Margarita Crema and Smoked Chili Mac & Cheese. For dessert, we’ll sample dark Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Corn Cake with Habanero-Sugar-Glazed Pineapple. No chili in that last one, of course, but leave the chocolate chips out of the cornbread and it pairs well with the chili.

Cranberry chutney is such a simple holiday favorite, but doll it up with special ingredients and incorporate it into yummy dishes and the chutney becomes extra special. The surprising twists on this cranberry chutney recipe put seasonal cooking on the creative fast track. I’ll demonstrate three recipes:  Cranberry Nut & Cinnamon Honey Cream Cheese Torta; Cocoa-rubbed Pork Tenderloin w/Cranberry Zin Sauce; and Spiced Cranberry Orange Bar Cookies.

I’m not the only instructor on the fall schedule.

Also check out 1900 Restaurant chef Kirsten Mitchell’s homage to her French cooking roots, Catch Restaurant chef Keith Rhodes’ seafood class and GRUB‘s Ryanna Battiste for a grass-fed beef session including gluten-free French onion soup and a gluten-free Thanksgiving class. Most classes happen weekdays and run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. but some morning and afternoon weekend classes are offered, too. Register for the classes at The Seasoned Gourmet at Lumina Commons/Lumina Station, 1930 Eastwood Road, near Harris Teeter.

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Cooking Classes!

North Carolina summers for me have always been defined by fresh seafood, abundant local produce and hot grills. When I was growing up, my parents fished for a living part-time. Back in the 1970s, when formal farmers markets hardly existed in southeastern North Carolina, Mom and Dad roved  rural roads to find farmers and gardeners who might be willing to sell their harvest.

When our catch of seafood was sold in the little backyard market Mom and Dad set up on the patio, Dad heated the grill and invited the whole neighborhood. Sometimes, he fried fish in a giant cast iron skillet. Other times, he put the catch directly on the grill. Meantime, inside the house, Mom and neighborhood ladies gathered in the kitchen to prepare vegetables: potato salad with nothing but eggs and mayonnaise, salt and pepper; tender butter beans; corn, okra and tomato stew; summer squash fried with onions.

Sweet corn risotto made during the Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

Sweet corn risotto made during the Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

I’ll tap those times this month when I teach two cooking classes at The Seasoned Gourmet in Wilmington, near Wrightsville Beach.

My July 17 class features shrimp on the grill. We’ll learn why it’s a good idea to grill jumbo shrimp in their shells. We’ll stuff shrimp with fontina cheese, wrap them in bacon and put them on the grill. Shrimp will land in the best marinade I’ve ever found — think fresh basil — and end up with pasta.

Vegetarians and those looking to add vegetarian options to their meal plans plan on July 24 when I lead a class that goes in search of vegetarian flavor. I eat vegetarian most of the time, have cooked for many vegetarian friends and have taught vegetarian cooking classes before. The biggest challenge at the start of my vegetarian cooking experience was getting the full flavor that meat adds to dishes. Too often, cooks turn to salt, sugar and spices to jazz up vegetarian dishes, ending up with unsatisfying, overseasoned results. I’ve learned a few tricks that I’ll share, like how to use balsamic vinegar to add depth of flavor to dishes. One of the recipes will be my go-to mushroom crostini with roasted red peppers. Soooooo good!

The classes cost $45 each, include three recipes, hands-on cooking opportunities and, best of all, we get to eat what we prepare! Sometimes, guest chefs pop in. During my recent Italian cooking class, Hot Pink Cake Stand owner/baker Jody Carmichael stopped by to show us how to prepare strawberry Italian Swiss meringue. We layered the silky cream with fresh strawberries macerated in sweet wine and served in parfait glasses.

Cooking classes also happen nearly every Saturday morning from April to December in downtown Wilmington during my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

Strawberry Italian Swiss meringue parfaits from my Italian cooking class at The Seasoned Gourmet.

Strawberry Italian Swiss meringue parfaits from my Italian cooking class at The Seasoned Gourmet.

After coffee and cupcakes at Hot Pink Cake Stand, I lead a tour of the Riverfront Farmers Market, where we sample tastes and learn about local farmers. We buy a few things, and then it’s off to Aubriana’s, one of Wilmington’s best restaurants, for a full-on, hands-on cooking class with top chef Tyson Amick.

Lately, we’ve been making sweet corn risotto, seared halibut with local vegetables and fried squash blossoms stuffed with local goat cheese. Lunch consists of what we prepare.  The 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. tour and class costs $65.

Pre-registration is required for The Seasoned Gourmet classes. Buy tickets in advance for the farmers market tour and cooking class, too.

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Soon-to-open cafe = cheese central

My dream job is cheese sommelier — or rather maitre fromager, the person at restaurants who recommends cheeses to diners. I could spend my days studying cheese, buying cheese, traveling to find more cheese, sampling cheese and wheeling around a cool cart packed with the best cheeses.

I can smell it now.

Max McCalman was America’s first and for a time only maitre fromager. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, he was the cheese keeper at New York City-based restaurant Picholine. I wanted to marry him. I’ve since settled for a good humboldt fog.

Alas, my love affair with cheese on the North Carolina coast is mostly limited to the little, sanitary, plastic-wrapped packages that fill food market bins. State and federal food safety rules on cheese are more restrictive than my bikini when it comes to fulfilling my culinary aspirations.

Still, cheese heads like me find a way to get what they want. As sick as I am for cheese, Taste the Olive owner Kymberlei DiNapoli is even sicker.

DiNapoli is looking to open her Taste the Olive cafe and wine bar, on Military Cutoff Road in The Forum shopping center,  sometime this week, and when she does, expect an impressive range of cheeses served by a trained staff. A main reason DiNapoli developed the cafe is so that she would have more room to devote to her beloved cheese. Just days ago, she had her crew schooled by Southern Foods cheese specialist Sasha Shreders.

Shreders took the team through a full range of cheeses styles, from fresh to blue-veined to dry-aged. Along the way, he shared lots of interesting tidbits and pairing ideas. For instance, the quality of gruyere may be judged by “tears of joy,” not the ones you cry upon tasting the cheese but the drops of water that develop in gruyere’s holes as the cheese matures.

Another note: triple cream cheeses go well with sparkling wine. Expect both at DiNapoli’s new cafe, a stunning space in gold, black, white tile and hammered tin.

The location will feature an airy cafe in one section and wine bar in the other. A doorway links the spot to Taste the Olive, allowing customers to move from one business to the next without stepping outside.

DiNapoli plans to serve light breakfasts and lunches, , including the Swiss melted cheese dish named raclette. Noshes and small plates will fill the evening menu. Expect wine, olive oil and cooking classes, too.

When I stopped by Monday, workers were putting finishing touches on the cafe and refrigerated glass display cases were still empty — except for one. It was full of cheese!

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, wine bar, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Cooking classes galore!

Making risotto on Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro's Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class.

Back to school is not just for kids. Sharpen your cooking skills with some of Wilmington’s best chefs.

Keith Rhodes of Catch restaurant and Phun Seafood Bar, Roberta Campani of La Gemma Fine Italian Pastries and Kyle Lee McKnight of Manna are among those sharing their skills during various classes at The Seasoned Gourmet, Lumina Commons Suite 105, 1930 Eastwood Road.

McKnight, rooted in local, organic ingredients, focuses on seasonal cooking Oct. 30 with dishes like speckled trout over root vegetable hash with crab, herbs and pecan bacon emulsion.

The $45 class, including food and wine, begins at 6:30 p.m. To reserve seats, call 256-9488 or check The Seasoned Gourmet website at www.theseasonedgourmet.com.

You can also work alongside McKnight during Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro’s Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class Saturdays mornings.

Rhodes, a past James Beard Award nominee, and Campani are among many chefs who regularly teach classes at The Seasoned Gourmet. Campani also offers cooking classes at La Gemma, 2323 S. 17th St.

Kyle Lee McKnight shows students how to plate like the pros during Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro's Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class.

Want to know more about wine and olive oil? Check out Taste the Olive at The Forum, 1125-D Military Cutoff Road.

Monthly, free olive oil classes discuss the history of olive oil, how it is made and how to taste the oil to determine quality. Wine classes range from tasting seminars to training sessions on how to judge wine. For dates and times, call 256-6457 or visit Taste the Olive’s website at www.tastetheolive.com/events.

Margaret Shelton, the woman who many Wilmington chefs consider their culinary mother, opens her Shelton Herb Farm, 340 Goodman Road in Leland, to foodies this fall for classes on cool-season gardening and how to use what’s grown.

Area chefs depend on Shelton’s knowledge to stock their larders. They turn to her when they want specialty herbs (she was the woman behind Wilmington’s microgreens trend a few years ago). They also call Shelton when they are not sure how to use an herb.

Classes for individuals and groups will include home gardens for salad-making and probably how to use herbs in vinegars and other preparations, Shelton said.

“Tentatively, plan for Wednesdays,” she said.

For details and booking, call 253-5964 or sign up for the Shelton Herb Farm newsletter at Sheltonhf1986@atmc.net. Read the newsletter, too, at www.sheltonherbfarmnc.com. Tours of the farm are also available.

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Local food, Recipes, Restaurants Leave a comment