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

cooking classes

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

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.

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, Uncategorized Leave a comment

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

Moonshine toast to Catch’s success

Catch 'ceviche,' one of the dishes Gwyneth Paltrow learned to cook at the restaurant.

Chef Keith Rhodes and his Catch restaurant have been getting a lot of attention lately. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow recently dined and got a cooking lesson at Catch, which she writes about in a post on her food blog, goop.

Catch was recently among best seafood restaurant and best coastal chef MetroBravo award winners. Raleigh Metro Magazine gives the awards. See the July and August Raleigh Metro Magazine issues for winners.

The News & Observer of Raleigh food writer Andrea Weigl interviewed Rhodes for a profile of the chef for the newspaper.

Finally, actors Robert Downey Jr. and William Sadler also recently dined at Catch, 6623 Market St.

Rhodes owns Catch and downtown’s Phun Seafood Bar, 215 Princess St., with his wife, Angela Rhodes. Keep an eye on Phun for future food classes!

Known for its use of local foods, Catch honors homegrown goodness with the Grapefruit Moonshine Mojito, a great toast to the restaurant’s success.

The cocktail includes Troy & Sons moonshine, distilled in Asheville, N.C. The spirit is mixed with grapefruit and cranberry juices, fresh mint leaves, simple syrup and a splash of lemon-lime soda. The cocktail costs $10.50.


Posted on by lizbiro in Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington Leave a comment

Ramp it up

Ramp-stuffed chicken roulade.

Every great chef starts somewhere. Maybe it’s a home kitchen, maybe it’s in front of a McDonald’s deep-fryer, maybe it’s under the whip of a harsh French chef. The lucky ones who begin at North Carolina’s new culinary school, The Chef’s Academy in Morrisville, showed off what they learned during a ramp challenge Friday at the school.

As a contest judge, I tasted many dishes. All of them had their merits, but two stood out.

Cory Owen of Cary and Jesus Grijalva of Raleigh prepared a simple ramp-filled chicken roulade. Easy to prepare, it’s a great introduction to cooks who have never tried ramps.

Students Jessica Vittoria and William Delgado, both of Durham, and Kenley Newsome of Raleigh served purple potato, carrot and ramp hash on risotto. Putting starch-on-starch is a risk. A carbohydrate overload can leave diners full before they have a chance to fully experience a dish, but the trio’s combination worked — proof that the best cooks are not afraid to take chances.

Ramp-stuffed Chicken Roulade Team Slammin’ Salmon

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

20 ramp leaves, washed and cut into chiffonade

Salt and black pepper

4 6-ounce boneless chicken breasts, butterflied

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

Blend together cream cheese and ramps. Season mixture with salt and pepper.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Spread one-fourth of cheese mixture on each chicken breast. Roll each chicken breast around filling. Secure rolls with kitchen twin or toothpicks.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and butter to the pan. When fats have heated, place roulades in pan, working in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Brown roulades on all sides. Remove browned roulades to a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes.

Serves 4.

Source: The Chef’s Academy students Cory Owen and Jesus Grijalva

Sweet Potato, Carrot and Ramp Hash Team Excellence

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 to 4 cups purple sweet potatoes, cut into small dice

1 cup carrots, cut into small dice

1 cup sliced white mushrooms

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons minced ramps, white portion only

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Place a large, heavy skillet on medium heat. When pan it hot, add olive oil. Saute sweet potatoes and carrots in olive oil until halfway cooked.

Add mushrooms and ramps to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and continue sauteing until potatoes and carrots are cooked through. Add parsley to hash and toss to distribute herb evenly.

Serves 4.

Source: The Chef’s Academy students Jessica Vittoria, William Delgado and Kenley Newsome.


Posted on by lizbiro in Recipes, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Poplar Grove farmers market is open, cooking classes coming

The Wilmington Riverfront Farmers Market, which opened March 31,  is a fun and bustling social affair, but the rolling lawn and farmland feel of Poplar Grove Plantation make the market there feel especially connected to the land.

Black radishes are among vegetables you may find this spring at the farmers market.

Poplar Grove, on U.S. 17 in Hampstead, opened its annual farmers market at 8 a.m. today. Vendors selling everything from honey and fresh berries to weathervanes and hand-woven shawls, stay on site each Wednesday until 1 p.m. through Nov. 21.

This opening day, the market features the Wood ‘n’ Wool Show. The display features hand-carved items, including animals, sea life and flowers, by the Cape Fear Woodcarvers Club. The Cape Fear Rug Hookers not only offers an array of work but member are also available to share information and provide advice about the craft.

Next week, cooking classes begin with Alexis Fouros, former restaurant owner and author of the Greek cookbook “Feast for the Gods.”  The 10 a.m. classes, including lunch, cost $40. The April 11 program focuses on strawberries and English peas. During future classes, students will learn how to prepare crab cakes, cornbread and tomato tarts.

Cooking class reservations are required. call 919-969-2430.


Posted on by lizbiro in Farmers markets, Local food, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Farmers market, cooking classes, Manna

Spring radishes sure to show up when the Riverfront Farmers Market opens March 31.

Wilmington’s Riverfront Farmers Market opens this week, but you don’t have to wait. Get produce from the farm that fuels local chefs’ imaginations along with delicious dishes tonight at Manna.

Each Thursday, the downtown restaurant, 125 Princess St., hosts a themed tapas night at the bar. Local farmers have been March’s focus, and the month ends with special guest Meg Shelton of Shelton Herb Farm.

While Manna chef Jacob Hilbert and his team create dishes based on the fresh bounty Shelton delivers today, the farmer herself will be at the restaurant to talk to diners and sell her stunning range of herbs and produce.

If you ever been impressed by micro greens, unusual herbs or just fragrant basil at local restaurants, you can probably thank Shelton. Cape Fear region chefs turn to her when their creativity runs beyond typical homegrown ingredients.

Make reservations for Manna’s tapa’s night. The event happens at the bar only, and seats go quickly. Call 910-762-5252.

Get to know both Shelton and Hilbert better during Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro‘s Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class, which happens every Saturday morning starting April 21. 

Manna chef Jacob Hilbert working with local produce in the Manna kitchen.

The tour begins with a coffee tasting and morning treats at Hot Pink Cake Stand. Then, it’s a short stroll to downtown Wilmington’s abundant Riverfront Farmers Market to meet Hilbert.

Hilbert’s creative American dishes are inspired by the Cape Fear region’s local bounty. Watch how he chooses produce, talk with his favorite vendors and learn to shop the market like a professional chef. Afterward, it’s back to Manna for a cooking lesson featuring the ingredients purchased at the market.

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment