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.
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.
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.