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

wine

Root beer & N.C. “Italian” wine at Fire on the Dock

I learn something at nearly every annual Fire on the Dock chef competition I attend. Last night, at the 2014 kick-off event, the lessons were how well root beer works with sweet potatoes and that North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley produces a sangiovese wine.

Although Wilmington home team Hops Supply Co. didn’t win the first Fire on the Dock round at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach, the restaurant’s chef, Tiffany Eslien, produced my favorite dish of the night: a pan-seared scallop atop sweet potato hash and root beer demi-glace, the whole crowned with nut-enriched gremolata,

Scallop and sweet potatoes with root beer demi-glace by chef Tiffany Eslien of Hops Supply Co. in Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series)

Scallop and sweet potatoes with root beer demi-glace by chef Tiffany Eslien of Hops Supply Co. in Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series)

The sweet potato and root beer was a just-right match, balanced by the scallop’s caramelization and the gremolata’s garlic and lemon zest. A tablemate suggested root beer in pumpkin pie or pecan pie as my mind went to root beer candied yams this Thanksgiving.

Eslien didn’t ask for root beer; it was the secret ingredient she and the night’s winner, chef Clarke Merrell of Circa 81 in Morehead City, had to use.

Fire on the Dock is one of four regional contests Competition Dining Series stages across North Carolina each year.

The bracket-style tournaments culminate in a final battle to select the best restaurant chefs from among regional winners. A secret N.C. ingredient is presented to chefs just before cooking begins. Last night, it was Uncle Scott’s All-Natural Root Beer made in Mooresville, N.C.

Cellar 4201 sangiovese. (Photo courtesy of Cellar 4021)

Cellar 4201 sangiovese. (Photo courtesy of Cellar 4021)

As I pondered root beer for my 2014 Thanksgiving dinner plans, contest organizer Jimmy Crippen placed a surprise bottle of Cellar 4201 sangiovese on the table for guests to sample and discuss.

Cellar 4201 is in East Bend, N.C.

I’m used to rustic, dark sangioveses, but the Cellar 4201 version was light and fruity, an easy drinking wine for the “I don’t like red wine” group that made up most of my table.

It’s quaffability reminded me of a little of beaujolais nouveau. That got me thinking about Thanksgiving again, and a local Thanksgiving at that: N.C. sweet potatoes, N.C. root beer, N.C. wine and perhaps a duck from Maple Leaf Farms, also on last night’s menu.

Weather has postponed tonight’s Fire on the Dock round until next week. Visit the Competition Dining website for schedule and reservation details.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Fire on the Dock, Local food, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 2

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

I’ll never forget the look of rapture on General Lorens Lowenhielm’s face when he tasted that first forkful of caviar-topped blini and first sip of accompanying champagne in the movie “Babette’s Feast.” I wonder if mine looked the same during the Super Star Pairing this week at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

That on a cold weeknight after work I was eating something long on my culinary bucket list and sipping NV Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut was as unexpected as Lowenhielm’s discovery that the humble, village meal he was expecting would turn out to be a much more.

Nuevo Nicoise.

Nuevo Nicoise.

The Fortunate Glass event on Wednesday featured four top-shelf wines matched with thoughtful dishes, starting with chef Fenix Nelson’s colorful take on classic caviar and blini. Streaks of pomegranate glaze played with the champagne’s fizz.

One of my favorite wines of the evening was the second-course Chateau Montelana Chardonny 2011. Crisp but full and just enough fruit to balance Nelson’s Nuevo Niscoise salad with chicken confit, diced potatoes, sweet yellow cherry tomatoes, fluffs of boiled egg yolk and the savory crunch of pistachio-laced goat cheese.

Shatter Grenache 2011 was another stand-out for me and diners I overheard complimenting the vintage. Concentrated but easy to drink, full with summer berries, this is one to have in home racks for comforting winter meals, perhaps a riff on the duck confit stroganoff with caramelized onions and portobello mushrooms in blackberry sauce The Fortunate Glass paired with the wine.

One of the things I love about The Fortunate Glass is its approachability. This is a serious wine bar with a light touch, as evidenced by the playful cola-braised pork butt Nelson served with the final wine, Hollywood and Vine Short Ends Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. It’s a big wine that needs a big love. All that plum, mocha, earth and spice found it in the fork-tender pork Nelson married to cremini mushrooms and super-buttery potato puree. Cherry cola demi-glace further sweetened the relationship.

Cola-braised pork butt.

Cola-braised pork butt.

The Fortunate Glass offers a lot of interesting wine, and sometimes beer, events. Each Tuesday, the wine bar hosts a free 6 to 8 p.m. tasting. Check for updates at The Fortunate Glass Facebook page.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 1

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

I had plans to eat at home last night — lentil and barley stew — until someone said malbec, smoked lardo, Bollinger and caviar.

A couple hours later I was on a Wilmington wine-tasting trail, hitting a free food and wine pairing featuring Altos Las Hormigas malbecs at Rx Restaurant and Bar and sophisticated sips and nibbles at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

On my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro food and cocktail tours, I often tell guests that they’ll find a free wine tasting in and around Wilmington just about every night of the week. Rx took the idea further, serving one- and two-bite noshes with Altos Las Hormigas wines.

Altos Las Hormigas is known for malbecs, and the winemakers’ obsession with scientifically decoding the soil secrets of terroir has produced tasty vintages at prices in the $10 range, a couple up to $20ish.

The evening’s star was Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Reserve 2011 — classic malbec berry notes yet silky and refined — but I leaned toward Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Terroir 2010. Displaying a bold nose and light, juicy berries, the wine feels both fireside and fancy. It’s sweetness was balanced by Rx chef/owner James Doss’ “duck confit grilled cheese” highlighting slightly salty duck with Chapel Hill Creamery’s Calvander cheese on fresh wheat bread made at the Rx sister restaurant Pembroke’s.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Much as I loved the malbecs, my favorite wine of the evening was the lesser-known Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Argentina 2012.

Bonarda grapes are usually purposed for wine blends or low-grade bulk wines, as the grapes produce big yields that provide color and fruitiness. Given interest and care by Altos Las Hormigas, the grapes resulted in Colonia Las Liebres’ soft, just sweet, fresh and light personality. The wine was so easy that I could imagine taking it to the beach in summer for a late-afternoon or evening picnic.

The bonarda works for people who think they won’t like red wine and for those who love reds. Consider it for upcoming Valentine’s Day and Easter dinners. I think it would be especially lovely with a glazed ham. In my favorite pairing of the night, Rx’s Doss put the bonarda with a ultra-thin slice of house smoked lardo atop a crescent of blood orange-marinated beet. Locally grown, organic Garden Cress was the garnish.

With thoughts of travel to Argentina in mind, I headed out to The Fortunate Glass Super Star pairing showcasing top wines and refined food. Check the menu below, which I’ll be posting about later today. For now, I’m off on another path — hunting down Brunswick stew for an upcoming story in Wrightsville Beach Magazine.

Super Star menu

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Just a few of Liz’s favorite 2013 food pictures!

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

When chefs collide, what deliciousness!

Poke at Tamashii.

Poke at Tamashii. (Photo courtesy of Tamashii)

Wilmington restaurants come and go, but some cooks can’t stay away. Chef Eric Gephart is one of them. He used to run a much-loved seafood restaurant named Buoy 32 at Wrightsville Beach. After Buoy 32 closed, Gephart helped open and run downtown’s Mixto (closed til spring 2014). Next, he headed to Morrisville, where Gephart remains lead instructor at the The Chefs Academy. Tonight, he’s back in Wilmington cooking with friends at great Wilmington restaurant that flies under the radar.

Tamashii is a Masonboro Loop Road spot whose chef/owner Mark Scharaga sources local ingredients and sustainable seafood for traditional and unusual sushi on a mostly Asian menu that steps elsewhere with ceviche, poke and tartare, as well as eclectic entrees that speak to the way Scharage defines the restaurant.

“Tamashii, is a word that originates in Japan. In the simplest form it means “Soul,” Scharaga says at Tamashii’s website. ”This is essential to our chefs’ vision for the restaurant. We make food that comes from the soul of our being and the soul of the ingredients we use.”

Evidence of that arrives tonight (Nov. 9, 2013) when Scharaga and Gephart join forces for an Evening of Culinary Exploration, a five-course meal based on their shared imaginings. Each selection will be paired with wine or sake.

Tamashii is on Masonboro Loop Road, near Navaho Trail.

Tamashii is on Masonboro Loop Road, near Navaho Trail.

Gephart promises to bring back some Buoy 32-style delights; Scharaga will be behind the sushi bar crafting special noshes. On the menu are Hawaiian albacore with wasabi tempura and sweet red tobiko and a pork belly dish with ginger, Thai peppers and sweet potato mash. Oyster ice cream has been mentioned, too!

Josh Burris, a close friend of Gephart’s and a longtime Mixto cook who is now part of the team at Aubriana’s, one of Wilmington’s top restaurants, joins Scharaga and Gephart for the event.

The five-course meal costs $75. To make reservations, purchase tickets online or call Tamashii at 910-228-5576. Find the restaurant at 4039 Masonboro Loop Road.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Local food, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants Leave a comment

A little wine, a lot of song

You can pair wine with food, but how do you pair wine with music? Rose with Pink Floyd? Blends with The Clash? Sparkling wine with “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”?

The Olive Cafe & Wine Bar owner Kymberlei DiNapoli will give musical matchings a go this afternoon when she co-hosts “Music Uncorked” on Wilmington radio station 98.3 FM, better known as The Penguin.

While The Penguin DJ Kim spins tunes by Tedeschi Trucks Band, DiNapoli will suggest sips for each song. I sampled one of the corks she’ll pop today, a Washington state Columbia Valley blend named The Ghost 413. Brooding, dark and rich, the mostly Cabernet Sauvignon blend, with some Merlot and Syrah seems perfect not only with Tedeschi Trucks’ Grammy Award-winning blues, but also a fine holiday dinner wine. So, have a notebook ready for some great wine tips on the show.

Hear “Music Uncorked” 1 to 2 p.m. today.

Find The Olive Cafe & Wine Bar at The Forum shopping center on Military Cutoff Road in Wilmington.

Posted on by lizbiro in lunch specials, Restaurants, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Meet your food and the people who care about it!

A small selection of the 350 cheeses, many made in North Carolina, that Southern Foods sources for restaurants.

A small selection of the 350 cheeses, many made in North Carolina, that Southern Foods sources for restaurants.

A visit to the Southern Foods show in Greensboro this week reminded me of the huge amount of delectable food that is grown and produced in North Carolina, much of it on display in downtown Wilmington this weekend for the second Food For Thought festival.

No surprise that at the Southern Foods show I saw some of the chefs participating in Food For Thought, a farm-to-table-themed fundraiser that benefits New Hanover County libraries. Before North Carolina was a nationally known foodie mecca,  Southern Foods, founded in the mid-1950s, was delivering top-quality food to professional chefs, and that hasn’t changed.

Cape Fear-area chefs and restaurant owners I saw clustered around tables featuring fine N.C. cheeses and charcuterie.

One chef, Bobby Zimmerman, was behind a table showing off homegrown produce in two dishes he prepared: green curry shiitake mushroom soup and caramelized Brussels sprouts with a creamy tofu sauce. Zimmerman was Landfall Country Club’s executive chef before he became a corporate executive chef for Goldsboro-based Pate-Dawson Company/Southern Foods. Today, Zimmerman helps restaurants develop menus, recipes and systems, but he’ll  be back in Wilmington Sunday for Food For Thought.

Homegrown ingredients and the Wilmington chefs who use them are the highlights of the grand Nov. 3 Food For Thought tasting event at Cape Fear Community College’s new Union Station, downtown at the corner of Front and Red Cross streets.

Food For Thought will be a “gala brunch” where guests sample small-plate dishes, meet local farmers and food purveyors and browse informational displays about how North Carolina food is grown and where to find it.

“The whole event is to celebrate farm-to-market,” said Pat Bell, New Hanover County Library Foundation president and a Food For Thought organizer.

Scheduled 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the $50-per-person Food For Thought is a fundraiser for the Cape Fear Community College culinary program and the New Hanover County Library.

Participating restaurants and chefs include Keith Rhodes of Catch, Charles Rousey of Hilton Wilmington Riverside, Tyson Amick of Aubriana’s, Brent Poteat of 22 North, Lee Grossman of Bento Box and Certified Master Chef Olivier Andreini of Landfall Country Club. Andreini took over the Landfall stoves when Zimmerman left.

Soon-to-open restaurants will be represented, as well, Bell said. On the list are downtown wine bistro Perkeo and uptown’s Pembroke’s, by the owners of downtown’s Rx, due to open possibly this weekend at The Forum.

Cape Fear Community College culinary school students will prepare and serve bites, as well.

The gathering will feature raffles for various prizes and food and cookbooks on the shelves at area libraries.

Tickets for kids age 12 and younger cost $25. Corporate sponsorships at the $250, $500 and $1,000 levels are available, too. Find tickets and information about sponsorships at New Hanover County Library branches.

This is the second Food for Thought, a biennial event first staged in 2011 at the county library near Landfall. “We wanted to involve the downtown as much as the uptown,” Bell said of the event’s venue this year.

 

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Food festivals, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Make cream puffs like a professional pastry chef

Who you calling a cream puff?

Delicate, airy and light as they are, those little round pastries that encapsulate cream are in no way weaklings. They’re among the most capable and dependable — and easy — elements of great cocktail and dinner parties, whether served as a savory or as a dessert.

Pate a choux filled with pastry cream for a classic cream puff.

Pate a choux filled with pastry cream for a classic cream puff.

I was reminded of this recently while helping out in the Hot Pink Cake Stand kitchen. Owner and chief pastry chef Jody Carmichael was preparing gougeres, pronounced “goo-ZHAIR” for a recent wine tasting at the downtown Wilmington bakery. The nibbles require the same dough used for cream puffs. It’s called “pate a choux,” pronounced “pat-a-shoo.” For gougeres, finely shredded Gruyere cheese is blended into the dough and sprinkled on top before baking.

Years ago, I read a book that described how a kitchen intern working in France was required to stir the pate a choux. In his memory, the task was difficult. No doubt, he faced a huge bowl. Home cooks needn’t panic at his experience. Stirring small batches takes little time and strength while still producing professional pastry chef results.

The process is simple.

Put butter and water, sometimes milk, into a saucepan. Heat until the butter melts. Stir in a near equal portion of all-purpose flour. Take the mixture off the heat and then add eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. The resulting dough is soft and silky. Drop or pipe spoonfuls onto a sheet pan and bake or freeze to bake off later.

Pate a choux recipes may call for small amounts of sugar. Mostly, the flavor is mild, allowing cooks to imagine all sorts of fillings, perhaps seafood salad, chocolate mousse or ice cream.

A 1970s-era Betty Crocker recipe box just like the one from my childhood. (Photo from http://wholeykale.blogspot.com/)

A 1970s-era Betty Crocker recipe box just like the one from my childhood. (Photo from http://wholeykale.blogspot.com/)

I feel in love with pate a choux as a child pulling recipes from a Betty Crocker recipe card box. One of my favorite recipes (because my mother liked it so much) was named Danish Pastry Puffs. Almond-flavored pate a choux gets spread atop a shortbread-like cookie crust and baked. Thin almond icing glazes the pastry and sprinkle of sliced almonds goes on top.

The pate a choux for this recipe became my go-to formula for cream puffs, which my mother loved filled with simple, sweet whipped cream and then completely covered with chocolate cream.

 

Danish Pastry Puffs

Pastry:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cold butter

2 tablespoons ice water

Topping:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup water

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs

Glaze:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 to 2 tablespoons warm water or milk

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 cup flour in medium bowl. Cut in 1/2 cup butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until particles are size of coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over mixture; toss with fork.

Gather pastry into a ball; divide in half. Pat each half into 12-by-3-inch rectangle, about 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
In 2-quart saucepan, heat 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup water to rolling boil; remove from heat. Quickly stir in almond extract and 1 cup flour. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Add eggs; beat until smooth.

Spread half of the topping over each rectangle.

Bake about 1 hour or until topping is crisp and brown; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely.

In medium bowl, mix all glaze ingredients except nuts until smooth and spreadable. Spread over top of pastry; sprinkle with nuts.

Makes 10 servings.

Source: Adapted from a recipe by Betty Crocker.

Posted on by lizbiro in Bakery, Brunch, Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Ice cream, Recipes, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Top winemakers show off vintages at special dinner

The Second Annual Wilmington Wine and Food Festival is months away, but the event’s first fund-raising wine dinner happens 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at Rx Restaurant and Bar.

A portion of the $75-ticket price benefits the May 2-4 festival at Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts, 503 Market St., festival organizers reported.

“This next festival is going to have even more food and wine, along with a few other events, to really showcase what makes this such a great foodie community,” key festival planner and Wilmington Wine owner Chrissy Absi Bonney said.

Rx chef/co-owner James Doss and team plan a multi-course menu to pair with four vintages from three top California winemakers: Arietta On The White Keys and Arietta Quartet, both by Screaming Eagle winemaker Andy Erickson; DeSante Old Vine sauvignon blanc by David DeSante, who also makes wines for Napa Valley’s Jaffe Estate; and Vineyard 7 & 8’s “7” cabernet sauvignon by Luc Morlet.

Each year, some proceeds from the Wilmington Wine and Food Festival benefit area non-profit organizations. The 2012 inaugural festival raised more than $3000 for Cape Fear River Watch and 1,000 People Who Care. Benefactors for 2014 will be Bellamy Mansion and Open Gate Domestic Violence Shelter.

Reservations are required to attend the wine dinner. Call Rx at 910-399-3080 or Wilmington Wine at 910-202-4749.

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Food festivals, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Wilmington food fest scene is cooking!

Wilmington food festivals are quickly gaining fans, convincing event organizers to start planning the next party as soon as the current one ends.

The inaugural Taste of Wrightsville Beach food and drink festival happened in a downpour on Oct. 27, 2012. Still, a few hundred people attended. Founders began talking about the following festival even before last year’s had ended. Key to discussions was finding an indoor/outdoor venue.

MarineMax boat dealer and service supplier hosts this year’s Taste of Wrightsville Beach on Oct. 12, according to the festival website.

Sixteen restaurants provided tastings at the 2012 event. As many are expected this year along with an equal number of beer or wines. Participants compete for a People’s Choice award as well as a Best in Show winner selected by a panel including culinary professionals.

Food and drink purveyors may still sign up to serve at Taste of Wrightsville Beach 2013. Tickets to attend are for sale online, too. The advance price, available until Oct. 5, is $50 and includes admission and one tasting from each food, beer and wine vendor. Additional full-pour drinks may be purchased at the event.

Tickets cost $75 after Oct. 5.

The first annual Wilmington Wine and Food Festival downtown last May also drew crowds.

The second annual festival is scheduled May 3 and 4 at Bellamy Mansion. Expect a grand wine event; champagne and beer brunch; cocktail contest; and VIP pig-pickin’ with a local restaurant barbecue sauce competition. Wine dinners featuring guest chefs working with area talent, wine tastings and other food and wine-related celebrations are planned in the days before the festival.

Watch for a Sept. 18 wine event that will kick off wine and food-related fundraisers scheduled to benefit festival development.

Posted on by lizbiro in barbecue, dinner specials, downtown Wilmington, Food festivals, Restaurants, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment