Culinary Goodness from Fire in the City

19 Aug

It was a great Fire in the City dinner with some spectacular food created by Chefs Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant and Luca Annunziata of Passion8 Bistro. The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series kicked off its first battle last night, and below are photos of the six courses with their descriptions. The secret ingredients were Eggs and Molasses.

The overwhelming favorite dish by diners was course 4! Surprising to me was Heirloom’s dessert (course 5) getting slightly edged out by Passion8’s (course 6). Must be the chocolate sweet-tooth in me coming out. Congratulations to both chefs and their teams on a great night, and to Chef Luca Annunziata on the win!
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Course 1 – Maple Leaf Farms Duck Sausage Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Scotch Egg, Petite Herb Salad, Quick Dill Pickle, Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Duck Jus – by Heirloom Restaurant

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Course 2 – Ponzu Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Glazed Tuna, Soft Boiled Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Egg, Sesame Sorghum Duck Yolk, Roasted Beets, Radish Chervil Lemongrass Coulis, Cucumber, Orange Dust – by Passion8

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Course 3 – Woody &Wilcox Birdbrain Farms Ostrich Egg Fried Flounder, 3-Times Cooked Potato Chips, Brussels Slaw, Ostrich Egg Sauce Gribiche – by Heirloom Restaurant

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Course 4 – Raviolo a la Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Yolk, Ostrich Egg Carbona, Crispy Oyster Mushroom, Roasted Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Party Pan Squash, Charred Corn – by Passion8

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Course 5 – Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Cake, Sorghum Dark Chocolate Cremeux, Sorghum Mousse, Sorghum Raspberry Caramel, Raspberry Anglaise, Vanilla Tuille – by Heirloom Restaurant

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Course 6 – Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses & Milk Chocolate Caramel Cup, Citrus Curd, Sorghum Madeline, Blackberry and Pom – by Passion8

Fire In The City Kicks Off Tonight!

18 Aug

compdiningIn just a few hours, we’ll be sitting down to the first of the Fire In The City dates of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series for 2014 at Bonterra Wine Room. For those not familiar with the event, think Iron Chef, pitting two local chefs, a secret NC-sourced ingredient, and six courses to wow the dining room while making sure to incorporate the ingredient in each course. Attendees vote for their favorite of each course, while not knowing which chef came up with either creation. In the end, scores are tabulated and the chef with the highest score is crowned the winner for the night.

Now, do that over eight preliminary rounds, and another seven nights of the winners battling each other, and you get the winner of Fire In The City. Similar events take place in Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro, and Raleigh throughout the year. In the Fall, winners from all five cities will meet in Raleigh to compete against each other in a champions round.

Tonight, we’ll see Luca Annunziata from Passion8 take on Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant. We’re excited to see the unique creations that are sure to come from these two talented chefs. If you can make a future competition, it is well worth your time!

Not Your Dad’s Uptown Charlotte

17 Jun View from BB&T Park
View from BB&T Park

View from BB&T Park

Let me apologize to Uptown Charlotte. You’ve been neglected, and I won’t let it happen again. For some time, Christy and I rarely found ourselves traveling to Uptown on the weekends. With so many other areas of the city booming (South End, Plaza Midwood, & NoDa to name a few), it was easy to turn a blind eye to the tall buildings and all the city has to offer. Now it seems like we can’t get enough. Over the last month, Uptown seems like a second home…and we can’t wait to get back soon. Here are some highlights:

Van Gogh Alive @ Discovery Place – A really unique and powerful exhibit about Vincent Van Gogh that highlighted both his art and writing. We weren’t expecting to have such an emotional response from the display, but a focus on Van Gogh’s own mental health coupled with the powerful backdrop of music and imagery left us in awe. I only wish we mentioned this sooner, as the exhibit has come to an end.

The Asbury – Located in The Dunhill Hotel, The Asbury offers a unique take on Southern food. The kitchen uses local and regional ingredients to create visually stunning dishes that are equally delicious.

Charlotte Knights Baseball – There isn’t a better view of the Charlotte skyline than when you’re sitting in BB&T Ballpark during a Charlotte Knights game. I’ve actually been twice in the last four weeks, and each time was equally fun! Some outstanding food is available at the park, including Queen City Q and Whisky River. Craft beer fans have plenty of options as well, including local favorites Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing. Regional craft brewers with beer options include Natty Greene’s and Foothills. You don’t have to be a fan of baseball to go to a game. Honestly, I can’t even tell you who won either game. If you plan on going though, make sure you buy your tickets well in advance. The Knights are leading the league in attendance and sellouts are frequent.

Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment @ Mint Museum – The exhibition covers 11 women photographers and their assignments while working for National Geographic. Each presents a unique story through the lens of their camera. A pretty inspiring collection of photographs that aren’t only visually stunning, but showcase the often dangerous lengths assignment photographers go to get a story.

5Church Restaurant – 5Church feels like it belongs in a bigger city like New York or Chicago. Attention to detail runs rampant in both decor and the food. I’d argue it is probably the most popular restaurant in the city. If you go, be sure to look up. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is handwritten in its entirety across the restaurant’s ceiling. On this trip, we enjoyed the Artisan Cheese Plate, Black Bean Hummus, Grilled C.A.B. Hanger Steak, and Carolina Catfish. Dessert made us pucker with the “Lemon Tart” Pistachio Cookie & Pomegranate Sorbet.

Charlotte Symphony Summer Pops @ Romare Bearden Park – Another new addition to the Uptown landscape is Romare Bearden Park. The open area was the perfect setting for the Charlotte Symphony’s first live concert in Uptown in 10 years. Food trucks were on hand to feed the masses before the free concert. The symphony played “Music of the Movies” and included:

  • Highlights from Jurassic Park
  • Suite from Gladiator
  • Theme from Schindler’s List
  • Star Trek: Into Darkness
  • Themes from 007
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • Suite from Titanic
  • Imperial March from Star Wars

If you aren’t finding something to do in Charlotte, there really is no excuse. In addition to all we did in the last month, SpeedStreet and Taste of Charlotte were also taking place in Uptown. Navigating the city isn’t hard (except when festivals close down streets). If city parking seems difficult, park further out from the city and take the Lynx Light Rail into town.

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Something Old & New

17 Apr

So we’ve been to some really great places recently and just wanted to highlight two that we love.

Rooster’s Wood Fired Kitchen (Southpark)

roostersRooster’s isn’t new, and it certainly wasn’t our first visit…but it had been some time since we were last there. It never really disappoints, which is why it is almost always busy no matter the time of day. The hickory wood fired-ovens fill the restaurant with a great smoked aroma that instantly makes you hungry.

Anyone who enjoys southern cuisine should drop everything they’re doing and head to Rooster’s immediately.

Our suggestion is to order a few of the vegetable sides for the table (they’re all large enough to share). We started with fried okra, skillet fried corn, and fire roasted beets. Fried okra is quickly becoming a favorite thing for me. Most I’ve had is heavy on the batter and completely overpowers the okra itself. Rooster’s batter is really light and flaky and seems to barely hang onto the okra, allowing you to really taste the hard-to-describe flavor of the vegetable. You won’t be disappointed with the corn or beets either. I’ve never been a fan of beets, but Rooster’s is making me a believer.

I ordered fried oysters and the arugula salad with chevre, and Harmony Ridge Farm apples for my entree. I was worried the oysters wouldn’t be enough because it came from the antipasti portion of the menu. I was pleasantly surprised when 6-8 large, meaty oysters were presented in front of me. A more firm batter than the aforementioned fried okra made for a nice crunch that complemented the soft of the oyster itself.

Christy’s hangar steak was cooked perfectly and really tender. A friend ordered the boneless beef short rib, which piqued my interest, and will likely be on my list for a future visit. Looking forward to coming back soon.

Pint Central (Plaza Midwood)

pint-central-logoWow…we really like this place. Our visit was mid-day on a Saturday during March Madness, just as the weather was getting warmer. We got our first taste of NoDa Brewing’s CAVU here (very highly recommended). Pint Central has 28 drafts and over 50 bottles of craft beer available.

First impression – The place feels cared for…which after talking with one of the owners, Carlos, is absolutely validated. He came to our table and introduced himself (something that should happen everywhere, but never does). He mentioned they did most of the work themselves, including building the bar and having his mom design the tables.

pint-centralCarlos’ brother is responsible for the menu. The food isn’t your typical bar fare. The empanadas were some of the best we’ve had, with a light, croissant-like crust that almost had us order another round. The garlic parmesan fries were a great blend of flavors piled high on curly fries (who doesn’t love a curly fry?). Other highlights were the eggplant dip and Brussels sprouts.  I look forward to trying the avocado fries and caprese stack on a future visit.

Just a great experience all around. If you’re looking for a place to hang out, give Pint Central a visit. With the weather warming up, they have a really nice patio that’s sure to get busy as more people discover it’s there.

December was a Blur – Raleigh, Savannah, & The Carolina Chocolate Drops…

1 Mar

Every year the month of December shoots us off into a whirlwind of activities that never seems to settle down until well into the new year. December 2013 did not disappoint…and I sit back (now in March) in amazement at all we’ve done in the last 3 months. Here are the highlights (in several posts) – of all places and events that we’d recommend to anyone who has the chance to experience them – just maybe not crammed into such a short period of time.

Raleigh Birthday Weekend | Dec 8-9th

With birthdays only two days apart, and a great friend’s (Adara) birthday being another two days away, we always try to celebrate together. This time it was a trip to Raleigh for the weekend. We started the day at Busy Bee Cafe for a beer and then headed over to the Raleigh Times Bar for some lunch and continued drinking. Pulled pork nachos were recommended by foodie friend, Kristen Baughman, who knows a lot about all things food and drink in North Carolina (check out her blog Gadabout Food). We chose right! Fresh jalapeno sitting on layers of chips, cheese, and pulled pork – what’s not to love?

Next, a visit to Crank Arm Brewing for a flight of beer and a round of Cards Against Humanity got us even more in the birthday spirit. A couple doors down is Videri Chocolate Factory – try some free samples and then pick up a bar or two for the ride home. A short cab ride to Stanbury for dinner – wow….Cheese plate, Crispy Pig Head, Fried Oysters, and a homemade pop-tart dessert. Go there now!

We finished the night at Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co…Rose Gose and Next Best In Show Saison were wonderful. When we drink…we eat. Our 2nd dinner was a slice of the “Most Outgoing” pizza (local mushrooms, caramelized onion, fresh arugula, brie, mozzarella blend, tomato sauce). The trip really opened our eyes to how great a city Raleigh is, especially if you like to eat and drink. At every turn, there seemed to be another place we wanted to try. Guess we’ll just have to make a return trip soon.

Carolina Chocolate Drops @ Neighborhood Theatre | Dec. 14th

If you haven’t seen or heard the Carolina Chocolate Drops…stop reading and go listen to them. The Grammy award-winning group was mentioned in Rolling Stone Magazine…”The Carolina Chocolate Drops are…revisiting, with a joyful vengeance, black string-band and jug-band music of the Twenties and Thirties—the dirt-floor dance electricity of the Mississippi Sheiks and Cannon’s Jug Stompers.

The show happened to be one of the last two performances for founding member Dom Flemons, who has ventured out on a solo career. While hearing their album is enjoyable, they’re best heard live. The classically-trained voice of Rhiannon Giddens is one to be heard, and could probably stand on its own without the use of a microphone. Add in the musicality of the entire group, and you’re sure to witness a unique concert experience that should be the norm, but unfortunately is rare these days.

Cornbread and butterbeans and you across the table…

Brews+Bards Pop-Up Meetup: Chickspeare @ Actor’s Theatre | Dec 20th

Back in October we co-founded Brews+Bards, a social meetup group centered around craft beer and local theatre. So when Chickspeare and Actor’s Theatre put on a production of “Twelfth Night” with NoDa Brewing on-hand serving up beer, it was a no-brainer for us to attend. Head Brewer Chad Henderson randalled Coco Loco through cherries and vanilla – a must try if you ever have the chance. The “chicks” of Chickspeare put on a great, and very funny show, and was the perfect primer for the upcoming Christmas vacation.

Roadtrip to Savannah, Georgia | Dec 22-24th

Because our jobs keep us pretty busy throughout the year, the last two weeks of the year are usually the only time we can manage to get time off together. So once every couple of years we forego a trip to Florida to visit family, and try to get away (just the two of us). Savannah was our trip this past December. We really love the city, as there is so much to see and do, if you like walking!

Had a great lunch at Crystal Beer Parlor (CBP), a place that’s been around since 1933, making it Savannah’s second oldest restaurant (not sure who beat ‘em out). When in Savannah, you have to try the she-crab soup, and CBP was so good. They have a nice beer list, including a section called “Beer of our Fathers” with the likes of Dixie, Mickey’s, and Genesee. We opted for the Gangway IPA by Red Hare.

A walk around Forsyth Park got us thirsty for another beer. After checking into our room at the East Bay Inn, we headed down to River Street. There we found Dub’s Pub at the end closest to the bridge. A couple of beers by River Dog Brewing Company (IPA & Chocolate Rye Porter) and an Iron Lion Pale Ale by Southbound, and we were ready for dinner at 22 Square (a Farm-to-Fork restaurant) located in the ANDAZ Hilton Hyatt. A good, but very quiet (we were the only ones in the restaurant) dinner set us up for the Haunted Pub Crawl that took us to 5 bars with entertaining ghost stories.

The following day, we walked around a lot of the squares in Savannah before touring the Mercer Williams House (made famous in the book/movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil“). I wasn’t sure if the tour would be worthwhile, but I was really impressed. The owner, Jim Williams, was in the antiques business, and had quite a collection of unique items throughout the house spanning centuries. Afterwards, we had a great lunch at The Public Kitchen and we were off exploring some more of the city.

Rain tried to wash us out, but we only had to face a light drizzle by the time we headed to B. Matthews Eatery for dinner. While often mentioned for brunch, the dinner menu looked amazing. We opted for a charcuterie plate, which the staff was happy to custom-combine a mix of meats and cheeses for us. I think it was my favorite bite of the trip.

Afterwards, we walked the block to Abe’s on Lincoln. I think we’ve mentioned it before, but if not, Abe’s is one of our favorite places in Savannah. It seems to be more of a neighborhood bar for locals, with the occasional tourists (us) wandering in. The dimly-lit tavern has some nice craft beer options, friendly patrons and bartender, and lots of stories from everyone who walks into the place…oh and a jukebox too!

The weather prevented us from venturing too far from the area around our hotel. We finished the evening at Planter’s Tavern, which is located under the very popular Olde Pink House restaurant. While we’ve never been upstairs for dinner, on a previous trip to Savannah we had dinner at the Tavern, which offers the same menu in a more casual setting. On this particular trip, we were so full from eating all day that we shared a scallop dish. The bonus of the night was the old woman playing piano in the corner. She was belting out jazz and looked to be someone who’d have a lot of stories if you could get her away from the piano.

The next day we were in search for fresh muffaletta bread, which we were going to take home with us for Christmas. Turns out you have to order it ahead of time, so no one had anything that worked, but we did pick up some desserts from Back in the Day Bakery. One extra bonus was finding a liquor store that stocked Westbrook & Cigar City beer, which we can’t yet get in Charlotte. We escaped the city with a trunk full of good beer, a box of desserts, and some great memories!

As you can see, it was a busy few weeks. I’ll stop here – as we had more adventures, but I’m sure you’re tired of reading this already long post. We would love to know your favorite places to visit when you’re in these cities. Please leave comments below, as we love to discover all that’s great in the cities and towns around us! Thanks for reading.

Eat ALL the Food!

8 Feb

Three months ago, Jason and I started going to the gym. During our entire relationship, we’ve never been the type to be attracted to working out – then one day, we just decided to do it.  We walked into our local Fitness Connection, got a quick tour of the facility, then ponied up the money to join.  I’m happy with our decision, and except for a brief time off last month due to us both getting sick, we’ve been pretty faithful to our workout schedule.

Without a doubt, one of the toughest things about our newly acquired commitment to not being couch potatoes is planning meals around working out.  I’ve waxed poetic about the therapeutic value of cooking before, but after spending an hour and a half getting sweaty and stinky, neither of us has much energy to devote to making a meal.

Eating a bowl of cereal for dinner isn’t an option.  Our gym sits on Hwy. 74 right behind a Cook-Out Restaurant and a Hardees, and though there’s nothing about either of these fast food messes that is attractive to us, the smell gets us every time.  My god, all I want is some fries when we leave the gym.eat-all-the-food

By the time we get home, we’re ready to EAT. Now that I think about it, one of the reasons we probably held off from going to the gym for so long was because I was worried about how we’d find a way to cook around it. A quick Google search of what to eat after a workout yielded nothing that looked appetizing.  Pinterest was equally uninspiring.  Squeezing a packet of tuna onto a spinach salad with a little bit of lemon juice for dressing sounds awful any day of the week, but especially after having just killed it at the gym.  What’s someone who loves food to do?

It’s ironic that we spent years refining our cooking skills to prevent wastefulness and just make enough food for two; now we’re on the hunt for recipes that are healthy, tasty, and yield enough to be used later in the week.  Here are some of our favorite recipes to double-up with.  We make no promises as to their nutritional value other than to say they’re as “clean” as we can make them.  This isn’t diet food, but it’s also not Hardees.

We’ve also got some recipes we can make that don’t require us to stand on shaky, exhausted legs to constantly stir or monitor. These also require a minimum of chopping because let’s face it, neither of us have good knife skills after an “arms” night.

  • Picante Chicken from Allrecipes.com – you throw some chicken in a pot, put some salsa on it. Cook a little rice and a can of beans and you’re all set.  Also good with avocados and salsa on the side, or a green salad.
  • Asian Steak Salad with Mango from Real Simple – use leftover steak or beef and this salad is surprisingly light, filling, and easy to make.
  • Beef and Veggie Stew from Betty Crocker – this comes together quickly. We use the lowest sodium broth we can find, and also add some fresh celery and onion to the frozen veggies. Even with a few mintues of extra prep work, it still only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish.
  • One-Pan Pasta from Martha Stewart – this recipe is genius and delicious. Dump your ingredients in a pot and then rest your weary legs while you let the stove do all the work.

Giving thanks…

27 Nov

pass outOur house stinks right now.  It stinks in a delicious way, but it definitely stinks.  You see, I decided to get started on Thanksgiving food prep today, even though Jason and I are only going to be a party of two tomorrow, and I failed to predict the rather odd olfactory juxtaposition that would result from boiling Brussels sprouts while baking a cheesecake.  Thankfully, both of those tasks are now over; I just popped some garlic in the oven to roast for tomorrow’s mashed potatoes – so there’s hope for our home to smell good yet.

We didn’t plan to spend Thanksgiving on our own, but my parents visited in October, and Jason’s parents came up only a few weeks ago.  Neither set of parents were eager to rush back up to Charlotte so soon, especially on one of the worst travel weekends in the year.  And Jason and I aren’t enthusiastic about the four-day dash from North Carolina to Florida to spend Thanksgiving at two different houses.

So we’re on our own.  You’d think that we wouldn’t want to go through all the trouble of making Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us, but here’s a big secret – I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  And Jason loves turkey leftovers.  We learned just how much we love these things last year when the timing of Thanksgiving fell perfectly in line with the timing of some kitchen renovations.  Our kitchen was unusable for cooking anything more substantial than a grilled cheese sandwich, so we opted to eat Thanksgiving dinner at The Liberty.  It was a great decision, and the food was delicious and the dessert bar was awesome – but it wasn’t the same.

As crazy as it sounds, and as much as I love eating Thanksgiving food – my favorite part of this holiday is the cooking.  It’s spending time in the kitchen with my husband, chopping vegetables, sautéing mirepoix, sipping pinot noir, and dancing to music.

This time of year, everyone’s posting lists of things they’re thankful for on social media.  Ironically, most people don’t wax poetic about all the material things the have, even though lately it seems like Thanksgiving is synonymous with Black Friday and buying stuff.  It’s the simple things that we’re most grateful for – the love of our family and friends, having a roof over our heads, our health.  My Thanksgiving wish is that we can keep our focus on this – the world would be a much happier place.

So even though I’m disappointed I won’t be seeing our families this Thanksgiving, I’m still incredibly grateful. And I’m happy.

I’m just going to leave this here…food for thought for all those days that aren’t Thanksgiving :)

Gratitude

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