Macy’s Grilling Guru Competition hits Charlotte

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Macy’s Great American Grilling Guru Competition stopped into Charlotte last week, and I had the opportunity to watch the gurus get their grill on, onstage at Macy’s in South Park.

HERE’S THE SCOOP:  The competition launched back in Cat-Cora---Macys-South-Park-Charlott[1]April, and contestants had until May 3rd to submit their recipes.  On June 7th, 18 semi-finalists competed in Sizzle Showdowns at six locations across the country, judged by Macy’s Culinary Council Chefs, including Cat Cora and Stephanie Izard.   The winner of each semi-final showdown gets to compete in the finale in New York City on June 28th, and the finale winner gets $10,000 plus a trip to New York City to watch the 2015 Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks.  Awesome, right?

At the competition, I was shocked by the contestants’ calm demeanor onstage.  I expected a mad dash, but each contestant confidently worked through their recipes and finished early, submitting their final plates to Chef Cat Cora for judging.

The competing recipes were:

  • Sherri’s Grilled Thai Lamb Loin Chops
  • Josee’s Shrimp & Apricot Stuffed Grilled Pork Tenderloin
  • Andre’s Steak & Potato Sliders with Basil Gorgonzola Cream

Cat-Cora---Macys-South-Park-Charlott

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Viddlz Alertz {plus a sneak peek of J. Sam’s}

I have a few food obsessions.  Yes, besides my well-documented love of barbecue, there are some foods I simply cannot go without ordering.  Burrata.  Scallops.  Caramelized onion anything.  Housemade bread.  Bread pudding.  Bread.  We all have our trigger foods.  How cool would it be to get an automatic alert any time one of the foods you’re craving was offered by a imagerestaurant?  Blackberry cobbler, softshell crab, meatloaf.  Whatever!  That would cut out, like, hours of food research a week.  Am I right?  That’s why I’m super excited about a new concept in Charlotte called Viddlz Alertz.  It’s an online tool that lets you manage your cravings by alerting you when your particular food obession is offered in the area.  Plus, the Alertz system displays daily drink and food specials from restaurants and bars you follow (you can also get daily email updates with this info), and the Viddlz app is expected to be rolled out later this month.

J Sams Charlotte Scallops (more…)

Kale Caesar Salad with Pan-Seared Shrimp

Back in 2010, I made a personal vow to focus on healthy eating (read all about it here). This was a challenge for me, the girl who considers bread, brie, and wine a square meal, so I started with small things, like packing a homemade lunch each day, instead of relying on Lean Cuisines and fast food. Slowly, I established a routine of making healthy choices whenever I was the one in control of the preparation (well, MOST of the time, anyway), which lets me enjoy eating at restaurants without worrying quite so much about all the salt and the butter and delightful carbohydrates I’m consuming.

One of my healthy eating goals for 2014 is to incorporate more kale into my diet, as part of the Kale Up campaign.  Kale is a green I’ve shied away from in the past, other than occasionally tossing a few handfuls into a nice bean soup. Kale is a very hearty green — you don’t have to worry about it going limp or getting soggy. I often find kale salads are even better when the kale has a bit of time to “marinate” in the dressing.

kale Caesar salad with shrimp
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Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Crumbled Goat Cheese and Blistered Tomatoes {recipe}

Ohhhh pork.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

Barbecue.

Tenderloin.

Barbecue.

Barbecue.

Wait.  Did I mention barbecue?

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Crumbled Goat Cheese and Blistered Tomatoes 4

Seriously, though.  Pork tenderloin is a super simple, oober delicious and versatile cut of meat.  My all-time favorite tenderloin recipe is my Sweet Chili Pork Tenderloin.  Roasting the pork in the oven is so simple (arguably fool-proof), I decided to use the same approach for this recipe, which utilizes some of those sweet summer tomatoes starting to pop up in the markets.

This is the first of five pork recipes I’ll be creating for the North Carolina Pork Council Blogging Network in 2014.  Did you even know there was such a thing?  Admittedly, I did not, but when the Pork Council comes a knockin on your inbox,  you say YES, PLEASE.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Crumbled Goat Cheese and Blistered Tomatoes
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Tangy Tomato Bourbon BBQ Sauce {recipe}

My passion for barbecue was discovered late in life, at the ripe age of 26, at the very same time and the very same instant I discovered my soulmate of the meat variety.  PORK.  Thank you Charlotte, for introducing this Ohio girl to your precious piggy bounty, abundant sauces, and deep-rooted opinions on all things ‘cue.

Though it greatly annoys  me when a recipes calls for two cups of “your favorite barbecue sauce,” I’ve never attempted to make my own before now.  It’s something I’ve left to the professionals (aka Midwood Smokehouse, my favorite barbecue joint in town).  I favor BBQ sauces that are heavy on the vinegar (that’s eastern NC style for you BBQ neophytes), but I’m also coming around to the sweeter, ketchup-based sauces.  So this recipe, my first ever BBQ sauce, is a mash-up of the two, a combo that’s united with a heavy hand of Four Roses Bourbon.  Bourbon and barbecue?  Puh-lease.  tangy tomato bourbon barbecue
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Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse–Davidson, NC {restaurant review}

Flatiron Davidson NC

I think it’s safe to say I dine at restaurants more often than the average eater, that is to say A LOT.  I impose mandatory splitsies on my dining companions, which means everyone gets to try everyone’s food, so it’s normal for me to sample several plates during a single meal.  This is good for obvious reasons (though my pants may disagree), but trying lots of different things means you’ll inevitably end up with a dish or two that just don’t strike your fancy–something you wouldn’t order again or that you wouldn’t recommend to a friend.  Every once in a while, I’ll find myself eating an AMAZING appetizer, and feel my apprehension grow as I worry the remainder of the meal won’t live up to the starter.

This is precisely how I felt when I dined at Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse for the first time.  I started with a glass of Malbec and their fried green Napoleon:  salty fried green tomatoes, sautéed spinach, sweet bits of corn, and bacon atop a dollop of warm, creamy goat cheese (a hearty serving for a mere $8).

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Whole Grain Sampling Day 2014 {giveaway}

Happy Whole Grain Sampling Day!  Yes, it’s that time of year again (the first Wednesday in April) when we all take a moment to appreciate the chewy, nutty, heart-healthy deliciousness that is the whole grain.

WGSD_logo14dayOver the years, I’ve struggled with blood sugar issues (mostly low sugar crashes) and through trial and error, I’ve found my body functions at its best with balanced meals, meaning protein, fat, AND carbohydrates.  My carboholism is well documented, but even I can admit not all carbs are created equal.  That’s where whole grains, those slow-digesting, complex-carbohydrates, come into play.

Wondering what the heck a whole grain is?  Check out my post from last year’s Whole Grain Sampling Day:  “So, what’s a whole grain anyway?”

Incorporating whole grains into your diet is easy.  I like to cook a big batch of steel-cut oats on Sunday, and dish it out into single-serve portions for whole-grain grab-and-go breakfasts throughout the week.  Another quick option is tossing cooked grains on top of your lunch-time salad (quinoa is my salad-topping grain of choice).

grain salad

MORE whole grain packed recipes to try:

Jambalaya from ferventfoodie.com

jambalaya
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120 Calorie Cheddar-Kale Scones {recipe}

So, kale.  It gets lots of buzz in the health food world, and it should.  It’s loaded with calcium, vitamins A, C, and K, anti-cancer carotenoids and flavonoids, and it’s been shown to help lower cholesterol.  But, uh, it’s kale, and people aren’t always sure what the heck to do with it.  The good news is the options are vast:  make a salad with a warm vinaigrette, add a bagful to soup or stew, wilt it down with garlic and serve it as a side , throw it in your frittata or fruit smoothie (seriously!), add it to pasta, or make a kale and caramelized onion grilled cheese, if you please.  

A few weeks back, I got an email asking me to make my 2014 the year to KALE UP.  I’m down for healthy food challenges, so I checked out the KALE UP site, to see what this campaign was all about.  Their first blog post introduces kale as your “new friend with benefits” and explains the year to “kale up” means finding easy ways to get kale in your daily life.

I suggest we all start with these 120 calorie savory cheddar-kale scones–they’re a tasty way to score some kale points for the day.

Cheddar-Kale Scones 4

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Restaurant Roundup: Elwood’s, Chuy’s, Urban Sip {Charlotte, NC}

ELWOODS BARBECUE & BURGER BAR

Invite me to brunch, and you’ll get a look.  When I ask you “what time” ELWOODS BBQwith furrowed eyebrows, it’s because I’m trying to determine whether you’re inviting me to have 10am brunch (AKA breakfast) or 12pm brunch (AKAlunch).  I don’t do brunch.  I love breakfast and I love lunch.  Why consolidate the eating joy into one meal?

Enter Elwoods Barbecue & Burger Bar‘s new brunch menu.  Needless to say, I ate my words.  Brunch vendetta be gone.  How could I say no knowing their juicy brisket makes an appearance in several of the menu items?  Exactly.  You can get straight-up brisket and eggs if you’d like, but if we’re doing brunch, might as well get a little fancy and go with my top pick:  the brisket BBQ Benedict with poached eggs and grilled tomatoes nestled on English muffin halves and topped with their signature red sauce.  It made a brunch believer out of me.Elwoods Brisket Benedict

If you’re not in the mood for BBQ (blasphemy!), their take on chicken and waffles, with buttermilk fried chicken tenders, a homestyle waffle, and honey maple syrup is a solid choice.  They’ve also got French toast make with thick-cut Texas toast, and you can even get it stuffed with peanut butter and banana or strawberry and cream cheese. Elwoods BBQ waffles

For you do-it-yourselfers, there’s a build-your-own breakfast sandwich, with your choice of bacon, sausage, pulled pork, or pulled chicken, plus an egg, choice of cheese, and bread, PLUS a self-serve Bloody Mary bar.  Homemade, house-made, made-from-scratch–you can use these terms to describe practically everything on the menu, including the breakfast sausage.  I snarfed down my whole side of their hashbrowns–they’re the chunky, chopped potato kind (not the shoestring kind, thank god), and they serve ’em up extra crispy.

Did I mention $10 bottomless mimosas?  Who wants to meet me for brunch this weekend?

Check out my review of the full Elwood’s menu here.
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Tupelo Honey Cafe — Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

I’ve never been to Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville.  I’ve heard about it, walked by it, and stalked the menu, but I’ve never been in its doors or dined at its tables.  People RAVE about the place.  It’s where everyone who visits Asheville wants to go.  I’ve even heard it said that Tupelo Honey Cafe is Asheville, meaning Appalachian, southern, and a smidge hippy (at least from this Yankee outsider’s perspective).

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Tupelo Honey opened back in 2000, and over the past few years they’ve expanded to become a seven-store regional restaurant empire, the newest location of which is in Charlotte. Tupelo’s Charlotte location opened in the space previously occupied by Pewter Rose Bistro, which closed last year.  Pewter Rose had great ambiance; it was romantic and cozy with the low-strung lights, origami birds, and hanging plants–it felt like a grownup tree house.  Tupelo’s renovations on the space retained much of the building’s character — high ceilings, brick walls, and wood detailing everywhere.  They reconfigured the seating layout, allowing for many more tables and a large bar area, but at the sacrifice of Pewter Rose’s romance factor.

tupelo interior 2tupelo interior

tupelo open kitchen

Tupelo’s focus on local sourcing was a cornerstone of their success in Asheville.  Even with the restaurant’s recent expansion, they’re sourcing goods regionally (via a company that aggregates foods from farms in each restaurant’s region), and using those local products to shed new light on many old-time, comfort classics.  There are grits made with goat cheese, ribeye served with bordelaise (a French wine sauce), and crab cakes with lemon cherry pepper aioli.  At Tupelo Honey Cafe, every meal starts with a complimentary basket of their famous biscuits, served hot with a side of blueberry preserves and honey (surprisingly, I preferred the honey).

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