December 19, 2012

Pork Posole & Tarte Tatin

It's hard to narrow it down, but one of my favorite dishes from culinary school I learned in International Cuisine on the day we studied Mexico.  A super flavorful stew called posole [Pah-ZOH-Lay].  Basically, a hearty cut of meat is slow-cooked in its own broth with lots of aromatic vegetables, chiles, herbs and spices until it falls off the bone.  You pull the meat out, shred it, and add it back in to finish it off.

My favorite part of the stew (aside from the multiple hours of developed flavor) is the slight bite you get from the tender nuggets of hominy added at the end - dried kernels of corn which have been soaked in lye (a solution that aids in preservation).  This hominy is not to be confused with the South's version of a dish with the same name, which refers to cooked grits.

It's a great stew for a cold--or in this part of the country right now--cool winter night, particularly when you've got a little extra time on your hands to prepare it.  The stew is a meal in itself, especially when topped with all the traditional garnishes which can include shredded cabbage or lettuce, fresh jalapeno, raw onion, fresh avocado or fried tortilla strips among other things.  I chose to top ours with sliced radish, chopped cilantro and sour cream.

On this particular night, we transitioned from Mexico to France for dessert and tried something I've wanted to replicate at home since I finished school - a traditional Tarte Tatin.  aka...heaven on a plate.

The story of the Tarte Tatin has many variations, but the one I like to believe is that it was created by accident by the Tatin sisters in the hotel they owned just south of Paris in the late 1800's.  The intention was to make a traditional apple pie, but for one reason or another, it ended up an upside down, much more delicious version.  Their guests raved over this newly-discovered (accidental) pastry and the rest is history.

It's actually a pretty simple and easy dish to make, but it takes a couple practices to perfect it.  It is easy to burn the caramel sauce if you're not paying attention.  But, it makes a beautiful presentation to impress your guests...which will be overshadowed upon their first bite as the tart, sweet and salty flavors completely blow them away.

November 30, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup and Hot Toddies

Last night, Stuart and I decorated our tree!  And what would tree decorating be without hot toddies and soup?  The hot toddies were a recipe I found from Alton Brown, but for the soup, I decided to use up some sweet potatoes I had on hand.  

Roasting the sweet potatoes added a natural sweetness from the caramelization, but not too much to make it overwhelming.  This one is easy, but takes a little time to make it right...if you're willing to put in the extra steps of straining and reheating, you'll be thankful.  It produces a perfectly smooth and velvety texture.

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup
Makes about 2 quarts (enough to feed 6-8 people)

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and 1” dice
2 T. olive oil, divided
salt and pepper to season
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
½ bulb of fennel, diced
¼ c. bourbon (I used Makers Mark)
5 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 c. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375. Spread sweet potatoes out on a sheet pan, drizzle with 1 ½ T. olive oil and add salt and pepper, mix to coat. Roast until tender, about 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking time. Be careful not to brown them too much, you want a little color but don't want them to crisp up. If this starts to happen, turn oven down to 350. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Puree sweet potatoes in a food processor and set aside.

Heat a large sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add remaining ½ T. olive oil and onions, carrots, celery and fennel. Cook until onions are translucent, and the vegetables start to form brown bits on the bottom of the pan, about 10-15 minutes. Deglaze pan with bourbon, making sure to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and the reserved sweet potato. Break up the sweet potato as much as you can with a spoon, it will continue to break up as the soup heats back up. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon, coriander and nutmeg, and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After soup has simmered for 30 minutes, puree in batches in a food processor. It is optional at this point to strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any bits that did not get pureed. It makes for a much smoother consistency. After pureeing (and straining, if desired), add soup back to the pot which has been wiped clean. Add the cream and bring to a boil then reduce to low. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

November 28, 2012

A New Adventure

I'm done!!!!!

It's been an exciting, stressful, adventurous, grueling, amazing year, but I am officially a culinary school graduate.  [brief pause for applause]  Annnnndddd cue the question everyone wants to know...

...Now what?

Great question.  And I have an answer.  I'm so excited to introduce my new business to the blogging world.  Blogging world, meet prep!

Prep offers many services including in-home cooking parties and classes, cooking demonstrations, team-building events and private dinners.  I have so many ideas that it's hard to know where to focus, but it's encouraging and exciting to have so much support from friends and family.

So, thanks to everyone for all their positive words over the past year. I cannot wait to see what this next year will bring.  I know it will have its share of successes and challenges, but I'm so thankful for the opportunity to follow my passion, and I welcome the adventure!

October 8, 2012

Culinary School Update

Here's a quick update of all the things I've been up to so far in my last semester at school.  Turns out, things get pretty fun sophomore year!

Garde Manger (cold foods and salads)

Smoked Turkey and Blue Cheese Canape garnished with Dried Apple

Smoked Turkey Canape with Shallots and Walnuts

Smoked Chicken Canape on Tortilla Chip with Spiced Crema, Cilantro and Olive

Our group's platter presentation for the Grand Buffet

Ice carving! (It's a fish)

Marinated Mozzarella with an Olive and Arugula Salad

Advanced Patisserie (plated desserts)

Sabayon Chocolate Mousse, Strawberry Coulis, Tuile and Whipped Cream Garnish

Cardamom Bavarian Cream, Phyllo Nest, Caramel and Chocolate Sauce, Chocolate & Pistachio garnish, Chopped Pistachio and Fresh Raspberry

Gingerbread with Roasted Pear, Carrot & Ginger Anglaise, Pear Reduction Sauce, Nut Lace Cookie

Creme Caramel, Blackberry Coulis, Nut Lace garnish, Whipped Cream and Fresh Raspberry

August 31, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Red Peppers

I love a scrape-the-pantry, throw-together meal that turns out to be one of your favorites.  This one was exactly that.  Spaghetti squash baked to the perfect tenderness, tossed with roasted red peppers, baby kale, crispy prosciutto and coated in a creamy goat cheese sauce.

The spaghetti squash had been staring at me for a couple of weeks, peering over the side of my produce bowl like a needy child.  I couldn't take it anymore.  Luckily, gourds like this can stand a few weeks of abandonment before they turn on you for good.  That's my kind of produce.

I've cooked with spaghetti squash plenty of times before and usually it ends up being a carb-free sub for pasta that pleases both the pasta-lover in me, and the pasta-hater in my husband.  I wanted to zest it up a bit though, so I perused the fridge and the pantry and pulled out anything that might work.  The bounty?  A handful of baby kale, 2 egg yolks, half of a red pepper, a jar of store-bought roasted red peppers, goat cheese, 4 slices of prosciutto and a couple cloves of garlic.  I think I can work with that!

Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Red Peppers and Kale
Serves 2

1 medium spaghetti squash
olive oil
salt and pepper
4 slices prosciutto (or bacon if you're on a budget)
2 roasted red peppers, sliced (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 of a small fresh red pepper, sliced 1/4" thick
1 clove garlic, minced
large handful of baby kale
2 oz. of fresh goat cheese
2 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut squash in half lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds and discard.  Drizzle cut-side of both halves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place, cut side down, on an oiled sheet pan and bake for 30 - 45 minutes, or until a fork can be inserted into the rounded side of the squash with some resistance.  Remove from pan and let cool for 15 - 20 minutes, or until you can easily handle without burning yourself.

Meanwhile, place prosciutto slices on the same sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.  Let cool on a paper towel, set aside.

Heat large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add 2 T. olive oil.  Add fresh red pepper slices and garlic and saute for 5 minutes until pepper slices are slightly tender.  Meanwhile, using a fork, scrap out the stringy, noodle-like strands from the inside of the squash, pulling the fork from the tops of the sides of the squash and scraping down towards the bottom.

Add the strands to the hot pan with the peppers.  Add the kale and the roasted red peppers.  Stir carefully and incorporate all ingredients evenly.  Crumble goat cheese and prosciutto over the top of the hot mixture, and stir carefully to evenly incorporate until no goat cheese pieces remain.

Remove from heat.  Whisk egg yolks in a separate bowl until combined together.  Take a spoonful of the warm mixture and add it to the egg yolks to temper, then add the entire egg yolks mixture into the pan and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.


August 29, 2012

Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes

...say that 10 times fast!

Sunday mornings are my favorite.  We are breakfast people, so I love making an event out of it.  And Sundays are our day to refocus on the week ahead but still enjoy the last little bit of the weekend.  So, when I wanted to do something different one Sunday, but wanted to stay in the right "re-focused" mindset, I decided to try a little experiment I'd read about recently - pancakes made with protein powder instead of flour.

It made sense, as you don't really need flour per say to give something like a pancake shape, you really just need the texture of flour.  Which is why protein powder is a great candidate for a substitute.

The Sunday morning table

Stuart always has vanilla protein powder in the pantry for his post-workout smoothies, and I decided to use peanut butter, not only for a little extra protein, but also for its structure.  I knew it would give the flour something to adhere too.  I also used whipped egg whites to incorporate air, which proved to be a smart choice.  You could almost call these "crepe-cakes" because of how light and airy they turned out.

These beauties were so delicious, satisfying and filling.  Especially given the fact that the only "fat" in them was the peanut butter and 1/4 c. of half and half. (not counting the butter used to oil the skillet!)  No added sugar or carbs, although I didn't use natural peanut butter so there was not an absence of sugar or carbs.  You could certainly try these with natural PB, but I would be hesitant because of the extra oil.  

I served these with a warmed peanut butter and honey drizzle, but honey alone would have been enough.

...I can't think of a better way to start off a Sunday morning.

Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes
Makes 6 - 8 pancakes

2 T. crunchy peanut butter + 1 T. for honey drizzle
2 scoops vanilla protein powder
1/4 c. half and half or milk
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 T. honey
oil or butter for greasing skillet

Blend together 2 T. peanut butter, protein powder, half and half, cinnamon and salt until combined.  Preheat griddle to medium-high heat.

Whip egg whites with hand mixer or stand mixer until foamy.  Add cream of tartar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form and the egg whites are shiny.  Carefully fold the egg whites into the peanut butter mixture using broad, gentle strokes.

Add a little butter or oil to the skillet, and pour 1/4 c. of batter at a time to form each pancake.  Cook for 1 minute per side, re-oiling the skillet after each batch.

When ready to serve, heat 1 T. peanut butter with 2 T. honey in microwave for 30 seconds until melted.  Pour over pancakes and enjoy!

August 27, 2012

The Owl

trout with polenta, kale and horseradish foam
Restaurant:  The Owl
Style:  Seasonal & Daily Menus, Tapas
Price:  $7 - $10 per dish

If you live nearby, and care anything at all about food, chances are you've heard the buzz surrounding Greenville's latest culinary experiment.  Located in an old Pizza Hut on Wade Hampton Boulevard, just as you've begun to leave the glowing lights of the city, sits The Owl.  

You might drive right past it even when you are looking for it.  We did.  The signage is minimal, just a small cartoon owl attached to the side of a brick building - which still looks like a Pizza Hut.  The parking lot isn't in the best shape and neither is the outside patio (not currently in use).  Both things their facebook page promises will change.  We were warned not to be surprised by the casual atmosphere, and the laid-back attitudes of the wait staff.  But, we were told to keep an open mind, because the food was worth it.  

Upon entering, the buzz of the place was intoxicating.  Every table was full, and those that were not had a large tented, hand-written sign that read the name and time of the expected party.  Already a good sign.  We made reservations earlier in the day and were seated immediately, though they encourage others to be patient (or sit at the bar) due to the occasional overwhelming crowd.  

The decor was simple but charming, with a slightly vintage-diner feel accented by the triangle-shaped floor to ceiling windows.  The lighting could have been warmer, and I could have done without seeing the wait staff's purses and personal belongings strewn across the floor in the corner of the dining room (next to the dehumidifier), but it was easy to look past these things and sink into the hustle and bustle of the evening.

Our waiter was friendly and came immediately with recommendations for cocktails as, according to him, there were non other like them in the city thanks to the creative minds behind the bar.  My sea-foam margarita did not disappoint.  An ice cube or two might have helped, especially given the stuffy temperatures of the restaurant on this particular night, but the surprise of the salty, sea-water foam provided just the right balance to the perfectly sweet but not-too-sour margarita.  Our curiosity led us to question the waiter on the Sun 'Shine cocktail using moonshine from the local Dark Corner Distillery.  Without hesitation, he brought us a sample and as we relished in his generosity, a sip of the drink caught us off-guard.  The sweetness of the pineapple hid the harshness of the moonshine and left a pleasant flavor lingering on our lips.  Unexpected, but welcomed.  

Sea-foam Margarita

The frequently-updated, tapas-style menu was small, with 4 different pork variations (including sweetbreads and belly) and a trout dish as the only protein options.  The cheese, tofu and salad dishes are all good signs for vegetarians and we also had a gluten-free guest in tow who had a few different options to choose from.  The daily specials board offered Salt Cod and Pasta Puttanesca, but sadly, the Salt Cod sold out by the time we ordered.  The prices were more than pleasant, with nothing on the menu over $10, which was not a surprise given their advertised slogan "fine-dining for the working class."

The table-favorite of the night was the pork curry dish: tender pulled pork lightly flavored with curry and wrapped in a thin pasta sheet, similar to cannelloni.  It was accompanied by a coconut vanilla foam, diced pineapple and a basil gel which all brought the dish together.  The cheese dish, was beautifully presented and while the texture of the crispy crostini complemented the soft, fresh ricotta, I was missing the salty flavor that ricotta typically lends.

pork curry with coconut foam, pineapple and basil gel

fresh ricotta with crostini, fava beans and honey
The pork belly with grilled golden raisins was rich and delicate, and the pulled pork dish with peaches and a spicy chili sauce was some of the best "barbeque" I've had in a long time.

I had heard of the open-kitchen concept and the encouragement by Executive Chef and Owner, Aaron Manter, for honest feedback, so when the trout dish with horseradish foam came out dry and over-cooked, I let our waiter know.  He immediately offered to comp the dish and within minutes, Chef Aaron was out of the kitchen and at our table apologizing for the error and letting us know a new trout dish, cooked correctly this time, would be out shortly.  It was, and he immediately checked back to make sure it did not disappoint.  It did not, although the horseradish flavor in the foam was lost in the dish.

pork curry with chili sauce and peaches
pork belly with black garlic, grilled golden raisins and green beans
Even though we were stuffed, we managed to finish the meal off with a velvety-rich chocolate truffle, served with raspberry sauce and salted peanuts.  A wonderful way to satisfy our happy palates.  It should have come with no surprise that our "check" was served to us via iPad, which made for a quick and easy pay-at-the-table experience.  

chocolate truffles with raspberry and salted peanuts

The Owl's staff of "food scientists" have something going for them.  They offer a truly unique experience for anyone that loves or appreciates food, taking the stuffiness out of a fine dining experience, and leaving the good food and creative presentation that you remember long after you leave.  So, keep an open-mind, look past the growing pains of a restaurant on the verge of greatness and allow yourself to experience a culinary journey like no other in the Greenville area at The Owl.
The summer menu at The Owl