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18 December 2011

Tonight's Episode: The making of a celebrity dinner

One of the great things about writing this blog has been the chance to get to know the Chefs who slave away in those blazing hot kitchens to churn out amazing dishes. One such Chef, Jeremy Holst of Anson, invited the three of us (The Girl, myself, and Captain Awesome's camera) into the kitchen to see the prep for the Michael Ruhlman Dinner. The following photo set is a love-letter to all those who sweat away their nights, unseen and unheralded, so we can enjoy our birth right as humans, a great cooked meal.
Dip-net caught Coho Salmon
Mike, going to town
Pin bone necklace coming up
Now that is a work of art
Here comes the cure for the common salmon
All great creations start with a fantastic foundation
The Final Product

Pimento Cheese break

Let's get to work on some sweetbreads
Chef Jeremy, sweetbread cleaner
Make your own bacon and the world will smile with you
Ham hock stock? Yes Please.
Dessert, a house-made affair

All this hard work took place early on a Sunday, for a dinner Tuesday night. These dinners don't just happen, they take planning, hard-work, and passion.
By the time the celebrity, in this case Michael Ruhlman, is meeting and greeting, the kitchen can finally breathe. Success. Happy guests with full bellies. Time for a glass of wine and relaxation, well until you start prep for that 100 person Christmas party. 

Thank you again to Chef Jeremy and the fantastic crew at Anson!

Tonight's Episode: Frankly my dear, I love this hotdog

Monday, Dec 19th 2011 is (was) a huge day for sleepy little Summerville, South Carolina. Guy Fieri's Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives goes on the air with a local hot dog joint unlike any other. At Perry Cuda's Perfectly Franks, hot dogs are more than just mustard and ketchup.

Franks started it's life in a two-table and bench space facing the railroad tracks, with as much visibility as an environmentalist at Dick Cheney's hunting lodge. That didn't stop Perfectly Franks from becoming the darling of the town. Soon, the popularity had outstripped the tiny space, and Cuda and the gang moved to a much larger space. What they didn't expect was that space would only INCREASE the volume of guests. Lines out the door are a daily occurrence.
The line keeps going, and going, and going.....

The Famous Franks-29 inspired dogs that range from the ordinary (Frank Lloyd Wright with fresh sauerkraut and spicy mustard) to the unusual (Frankie Vali with fried spinach, Caesar dressing, bacon and crispy onions) to the down-right bizarrely tasty (Frank Morgan with mac-n-cheese). With prices ranging from $2.59 to $3.69, these dogs pack a lot of taste for very little cash.

On this trip, one of dozens we have made, The Girl picks her flat-out favorite, the Aretha Franklin ($3.29). This dog is covered in pulled pork, bbq sauce, slaw, and crispy onions. What is special about this dog is that the pulled pork is high-quality on its own. The entire set up is sweet, smoky, and tasty as hell. The Girl pairs this up with an order of sweet potato fries ($3.29). Thin and crispy, with a pleasant but not overpowering sweetness, these are on the short list for best sweet potato fries on the planet.
If you put pulled pork on it, they will come

I decide to double-dog dare myself, and choose both the Frank Columbo ($3.29) and the Frank Legare ($3.69), as well as a Peach Nehi. The Columbo is the vehicle for proving to me that I actually DO like Bleu Cheese. This dog has grilled onions, black peppered bacon, and bleu cheese crumbles. Salty, sweet, and pungent, with a delightful creaminess that is FREAKIN AWESOME. The Legare is a dog of a different bark, with smoked sausage, cocktail sauce, grilled shrimp, and sweet-corn relish. Wait, should I have used that one for the bizarre dog example? This is my go-to dog. The shrimp are perfectly cooked, the cocktail sauce has just a touch of bite, the corn relish sweet and crunchy, and the sausage has a delicate smoke and a crisp casing. I always have a Legare when I stop by Perfectly Franks.
Which one of these is not like the other?

For those of you who don't like hot dogs, there is still a lot to choose from. The Sammies board includes Thai Beef Burrito ($7.99), Salmon BLT ($8.99) and the Fried Shrimp Po Boy ($7.99). Also be on the look out for specials such as the Bison Sloppy Joe (which is hands down fantastic). They also carry nachos, quesadillas, and some of the best fish tacos in town.

The Girl and I love Perfectly Franks. Taking this all-American backyard cheap eat, and elevating it to an art form is what Cuda and the gang are all about. If you love great food on the cheap, and don't mind getting your hands a little dirty, hit up this Flowertown in the Pines gem.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 2/5
Food: 9/10
Service: 3/5
Value: 5/5
Overall: 19 out of 25 Get in quick before DDD turns this cheap-eats mecca into the most sought after restaurant in town

Perfectly Franks on Urbanspoon #forkandtell #guyfieri

14 December 2011

Tonight's Episode: My Evening with Ruhlman

Michael Ruhlman with Chef Jeremy Holst and Zack Place of Anson

In the cookbook industry you have a lot of voices. Celebrity chefs who offer their take on the new such-and-such fusion. Home cooks who for some reason have a national following despite their annoying personalities offering quick and cheap meals. Nutritionists pulling together recipes involving bark and calorie-free air. Michael Ruhlman is a different cat altogether. An accidental cookbook author, Ruhlman has gone from simple scribe to one of the true authorities on technique-driven cuisine. His books focus on reigniting the fire for cooking that has burned out in a generation of Americans raised on fast-food. His new book, Ruhlman's 20: twenty techniques, 100 recipes, a cook's manifesto distills all cooking to the 20 things you must know, and with those techniques there is no limit to what you can achieve in the kitchen.

For the Charleston leg of his book tour, Mr. Ruhlman choose Anson as the restaurant to host a collaborative dinner, featuring the techniques detailed in 20. Through phone calls and emails, the two men crafted a menu highlighting the techniques that will turn anyone into a master home cook. I admit it has been years since I have thought about Anson. Under the helm of new executive chef, Jeremy Holst, Anson has been charging back to the front of the Charleston restaurant scene. Having seen Chef Jeremy's smart and fresh cuisine on display at a recent Guerrilla Cuisine Dinner, The Girl and I were both excited to see him in action again. Price for the night, $75 a person plus optional wine pairings.

While we congregate with glasses of Bartolotti Prosecco, plates laden with chicken liver paté arrive at our tables. Housed in Charleston inspired Gullah Blue Le Creuset dishes, the saltiness of the paté is balanced by the sweet onion jam and very tasty. Without the onions it could be a tad salty, as The Girl found out, but the richness is wonderfully homey. The clean taste of the high-quality local chicken livers is a delightful start to dinner.
A few lucky folks took home these Le Creuset dishes as raffle prizes

The first course should be familiar to those of you who read the post on our Guerrilla Cuisine Dinner.  Chef Jeremy revisited Lox and Bagels. Featuring Ruhlman's cure, wild dip net caught Coho salmon, red onion, capers, bagel chip, olive oil, and creme fraiche gelato, this is one of my favorite starters-period. The delightfully fatty Coho absorbs the citrus cure and gives a clean taste with pleasing texture. The creme fraiche gelato may not be as tasty as the cream cheese gelato from the GC dinner, but I think it works better with the fattier Coho. The Girl and I both clean our plates in record time.
Beats the pants off the fish sticks I had for lunch

For the second course, we were treated to Ham n Egg, a house smoked ham, crispy farm egg, pickled mustard seed, spiced pumpkin seeds, and apple cider aioli, paired with a fun Markus Huber Riesling. The light smoke of the ham combined with the pickled mustard seed (best sandwich condiment EVER) gave a flavor reminiscent of a picnic, elevated to a new level. The star of the dish, though, was the egg. A 63 degree egg, slow poached in a sous vide for 45 minutes, before being battered and fried. Runny yolks are one of my favorite foods, and this delivers in a fun and tasty way. The Girl's dish clearly had more ham than mine. Do you think she traded dishes? Nope.
Before randomly stabbing the egg
After randomly stabbing the egg. Thank you Chris for making things so fun!

The third course, or in The Girl's world 'The only course," is Chef Jeremy's way of showing off the power of the Anson Mill. Local caught gag grouper, hand-milled grits, John's Island field peas, okra, and cornbread crust paired with Benito Ferrara Greco di Tufo. The grouper is mild and flaky, and paired with the ragout of field peas and okra, you are presented with a wonderful, flavorful dish. The stars, though, were the grits and cornbread crust. I HATE grits! To me they taste mostly like creamy sand. These, however, are incredible. Creamy, almost to the point of being a puree. They went in the pot at 9am for a 6:30pm dinner, so time and love are definitely in those grits. They have made me a believer. The other output of the mill, cornmeal, becomes the cornbread crust. This should replace the yellow cake side dish in every meal in the south from this point on. The Girl DEMANDS this go on the regular menu.
Grits. I ate grits.

Fourth course was revenge of the sweetbreads. As you may have read in the Guerrilla Cuisine dinner, I wasn't overly thrilled with the job Jeremy did with his sweetbreads. Well, apparently my words stung a little, and he decided to come back at me guns blazing. The result: Roulade of sweetbreads, fried bone marrow, parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts, confit of royal trumpet mushrooms, and marrow jus served with an overmatched and too-dry Chateau Saint Pierre de Mejans Cotes du Luberon. The sweetbreads, bound together with chicken mousse, were creamy and decadent and a great rebound from the last time out. The fried bone marrow was like a little nugget of God's own butter. Even Mr. Ruhlman had to point out the fun and absurdity of frying fat in fat. I can go on and on about how strong a dish this is.
Let's count the things The Girl ate that she normally won't eat on this plate: Sweetbreads, bone barrow, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts...

For our dessert, Chef Jeremy went all fancy on us with a banana custard, chocolate curd, vanilla wafer ice cream, and powdered bacon. The banana custard (Thank you Gwen Stefani for teaching me how to spell that) was formed into a bar-like log, and cut into portions. The taste was fantastic. The ice cream was fun and light, and the powdered bacon gave a great saltiness. For those of you interested in making powders, the technique is very simple, and any high-fat liquid (such as bacon fat) can be easily converted using a powder called Tapioca Maltodextrin. Everyone at the table agreed on the great flavor balance of the dish, one that truly sealed the deal for the evening's meal.
I'm dreaming of white bacon powder.....

After the dinner, Mr. Ruhlman assisted in the raffling of some Le Creuset dishes, as well as some Govino shatter-proof wine glasses (of which we won a set). The finale of the evening was an auction of two signed magnums of wine provided by Palmetto Distributing, dinner for 8 at Anson, and a great set of Ruhlman's custom cooking utensils. The $900 final bid will go to help Slow Food Charleston  change the way we look at the food we eat.
Ruhlman teaches Chef Jeremy the proper way to baste imaginary duck breasts

The night winds down, the applause dies out. Ruhlman has left his soap-box (after passionately calling on us to return to our kitchens, and reclaim the birthright of civilization: the home-cooked meal). Our fantastic server, JP, has cleared the table with deft efficiency. Chef Jeremy, ever the modest artist, shakes hands and looks slightly uncomfortable with all the well-deserved praise. The Girl is more than just a tad tipsy, but as she snuggles in close to me, the crisp December air nipping at our noses (okay, it was in the 60s, but work with me here), she tells me that this was on the short list for best meals of her life. That's twice Chef Jeremy has been on that list. Coincidence? 

The Scores:
Ambiance: 4/5
Food: 10/10
Service: 5/5
Value: 5/5
Overall: 24 out of 25, A delightfully delicious and decadent date night. 

Anson on Urbanspoon#forkandtell #michaelruhlman

09 December 2011

Tonight's Episode: The First Heartbeat...

      James Island has long struggled to find it's niche in the Charleston food scene.  The limited range and lack of higher-end choices (Don't get me started on the joke that was Roadside Kitchen) means we have to drive ALL the way Downtown for a good dinner. Into that void steps Heart Woodfire Kitchen.
Beautiful open kitchen with wood oven
 What once was a creepy hippy shed that was home to the Daily Dose, we now have a large and bright restaurant with an open kitchen and eventually a great patio space. With the titanic ceilings and spare furniture, the dining room feels clean and spacious. I would have preferred warmer colors for the walls, maybe some faux brick work, but still inviting.
      As The Girl, our friend Captain Awesome, and I work on the menu, I order a delicious cocktail. A Carolina Cup made with Pimm's No 1, muddled basil and lime, lime juice, simple syrup, and ginger beer ($6). Very light and refreshing, and a fun little cocktail.
  Carolina Cup, without the pastel-clothed drunken frat boys

  For an appetizer I went with the Prosciutto wrapped Fontina speidie ($7), a skewer of grilled happiness served with a tasty buckwheat salad. The smoky prosciutto and creamy fontina make a wonderful,  if small, start to the meal.

  Captain Awesome got the ball rolling by ordering the baked four-cheese macaroni with tomato cream sauce and bread crumbs ($9). This gooey bowl of shells was tasty, though The Girl and I both prefer smaller pasta for mac-n-cheese. The breadcrumbs give a great texture and the Captain polished off the entire bowl.
Place your ear to the bowl to hear the cheese
  The Girl decided on one of the flatbreads, Sweet Potato & Prosciutto ($9). The flatbread itself has a nice crunch, and the combination of onions and cheese is delicious. The problem lies in the combination of rounds of sweet potato and the prosciutto. While tasty, it is very one note. I would prefer a more crispy meat, such as speck. I would also like it finished with fresh arugula after it comes out of the oven. This dish might be better as a shared app so you don't get tired of the flavor.
Juuuuuust missed the note

My dish of choice, the Pork Shoulder with salsa verde and choice of side ($13). I made a great decision choosing the sweet potato chips for my side. Crispy and salty-sweet, I just wish they were served in a bowl. On the plate the oil and juice from the pork soaked right into them. The pork itself was delicious, the salsa verde (which looked a lot like chimichurri to me) was tasty, though the meat was a little over done for my taste. I like a nice amount of pink. Still a good dish though.
 It isn't 1984, pork can be pink I promise

There wasn't a lot to choose from for dessert. A cookie and a chocolate torte. Guess which the Girls went with? The torte ($4) was rich with a nice cream, and both ladies destroyed it, though I found it overly sweet and the crust tasted store bought. That's okay, there are enough tasty sounding apps that I don't need sweets.
It puts the cream on the torte or it gets the hose again

  I did have a little problem with the service. While friendly, our server pestered us with questions about how our meal was, but wouldn't stand still long enough to receive an actual answer. Don't ask me how my food is if all you want is a thumb's up.
  The Girl, Captain Awesome, and I leave to look at some Christmas lights. Full bellies, happy smiles, and a wallet that hasn't been taken out back and beaten means we will be back. A great addition to the neighborhood, and hopefully one that will last long enough to find their footing. (I made it through this entire post without one Achey Breaky Heart joke. I'm so proud of myself.)

The Scores: 
Ambiance: 3/5
Food: 7/10
Service: 3/5
Value: 4/5
Overall: 17 out of 25, Solid food, fun concept, and if you live on James Island, great location.

Heart Woodfire Kitchen on Urbanspoon

20 November 2011

Recipe: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Vanilla-Lime Creme Fraiche

This is my almost award-winning recipe for a fall classic. While not particularly difficult, it is a little time consuming.
What you need for the soup:
2 medium Butternut Squash/diced (2 pounds each)
1 Granny Smith Apple/diced
2 Carrots/diced
1 small white onion/diced
2 stalks celery/diced
46 oz Chicken stock (Vegetable can be substituted, if so add 1 stalk celery and 1 tsp celery seed)
1 pint heavy cream
2 Star anise pods
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 tblsp cinnamon
4 tblsp nutmeg
2 tblsp turmeric
1 tblsp white pepper
1 tblsp smoked paprika
1 tblsp Ancho chili powder

  Preheat oven to 350. On a greased cookie sheet lay out the diced squash in a single layer. Dust with 1 tblsp each cinnamon and nutmeg, and a liberal pinch of salt. Place in oven for 20 minutes. While the squash is roasting, begin sautéing the mirepoix (Celery, carrots, onion) in a dutch oven, on medium-high heat.
   Remove the squash from the oven and place in the dutch oven. Add the apple, star anise, turmeric, and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and leave cooking for 20-30 minutes, or when the squash is fork tender.
   Remove star anise pods, add all remaining spices except brown sugar. In batches, add to blender and liquify. Empty from blender into a new pot through a strainer, slowly. Use a large soup spoon the help remove thick pulp from strainer. Once soup has been filtered, add cream and brown sugar. Blend and strain again to ensure creamy texture. Top with Creme Fraiche and fresh grated nutmeg

For Creme Fraiche:
1 cup whipping cream
2 tblsp buttermilk
1 large lime
1 tsp Vanilla extract

Combine whipping cream and buttermilk in a glass bowl. Add vanilla extract. Using a microplane, zest the lime directly into the mixture. Cut lime in half and juice into the cream. Let stand at room temp for 8 to 24 hours, or until thick. Stir well before covering, can be refrigerated for 10 days.

16 November 2011

Tonight's Episode: Dinner Possible

           I have had a long fascination with Food Network star Chef Robert Irvine. Not because he is built like Mount Blanc. Not because my half brother and sisters grew up in England and are named Irvine. Not for the care he shows when piecing back together the shattered dreams on his latests show. No, it was his cooking. Simple and elegant, Chef Robert seems to take ordinary ingredients and amp them up. Question is, does his cooking live up to the TV hype?
            The Girl and I took the two-hour trip down to Hilton Head Island to try Robert Irvine's Eat. Hidden in a strip mall is a dark, warm, and red-hued restaurant. Massive sun fire chandeliers dominate a space full of half-circle booths and open tables. The atmosphere is relaxed, though the decor is higher-end. This is the kind of place I would feel comfortable bringing business clients or relaxing in jeans.
This picture doesn't do the size or deep red color of the chandelier justice

The Bar area: Robert Irvine's Drink

           Eschewing appetizers in favor of tapas for starters is a smart move in this beach/vacation community. You are able to bring your family and friends and swap around small plates. Or be like us and just eat them as appetizers. The Girl went with the She-Crab bisque ($6). This was a fairly substantial bowl of creamy smooth bisque, plenty of crab, and a nice hint of pepper. Balance is always key with the usually cloyingly sweet she-crab, and this one nails it dead-to-rights. Easily one of the best either of us have ever had.
          For my starter, I went with the Korean Ribs ($8), soy-ginger marinated, flash grilled, and served with pineapple kim chee. It has been nearly a week, and I can't get the flavor of the marinade out of my mind. I kid you not, slap that glaze on Goodyear tires and we wouldn't have to worry about recycling them. The sweet and hot pineapple kim chee is a fantastic update to a classic dish. Flat-out one of the single most memorable dishes I have ever had. Simple, elegant, and tasty.
I wish this blog was in Lick-o-Vison
     The Girl surprised me by by ordering the Pan-Roasted Free Range Chicken Roulade ($22), stuffed with pork sausage, with a Yukon mash and pan jus. She NEVER orders chicken when we go out. We are both glad she did. Topped with crispy-fried leeks (which I snacked on throughout dinner), the chicken was not only moist and flavorful, but pairing it with the sausage brings a depth of flavor even the best chicken lacks. Actual quote from The Girl: "This may be the best chicken I've ever ordered." The best part for her: there was so much to eat she didn't have to eat the meat around the Frenched bone (she has a bone-in phobia, I think the term is Cookedproperlytoextractmaximumflavorphobia).
Forget Turducken, I prefer Porchickleek

      For my main, I went with the special, an Indian inspired pork Ossobuco with curried pumpkin. You look at this the wrong way and the meat falls off the bone it was so tender. The curried pumpkin has a bright sweetness that just made me smile. The rich, thick, and down-right tasty broth is so good I wanted to pour it into a mug to sip on during the cool, wet days of winter. Half way into me plowing through the spot-on shanks The Girl pointed out that with every bite I took I was humming. Embarrassing, but I didn't care. My taste buds were waltzing away the evening.
I wish the light wasn't so red, the pork has such a wonderful color

         The Girl tapped out at this point. Even the massive Chocolate Ridiculous Cake couldn't convince her to go on. I, on the other hand, have a duty to report an entire meal to you. That is what I will tell my arteries, at least. So I ordered the Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with tabasco ice cream. The ice cream is a dead ringer for the Red Hot candies. The bread pudding itself is rich and decadent, with a beautiful light caramel. I force down the last few bites, hating myself but loving Chef Robert's recipe. 
       This is a wonderful restaurant. The relaxed feel and simple yet upscale food can satisfy everyone at the table. The service is almost effortless and as professional as at any $300 a plate restaurant. Our next trip will likely be tapas and dessert, as the entrees are just too massive for the two hour drive home. Maybe we should just get a room on the Island next time out.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 4/5
Food: 9/10
Service: 5/5
Value: 4/5 Casual-elegance at affordable prices
Robert Irvine's Eat! on Urbanspoon


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