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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

15 November 2011

Tonight's Episode: Burgers and Beers and Bands Oh My!

            One of the cool things about being a self-appointed food expert like yours truly is the opportunity to judge various cook-offs. This past weekend I was invited by Eat This Charleston to come judge their first ever Burger and Beer Challenge for Autism.  I know what you are thinking, why would you hold an event so Autism can become even more powerful. Turns out they are actually raising money to find a CURE for Autism. Sometimes I require greater clarity than your average bear.
          Judging with me were Jimihatt, the bearded bad-ass behind Guerrilla Cuisine, Scott from the ever popular Charleston Food Bloggers, and in true Gilligan's Island fashion: The Rest (never got a formal introduction, too lazy to email Eat This guys to find out.)
           I grabbed The Girl (who is always down for burgers), and off we went to Awendaw. The event space was fantastic, large open field with multiple covered picnic areas, multiple stages, and easy access to US-17. The host restaurant, The Funky Little Kitchen, was once home to the biker hangout Kicking-Horse Saloon. The turn out was solid to try the 6 restaurants and 3 micro-brews.

         I'll start with the beers first. Westbrook Brewery is a brand new Mt. Pleasant based brewery I knew nothing about. They brought two beers to the table. The first was a massively hopped IPA, siting at 6.5%. Neither The Girl nor I was a big fan of this one. A little on the bitter side, for my taste, and only an average IPA. Their other beer is a curry-inspired White Thai. Replacing the traditional Belgian White's coriander and orange peel with lemongrass and ginger is inspired, and gives this 5% beer a freshness that can stand up to a Charleston summer, and a bite that holds up well in our mild winters. The Girl agreed it was tasty, and would have no problem with me putting it on tap at our house.
Grades- IPA 4.5 out of 10     White Thai- 9 out of 10
Someone learned their lesson about not bringing business cards

       Next up is another relatively new brewery, Holy City Brewing. Their first beer is a year round drinker called Pluff Mud Porter. This lighter-than-normal 5.5% porter has a chocolate undertone but seems off balance. I can't place my finger on why, but it was more like drinking bad coffee than good beer. The second of their three offerings was another dark beer, Bowen's Island Oyster Stout. This 5.75% achieves a pleasant and earthy dryness by adding, you guessed it, Bowen's Island oysters to the boil. This does not make them taste like oysters, but does impart a mineral flavor that is both unique and appealing. The third beer Holy City brought out was the Holy City Pilsner. This 5% daily drinker has mild hops and a clean finish that both The Girl and I liked. It may not win any points for originality, but for the heat of Charleston, it is a far superior drinker to any of the Big Fizzy Macro-Brews.

Grades- Pluff Mud Porter 3.5 out of 10 Bowen's Island Stout 9.5 out of 10  Holy City Pilsner 8.5 out of 10
Mac: Model? No. Beer expert? Yes

     The final micro-brew was Palmetto Pale Ale. If you haven't had one by now, the last two paragraphs were probably wasted on you. Solid if unspectacular beer that The Girl is happy with as an everyday brew.
Grade- 7.5 our of 10

The overall Judges AND Peoples Choice winner was Westbrook White Thai! Congrats!

On to the Burgers!
       Coleman Public House, 17 North, and Finz Bar & Grill turned out the least favorite burgers of the day. Coleman's suffered from over garnishing with alfalfa sprouts and a lack of seasoning. 17 North's Duck fat fried burger was a good attempt to stand out, but my burger was cooked until dead and the fried green tomato garnish was limp, thick, cold, and slid right out of the breading. Finz offered a red onion and pimento cheese burger that was solid. Not a stand out, but I wouldn't be disappointed if I had ordered it in a restaurant. The Girl really like her Finz burger, mostly because of the simplicity. That, and she is addicted to pimento cheese.
My Grades-
 Coleman 6 out of 10
17North 4 out of 10
Finz 6.5 out of 10
Coleman's burger: Lost in a sea of Green

Before I get into the top 3 burger, I need to talk about Eurasia's offerings. They decided to do a duo. If you have ever watched Top Chef you know how risky that is. What if one item falls flat and one is great? Do you judge them separately? We decided to judge each burger on its own merit. That was good for Eurasia, as they had my least favorite burger of the day, a wonderful sounding House Ground Georgia lamb burger with creamy cumin-dill dressing, and goat cheese. The sauce read like a broken tzatziki, and turned into a green puddle. The lamb flavor was completely drowned out. In fairness, the dressing had a nice taste and I'm sure in a restaurant it would have worked better. Here it just fell flat.
My Grade 4 out of 10

My number three burger was from our host, The Funky Little Kitchen. Creole Bacon, Carolina mustard BBQ sauce, and siracha blend for a sweet heat, pleasantly seasoned, and a fun little burger.
My Grade 7.5 out of 10

Number two came from Sesame Burgers & Beer. They decided to go with a mouth-party of Fig & Bacon jam combined with Bleu Cheese. The sweetness of the jam brought tremendous balance to the cheese. Instead of overwhelming you, this turned out to be a very smooth burger. Unless you had the one The Girl got. The jam was WAAAAAY too heavy, killing you with sweetness.
My Grade 8.5 out of 10
Easy on the sauce, I want to taste that Bleu Cheese

My number one burger, if you haven't guessed, was from Eurasia. Their Real Deal Burger with homemade Worcestershire sauce, provolone, crispy fried onions and sautéed mushrooms nailed it. Intense flavor, well seasoned, and perfectly cooked. The way the mushrooms on the bottom of the burger play with the crispy onions on top bring harmony to the flavors.
My Grade 9.5 out of 10
To your right, we have a great burger. To your left, we have a burger.

The Overall Peoples Choice winner was Sesame, while the Judges Choice was Eurasia's Real Deal Burger

That was not the end of the fun or the food. Out came the food trucks! Geechie Island, Tokyo Crepes, and Zahh Pizza pulled up to keep the masses fed while the live music kept playing. What a wonderful day for a great cause! Eat This Charleston threw a fun party, Funky Little Kitchen has a great venue, and we went home happy.

Nutella? Crepe? Me Likey! 

Funky Little Kitchen on UrbanspoonEurasia Wine Bar on UrbanspoonSesame Burgers & Beer on Urbanspoon17 North Roadside Kitchen on UrbanspoonColeman Public House on UrbanspoonFinz on Urbanspoon

07 November 2011

Tonight's Episode: MMM.....Beer

         Well, it has been a while since I posted. A combination of Restaurant Week fatigue and grad school has taken its toll. We are also saving up for our second trip to Europe in a year, so outside dining is down to a minimum. That's how I found myself alone at the Mellow Mushroom, drinking my problems away on a Wednesday. Well, kind of.
          This wasn't so much a pity-party as it was a chance to see if the 'Shroom can think outside the box. What we ended up with is a 'Beer Kitchen' dinner, a chance to see beer used as an ingredient. The real trick is finding a beer that worked not only as the ingredient, but also complimented the dish as the drink. Four courses of beer. If you are like me and a member of the 200 Beer Club, this was a free event. And to think they said I was just wasting my time drinking all those beers.
(I have to thank Christina from Hungry Meets Healthy for some of the pictures.)

           First up is a crostini with goat cheese, almond, dates, and a honey-beer reduction. The beer was La Chouffe Petite Belgian Wheat. No lie, I could have eaten two more of these and been happy. Best dish of the night, best pairing.
       Next up is a lasagna of mushrooms and béchamel, deglazed with one of my favorite beers, St. Peter's.   If you have never had St. Peter's, then I feel sadness for you. The lasagna was very good, and would make a great side dish.
Next stop, Highland beer with beer-braised short rib, potato cake, lentils, and collard greens cooked down with beer and vinegar. The lentils alone would make a great veggie main. The short ribs were spork tender (thats not a typo, I mean you could use a KFC spork to eat these.) The potato cakes were passable, but unnecessary in this dish, which is already pushing the limits on how much you can eat.
     Last up is pumpkin bread pudding with Framboise Lambic and cinnamon whipped-cream. Sadly, this came out at a point when I could only manage a few bites. Flavors were great but I was too done to give an honest assessment. The Lambic is more like a raspberry champagne than a beer, and something not to be drunk in public. Still, kinda tasty.
     I have to admit, I was impressed. When your Chef spends every work day churning out pizzas, you don't expect him to be able to pop out quality food. The plating was a little simplistic, and the beers could have been more heavily used in the dishes, but it was a fun and informative evening with solid food. I'll sign up for the next one no questions asked.

The Scores: (This is only for this event, not for regular menu)
Ambiance: 3/5
Food: 7/10
Service: 4/5
Value: 5/5
Overall: Get to the 'Shroom, get in the Beer Club, and enjoy their special events.

Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon


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