Monday, December 21, 2009

A couple sweet projects...

I love being a chef, as I'm sure most of you already know this about me. Not only do I get to create some great food, hang-out with some cool people (yes, even a few lazy over paid ones, lol) and eat, I get to play a little once and a while. It's not all work all the time, right? RIGHT? :)

The holiday season is upon us and, as you know, people eat more than of necessity, but out of the need to be with friends and family. Eating together is probably one of the oldest holiday rituals in the world.

This holiday season, my small and hard working team and I were able to pull off two huge buffets with loads of choices including many many entree items, desserts, omelet bars, pancake bars and carving stations. This last one, I decided it'd be a great idea to make a gingerbread house. After a couple nay-sayers thought it would be a waste of money, I convinced them it was for the children, and after a good eye roll, they also agreed it would be fun.

Check out these pics:

A wide angel shot of the entire thing, complete with reindeer and a sleigh.


Side angle...


We made our own play-dough and hand formed these eerie creatures, complete with frill-pick antlers, lol. The legs are tooth pics wrapped in said play-dough and the eyes and noses are "Nerds" candy, lol. James thought it would be funny to give them sharpie marker eye-balls.


Gummy worm and m&m chimney, 100 calorie Oreo roof shingles, and Christmas lights from a doll house store to set things off.


A good friend of mine gave me the idea to create stained glass windows with Jolly Rancher candies! Awesome.



In addition to the crazy schedule of parties, meetings, gift buying and so on, I found time to submit two more settings to the deep plate exercise on this months plate. I smoked a ton of Carolina trout filet's and decided to put a few of them to good use.

Creamy shiitake mushroom and butternut risotto, hickory smoked
Carolina trout and sauce vierge garnished with Italian parsley, tomato
chip and fried farm-fresh egg.


"All-local" fall salad of mesclun greens, pan roasted root vegetables,
charred grape tomato vinaigrette with Hickory smoked Carolina trout
and toasted pumpkin seeds.


Squeezed in two private caterings (sorry, don't have any pictures to post yet). One for 12 people, heavy appetizers and the other for 13, a three course luncheon at a doctors office. More details on that one later.

I'm looking forward to spending time with family soon and eating some more great grub. That's what its all about, right? ;)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Roasted pumpkin soup

With the cold weather creeping in and all these old pumpkins laying around from Halloween, I came up with this simple soup that will warm your bones and get rid of that door stopper gourd you have laying around. This recipe makes a ton and can be frozen to be eaten all winter long!






Roasted Pumpkin Soup


Yield:

Makes about 1.5 gallons


Ingredients:

1 medium pumpkin (about a 5 pounder)

1 stalk of celery, rough chopped

4 medium onions, rough chopped

3 large carrots, rough chopped

6 bay leaves

1 T dried thyme

1 T dried basil

1 T dried oregano

1 T crushed red pepper flakes

¼ cup olive oil (plus more for roasting pumpkin)

1/2 cup of white wine

1 quart of heavy cream

2 quarts of chicken or vegetable stock

Kosher salt and pepper


Method:

  1. Split pumpkin in half, scoop out seeds and reserve. Cut the pumpkin into large chunks, about 4-6 inches in size, leaving skin attached. Rub the pieces down lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a 350F oven until tender and golden brown (about 30 minutes). Cool enough to touch and peel off skin.

  2. Rinse and dry seeds and saute in olive oil and butter until golden brown, season with salt and pepper, set aside on a paper towel for later.

  3. Sweat your celery, carrots, onions and dried herbs and spices until lightly caramelized.

  4. Deglaze with wine and reduce by half.

  5. Add pumpkin and cover with cream and stock, stir well.

  6. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes to build flavors.

  7. Remove bay leaves and puree entire mixture with a stick blender until very smooth.

  8. Strain, check seasoning and serve, sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds.

  9. Alternatively place caramelized pearl onions, diced roasted pumpkin pieces, pumpernickel croutons and fresh herbs in the bottom of a soup bowl and pour hot soup liquid over the top right before serving (see image), adding garnishes of choice (Suggestion is sour cream or crème fraiche).



Thursday, November 26, 2009

A great weekend with friends, family and food :)

With the thanksgiving holiday coming to an end, we reflect on all the things we are grateful for, well, at least we supposed to, lol. Unfortunately, there are people out there that can never be satisfied and therefore can never be grateful, but let's save that for another blog!


Before feeding the masses all day, as many chefs do on thanksgiving, my wife and I flew up to sunny New Hampshire for a few days. We went up to spend time with my family and, thanks to facebook, with some buddies I hadn't seen in at least 20 years! As with most family visits, in addition to hugging, laughing and site seeing, our trips are mostly based around food one way or another. When you do what you love, you have to love what you do, right? Well, I love to eat ;)

Here is a run-down of our weekend;

Our weekend started off with a pretty uneventful flight into Logan Airport followed by a "mind numbing" ride in a shuttle van that should have taken 45 minutes but took over 2 hours! (thanks for that, we'll get a rental next time, lesson learned).

Upon arrival and a quick settle-in, we headed to my buddy Chads house for a mini high-school reunion. I came up with a menu a few days earlier that consisted of rib-eye steaks, grilled local veggies, a couple steak toppers and a simple arugula salad. One of my friends brought not one, not two, but THREE kinds of cheese cake with 4 different toppings. It was a great meal! I brought some cigars to enjoy while we watched the bon-fire and had a few laughs.

That next morning, we met with MORE old friends for a huge breakfast at a local Portuguese breakfast hot spot where we enjoyed yet MORE laughs and an interesting take on eggs Benedict with sausage instead of Canadian bacon, yum, washed down with a few cups of coffee.

Saturday night, yes, even MORE friends at my brothers place of employment for a lovely "2 for 20" dinner special. Laughs out the door. I almost peed :)

Sunday, well, that was thanksgiving lite just for us. My mom, as usual, created an amazing meal full of love and yum-yums. Turkey, corn bread stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts (which I made, recipe below), salad, and so on, followed by two of the best desserts I've ever eaten that only the one who bore me could make, apple pie and pumpkin pie (burp**). Awesome! (whipped cream optional, but recommended).

More cigars, more laughs (laughing rocks), more friends, quality time with my family and, yes, more food. (moo).

Monday, we decided to take a road trip with my little mother, thought she might like to get out of the house. I heard about this smokehouse in Canterbury, NH that smokes local meats with Hickory and sells to the public through a small retail area. This is where I discovered smoked cashews and rhubarb soda. I don't know what to say except, please buy some NOW!

Wow, and they make this smoked pepper jack cheese that would make you lie and write bad checks! We made panini sammiches with that stuff later that afternoon and cried a little.

Well, we made it though that and decided to go to a planetarium (yawn) we all acted like we were a little interested, pushing buttons and watching videos (yawn). No food was involved, maybe that's why we didn't enjoy ourselves, lol. I must admit though, we saw a space shuttle tire, THAT was cool. They're smaller than I thought, but HEAVY!!!

On our way home, we stopped by a local chain called The Common Man restaurant where we enjoyed a mediocre sandwich and a really good diet root-beer. What stuck out most, besides the service, was this cheese and cracker station where you make yourself a plate of Vermont cheddar cheese, spreads and crackers plate while you wait for your meal. It's great if you're "wicked stahvin' ", which we were.

Well, after we got back home, relaxed and chatted a little about our day, my brother (who is an up and comer in the restaurant world, invited me to his place for his famous "Philly Cheese steak Nachos". Just when I thought I had seen it all (and ate it all), this is something I had never heard of but couldn't wait to try. It's a great bar app that you just cant pass up. Yum.


After a wonderful trip, we get home and I was back to work the next day to get ready to feed almost 200 people. My small and able staff and I cranked out the food and made everyone happy (even the ungrateful ones, I'm sure). While it's great to get away, its best to be home.

Happy thanksgiving everyone!

Oh, and here's my recipe for roasted brussel sprouts:

1 pound brussel sprouts (stems trimmed off, cut in half)
3 strips of bacon (cut into small dice)
1/2 medium onion (minced)
2 cloves of garlic (smashed into a paste)
salt and pepper to taste
splash of white wine
splash of chicken stock

  1. Render the bacon until lightly crispy
  2. Add onion and garlic, sweat until translucent.
  3. deglaze with wine and stock
  4. add sprouts and cover, bring to a boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally, until just knife tender
  5. remove lid and evaporate all liquid until almost dry
  6. brown brussel sprouts until golden brown
  7. check seasoning, remove from heat and mount with about a tablespoon of butter.
  8. eat and grunt while doing so.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My favorite indulgences...

People ask me, on a regular basis, what sort of food I like to cook on my days off and what my favorite foods are. I tell you, those are tough questions that cannot be answered off the cuff. I would have to say, with a little thought, I like to cook many things on my days off and have MANY favorite foods.

Oddly, the word "Favorite" is defined as; something regarded with special favor or liking. So, I guess, technically, I should only have ONE favorite food. Hmm, wow, impossible. I'm obsessed with the whole food category and anything that falls into it, what am I to do! Guess I'll have to create a new and improved definition and start a list, lol.

My earliest memory of putting a food item into the "favorite" category has to be moms mac-n-cheese, ooey, gooey, white-cheddary with that crunchy butter cracker crust, golden brown and delicious. All these years later, I still get giddy when I smell that creamy bubbly concoction doing its thing in the oven during holiday visits! Adding onto that list would have to be, at the very least, moms meatloaf, dads porcupine meatballs (meatballs with rice mixed into the ground beef simmered in a Campbell's tomato soup based sauce, yum!), moms fresh baked white bread with real butter, dad's American chop suey, moms Boston baked beans, etc., etc.!!! Yes, the list could go on for a while. My childhoods filled with favorite foods.

Fast forward over 30 years later and, wow, my favorite foods list has grown to a humongous level!!! I just need to share these things with you so you, yourselves, can get your foodie fingers on these great things too. I'll have to list a few recipes later, stay tuned for that!

In order to make our lives easier (and to keep this blog to a manageable length), I've come up with a top 10 favorite food list for you to check out. To be fair, I've not listed my family childhood favorites (yawn, right?).

10. Steak and Cheese Grinder - Bob Nadeus Subs = 776 Mast Road Manchester, NH

These guys started out pretty much out their garage when I was a kid. Famous for this steak and cheese grinder on awesome bread! They marinate chuck steak for a few days, cook it on this flat top grill with mushrooms, peppers and a shitload of cheese (with hots, of course). I mean, this sub is AMAZING!!! In my opinion, the best grinder in Manchester. Ive been eating them for 20 years and every time I go up to visit, I make it a point to grab at least one while I'm there.

9. Kane's Donuts - Saugus, Mass. After a 20 minute wait, grab yourself two or three and a cup of that amazing coffee and enjoy. You may remember this listed in a previous blog. My mouth is currently watering upon reflection.

8. A well made Reuben.

I don't care where I get a Reuben, just as long as its on thick sliced rye or pumpernickel, with THINLY sliced corned beef, 2 sliced of Swiss cheese and sour kraut with plenty of scratch made 1000 island dressing, toasted on a buttered grill . Unlike this sorry piece of crap they tried pawning off on us at O'Malleys On Main in Waynesville, NC a few weeks ago. I've seen better sandwiches in public school! What a joke of a restaurant! But, that's another blog. I hate a bad restaurant, especially the ones that are seemibgly doing great business! DON'T PEOPLE KNOW!

7. Egg Food Young. If you don't know what that is, Google it then go order some :)

6. Braised beef cheeks. See, well, its part of the face of the cow, braised slowly forever in a flavorful stock and red wine, need I say more? I just had some the other night at The Liberty restaurant in Charlotte, NC and it was ridiculously great!

5. Fried pork rinds. They pop in your mouth like pop-rocks!

4. Five guys burgers. If you have one in your area, GO NOW!!! And, please don't order a large fry if you are alone, you might cry.

3. Bacon. (needs no introduction!)

2. Double stuffed Oreos :)

1. Fois Gras on a really good baguette and sea salt.

Ok, I have MANY more favorites that would probably take days and pages worth of blog space to list and, we all know you wouldn't read it all, lol, but I think the above is enough to get you to run out to your local neighborhood restaurant or fresh market to indulge.

If you have any favorites you'd like to add, feel free to let me know for the world to see!

Monday, November 09, 2009

My recent F1 competition

This past Saturday, I had the honor to be a part of an F1 mystery basket competition up in Woodbridge, VA. For those of you not sure what that is, it's an "Iron Chef Style" competition where the judges give you 3-5 mystery proteins and access to a well stocked pantry of staples and 4 hours to setup, create a menu on the fly, cook, plate up 12 plates and clean up. You go through this not only for the experience, but to learn how to be better for the NEXT competition, maybe win some money and/ or a medal along the way. I love doing these to keep me sharp and to meet other chefs as well as pick up some new ideas.

My mystery items were...

Proteins:

Bone-in leg of lamb
A whole red snapper
Frog legs
Chevre (soft fresh goat cheese)

Produce:

Red bell peppers
Asparagus
Crimini mushrooms
Pink striped beets

My menu was...

1st course:

Crispy fried frog legs with fresh marinara over house made pasta and thyme
(critiques were something like this; pasta was perfectly made, impressed that you made it from scratch but needed more sauce. Frog legs were perfectly cooked but not brown enough, suggest adding paprika or soy sauce to your flour in the future. Marinara was delicious, but would have liked to have had more. The fresh thyme leaves needed to be chopped and added no flavor to the dish at all, unless you physically put them on your fork, overall, great job!)

2nd course:

Pan-seared red snapper, roasted beets over rice salad with bibb lettuce and Italian parsley with roasted red pepper vinaigrette.
(critiques; Snapper was perfectly cooked, skin was nice and crispy but got soggy with the dressing. This is not a vinaigrette, its a dressing. A vinaigrette is clear; oil, vinegar and seasoning, that's it! We shouldn't mis-use terminology like that, its a sign that we've become lazy as chefs (ouch). The rice salad should have been served at room temp, not cold and a few grains of wild rice weren't quite done, otherwise, delicious. )

3rd course:

Roasted leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary over cous-cous, grilled asparagus and lamb demi.
(critiques; Lamb was perfectly cooked, tasted delicious, but sliced too thick. Cous cous was perfect but a little dry, needed more sauce. Lamb demi was delicious, but needed more.)

4th course:

Pear tart with bitter caramel, pear chip and maple goat cheese Chantilly cream
(critiques; Pastry didn't puff up enough but impressed that I made my own 3-2-1 dough. Pear tasted good but needed to be poached a little longer. Chantilly cream wasn't fluffy enough but tasted delicious, could have used more goat cheese flavor, great idea in using the goat cheese. Caramel was delicious, but needed more.)

Overall critiques:

Needed more sauce on every plate (I'm going to make sure I bring a bag full of gravy boats to the next competition!), everything was seasoned perfectly and tasted great but there was too much food. I shouldn't have used starch/ protein in all of the first three courses. Great job!

I silvered this one and, apparently, missed the 3rd prize $500.00 prize by a lousy point! SHIT!

As usual, I had a great time. As slow and boring as it's been at work these past few weeks, it was REALLY nice to have a little stress under my collar and cook!

I need to thank them for giving me a great intern to assist in setting up and cleaning up as well as lending me everything I needed to cook! I was under the impression, according to the rules, that I was only supposed to bring my knives! Boy, what a shocker when they told me I had to bring all of my own equipment! YIKES! But, it was in a culinary school and they had more than what I needed, it all worked out in the end.

February at Myrtle Beach is my next competition adventure, cant wait! Another F category and a GOLD THIS TIME!!!

Check out a couple pics of the event below:


Filleting a beautiful red snapper


Rolling and tying a leg of lamb that I boned out a little earlier


Plate-up of course #3


Making pasta from scratch (angel hair)


Checking to make sure my sauces are OK!

Thanksgiving turkey class at William Sanoma

The other day, I was asked to teach a few neighborhood foodies a few basics on how to brine, truss, season, roast and carve a turkey, what fun!

Brining the turkey


Trussing the turkey

Roasting the turkey


Carving the turkey

We also discussed a few side items that WS sells there; cranberry relish, herb paste to rub under the skin of the huge-mongous holiday bird, carving sets, trussing needles, roasting pans and butchers twine dispensers, to name a few!

No pictures were taken, but you can check out their very informative web site for more information.

We had a great time, as usual, and I got rid of another 15 business cards! (no, still no calls), I think people like the IDEA of hiring a chef for private parties and not actually the commitment, jeesh. Maybe I should be careful what I wish for, eh?

Happy thanksgiving!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mega blog update, all-in-one post for your convenience! :)

Well all, I've been a little bit of a slacker when its come to keeping this blog updated. I could say its because I've been too busy, but I'd be lying a little as lately, I have NOT been very busy (well, at least the way I'm used to!). I've had just enough to do to keep me from going batty but not so much that I couldn't find time to sleep 8+ hours a night or update my blog for you, my one and only reader :)

First, I'd like to take a moment and show this to you: I almost died of laughter when my son mms'd this to me the other day. Needed to share this with you. It's based loosely on an old movie from the 80s, youtube it, lol.



OK, so, for your convenience and reading pleasure, I've decided to get up-to-date all in one big blog post! Just this once, ok? :) You can read it in "6 easy installments", kinda like buying a shitty over priced curling iron from QVC, if you'd prefer.

First thing that is worth writing about since you last read was, well, Rob H. called me trying to apologize for walking in 1.5 hours late into his shift and quitting on me (long story), (2 months after the event occurred). I wasn't in the mood to deal with him or his bull****, so I didn't give him the time of day. I, with almost gritted teeth, told him I didn't want to talk and had to go. Well, that was a couple weeks ago. Ive been taught that I have to forgive those who have wronged me. And, well, after further thought and meditation on the subject, I forgive you Rob. You're not worth being angry over as you just hurt yourself. We are doing great/ better without you and I wish you luck. (you're still a douche bag though, but a forgiven one at that). Thanks to those who have asked about my little "P.S." at the bottom of my blog about being an asshole.

Next thing, well, this is kinda cool. A good friend of mine turned me onto this site called Deep Plate. From what I understand, its a blog where this plate company guy posts pictures from around the country of chefs plate-up submissions. See, if you sign up to become a part of this monthly "project", he will send you a plate to play with. The only catch is that you have to be a professional chef working in an actual kitchen and you are required to plate something onto that plate, take pictures and send them off to him. He will then post them on his blog and facebook page for the world to see. You get free advertisement and so does he (and his gorgeous plates!). Its like a win-win. I've seen challenges between other chefs, some judging is involved, very cool site and great guy to deal with. Check out his site and tell me what you think.

Here are my submissions for this months projects. I need to work on the colors a little bit as my camera is in need of a replacement. You get the point.

Mini egg rolls with duck confit, dried cranberries and black currants (plumped with bourbon), siracha, ponzu, fish sauce, etc., Asian slaw and there are a pile of ginger fried wonton strips for crunch. After taking this image, I decided to make the next batch with shredded cabbage and carrots INSIDE the eggroll and the result was a much better product. The ones pictured were pretty yumm-alicious, but the next batch was a LOT better. (how bad can house-made duck confit taste anyway!?)



Local venison three ways. I roasted a rack wrapped in bacon, cut a chop, made sausage and made a boned, rolled and tied roast leg of venison. Each served with its on condiment; peach apple compote, venison demi and red onion jam respectfully.




Top Chef season 7 is taking audition videos for the next season of the best food show on TV. This is my second attempt at this show, so I tried to make it the best one yet. Once the envelope hit the mailbox, I turned it over to God. I just want to make it fun and not fret over whether or not they pick me out of 30000000000000 other contestants. If its meant to be, its meant to be, right? Here's a sneak peak of what I sent in:



"Back by popular demand", the members requested that I do another cigar dinner this month. The menu was some of my best work! Fall themed, manly food, cigars and good liquor. Perfect time of year to sit outside, enjoy the amazing views of the golf course and leaves changing color behind us, just AWESOME!! Well, sadly, None of the other members seemed to share in my excitement for a great night out on the veranda, lol, we had 2 sign up and we had to cancel the dinner. Shame. If you're curious, here's the menu.

Work's been SLOOOOOWWWW these past few weeks. I think the economy is hitting the area country clubs a bit harder than other food service establishments. Sucks. So, I decided to get off my ass and do an F1 competition coming up this weekend. Pretty excited. I'll keep you posted!


When I was writing this, it was my birthday. Yes, folks, I'm 38 today! Wow, hurts to type that. Seems like yesterday I was hitting the bong on my way to, er um, after class and growing out my hair to the official "metal" length! What a fantastic 38 years its been! (minus about 10 I don't really care to remember, but they were necessary, for sure).

To treat myself on this special day, I decided to surround myself with people I love and respect. My buddy Dan and I enjoyed a strong ass cup of coffee this morning discussing all things techie. From PS3s to the new Windows 7 OS that recently hit the streets to our cell phones (a friendly discussion about the pros and cons of my iPhone versus his Blackberry). You know, stuff that the wife only glazes over about when I try to tell her. Great stuff bro :)

After that, good and jacked up, I went off to enjoy an amazing lunch at Eddies Place in Ballentyne. I scarfed down a half muffulatta sammich and a cup of she crab soup (was a chilly day today, great day for soup).

Then, off to a nearby cigar shop to enjoy a Camacho Triple Maduro beast of a cigar! Wow, it was awesome. It tasted like love, man, 100%!

My good friend Brian sharing a laugh and a great cigar. Great time.



Look at that ASH! :) Retarded.




And, to end a great day, my lovely wife and I had a fantastic meal at this new sushi place called Enso in downtown Charlotte. I ate 6 kinds of sushi (toro tuna, uni, wagu beef, yellow tail, etc.) and a huge bowl full of edamame, washing that down with a quart of pelligrino, umph, I am still a little full. The wife had a fillet and a fancy-version of crab Rangoon, yummy!!! It really is one of the best sushi places Ive ever been to! Its a must go for that special occasion. After a little sticker shock with our dinner check, we waddled off to the house to digest.



Was truly a great day and I think I have you all caught up with things so far. Keep checking back and I'm sure Ill have something for you sooner than later.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My really cool job is what cooking is all about for me....today!

I know most of you have been following along with my career these past few years. If you were an earlier reader, you no doubt will remember my original blog titled "Day in the Life of  Corporate Chef" followed by "Day in the Life of a Private Chef", coming to the current title you read above. Before my life as a "semi-pro food blogger", I did everything from diners to fast food joints to nursing homes to country clubs. To say I've had an interesting career in the many facets of running a kitchen is an understatement!

We chefs that have been around awhile may try to look back at all the great and not-so-great things we've had to endure along the way and roll our eyes a little. To think of all the HUNDREDS or THOUSANDS of hours we spent on our feet, slamming pans, scrubbing pots and cutting shallots, it makes our heads spin!

Crazy, looking back, I remember thinking while cutting french fries on the dank basement of Lenny's Lunch when I was 13 that, if this is cooking, I don't want ANYTHING to do with it!!! A few years/ jobs later, while flipping square burgers at the local fast food chain, that "If THIS is cooking, I don't want anything to do with it!". And yes, a few years/ jobs later, while frying bellied clams, cleaning the hoods and boiling out the fryers that "If THIS is cooking, I don't want ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT,  AHHHH!!!".

And now, a few years/ jobs later, here I am, typing to you, I think I finally made it over the hump. All that bullshit, griping, whining and stuff lead me to this day. Wow, crazy.

I heard a couple new guys I have working for me complaining about peeling snap peas, dicing a few shallots and washing some dishes and I remember those same complaints my fellow grunts used to endure from ME and laugh a little.

I wonder how long it takes for us "lifers" to stop complaining and become overwhelmed with joy that we are chefs? I have NO idea. Its like this imaginary line that we cross one day in our careers where washing dishes, peeling carrots and chopping onions just becomes part of our soul and we are given the ability to pass that shit on to others, thanking God in a small way that we don't have to do that medial crap anymore, lol

See, I love cooking, and all the creative processes that lead up to a finished dish. I think, however, I like to mentor others into doing it for me better. Leading a team, I've finally figured, is what cooking is all about. It's like becoming a doctor or a classical pianists, you bitch and moan about the years of commitment, the practice, the books, the practice, the lack of sleep, whining along the way to, finally, get your lab coat or to lead an orchestra. You think, "Wow", I get it now!!! Well, that's where I'm at, finally.

I returned to the country club scene after a 4.5 year stint with the corporate food world. Let's just say it was one of the more enduring times of my career. I loved the work but didn't care for many of the people above my pay scale, to be honest. Aside from a few "real" people that I loved and respected dearly, everyone else that worked for that company that I had to answer to was a bunch of shallow, arrogant douche bags that deserve each other. Although I appreciate the experience at the time, they are NOT what cooking is all about, truly. If you need a carrot dangled in front of your face to keep you motivated, then the corporate food service scene is for you. (Well, the hours were great and I got to meet some famous people, lol, that was cool :) )

Anyway, back to the country club. It's a blast. We get to make some amazing food that most members appreciate. I get to share my vision with the team and we put it out with smiles, fun. Since I began about 4 1/2 months ago, we cleaned that shit hole up, re-organized the staff, brought the food quality up to par, made some members happy and began a great relationship with a few local farmers. I'm having the time of my life man! And, to make it even better, I'm 10 minutes from home. Finally, no commute! I've had to drive for 45 minutes each way for years.

So, if you're starting out in this crazy biz and are committed to it 100% and feel that you JUST can't pop another fava bean or that you are going to kill the sous chef for burning the sauce in the bottom of the pot AGAIN!!!, breath. Just BREATH and hang in there. A few years from now, you'll have some cool stories, a few scars, a bad back and varicose veins to share with that dude that says "this sucks" under his breath next to you every 10 minutes. (and, hey, remember, chicks dig a dude that can cook! :) )

Friday, October 02, 2009

3 days and 2 nights of fresh air, great food and awe inspiring views...

It was time to just to get away and hang out without any distractions. We were blessed with the ability to visit Western, NC for three days and two nights. We saw some jaw dropping views, ate some pretty awesome food and met some great people! And, most importantly, got some much needed rest.

Our trip began with a 3 hour drive (two pee stops) to Waynesville, NC where we stayed at the gorgeous Waynesville Inn. It was one of the best views we've ever sipped our morning coffee to and, for the money, one of the nicest places to stay. The service was great and, aside from the weeds growing out of the gutters and a couple mold spots on the ceiling in our room, the place was impeccable. (I know, I'm such a pain in the ass noticing the details, but hey, that's what chefs do! :) )

We had a great meal there our first night at the "Cork and Cleaver Restaurant" on premises. The wife enjoyed the filet mignon, cooked medium, served with au gratin potatoes. I, even though noticing their "Niman Ranch" meat logo, opted for their 12 ounce veal porter house, cooked very rare served with awesome stone-ground aged-Gouda grits. I think there was a salad involved in all this, but I don't quite remember. That veal erased my memory. Everything was amazing (well, the cook needs to learn how to cook a filet medium, he sent it out mid-rare, but our server had that fixed, thanks!). Dessert, we split the chefs special "Apple Fritters with Vanilla Ice Cream", yum, basically an apple compote filled won-ton wrapper, deep fried and tossed in cinnamon sugar, delicious and warm.

After an amazing nights sleep in this huge king sized bed (weird, we never touched once in this cavernous thing!), we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast (great coffee!) and a ride into Bryson City, NC where we rode the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad through the beautifully historic smokey mountains. It was a 4.5 hour round trip train ride with a stop half way for a quick lunch on the Nantahala river. (nothing worth writing about, we just had hot dogs, chips, coke and ice cream bars, lol). The temperature was a cool 68 degrees, perfect early fall weather! To say that that area was beautifully breath taking is a HUGE understatement. The pictures I took do not do it justice.

On our way back to the Inn, we decided to take the long way and drive into Cherokee, NC. Which is basically a place where it's legal to gamble and is marketed solely to tourists. It wasn't what we expected. It kinda reminded us of Myrtle Beach, SC but without the ocean. Was a shame, really. I hear there are really nice places to see there, but I guess we didn't drive down the right side street or something.

After stopping into about 3 t-shirt shops, we heading on our way taking a short cut through the Blue Ridge Parkway. We've talked about driving through there for years but never got around to it. Wow, words cannot describe how amazing it is. You drive through these winding roads with breath taking views around every bend. Just crazy pretty. Please go if you get the chance, whether you just drive it for a few minutes or try to travel the entire 400plus miles of it, its a "must see before you die" kinda place.

We finally got back to our room with empty bellies and off we went to find nourishment. One of the guys that ran one of the t-shirt shacks we went to suggested the "Sweet Onion" restaurant in downtown Waynesville. This is my kinda place. Great ambiance, great smells, open kitchen and great food! We really stuffed ourselves at this place, wasn't hard, everything on the menu looked great! We started off splitting two appetizers; Stuffed Fried Risotto (gooey filed risotto, breaded and deep fried served with an awesome red sauce) and the Ahi Tuna Sashimi (perfectly pan-seared sesame crusted ahi tuna served simply with soy sauce and wasabi, perfect). Our main courses were fettuccine Alfredo for the wife and, (not sure what I was thinking) a gut bomb of a bacon wrapped meatloaf served with mac and cheese and a crisp cucumber salad. Aside from the meatloaf being a little dry, the meal was perfect for both of us! No, no dessert, we didn't dare try. It would have been kinda like that guy on the Monty Python skit with the "thin way-fare" and we surely would have exploded all over the place, could have been messy.

After a nice walk down town, and a stop in a bookstore, we headed back for a long nights sleep, heading home the next day.

That next morning, after check out, I discovered a great cigar shop and just had to stop by. The wife thought it would be a good idea to go shopping well I stunk up myself. I met some great guys and look forward to seeing them in the future. Smoked a great CAO CX2 cigar as well, which topped off a great trip perfectly!

If you live in the Carolinas and just want to get away for a quick weekend trip, check out Western, NC, there's tons to do and, compared to the big city, is like another planet!

Got some pics below, enjoy.

Half-eaten rare veal port house, whoa!



In Cherokee, NC in front of one of many "1/2 off Moccasins" shops

After taking a golf cart out onto the 18 hole course located in front of our bedroom at the Waynesville Inn, I discovered a wild apple tree and ate my weight in crisp, tart apples! I put some in Aprils purse for later, lol.



Nice :)



Perfect Ahi Tuna






Lunch on the Nantahala, what a great place to enjoy a hot dog, lol



The Blue Ridge Parkway, God's county, just awesome.



Amazing train ride, just amazing!




Thursday, September 24, 2009

Multi-course wine dinner

Tonight was a pretty cool night. We did a 6 course wine dinner for a few of the members. A lot of fun, eating and drinking was had by all! We tried to stick with the local food as much as possible and, with the exception of a few things, we did pretty well. Supporting local farmers makes the food taste better, if you ask me!





Check out the menu and wines used below (Thanks Tim for the question!):


Amuse Bouche



Goat Cheese and pistachio covered grape with blackberry gastrique

Paired with: Childress Vineyards Trio


Starter


Pan-seared fois gras torchon with butter poached red currents and micro green salad

Paired with: Childress Vineyards Late Harvest Viognier


Soup


Celeriac bisque with roasted root vegetables and parsley

Paired with: Childress Vineyards Chardonnay


Salad


Local bitter greens and fresh herbs with Yuzu vinaigrette

Paired with: Childress Vineyards Pinnacle

Main Course


Bone-in Pork loin chop with Nise’s local apple jam and thyme Jus

Paired with: Childress Vineyards Cabernet Francrt

Dessert


Mocha gelato chocolate chip tuile and espresso foam

Paired with: Childress Vineyards Starbound

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fatty Mcfatster (and his lovely wife) at the cholesterol festival

I feel dirty. Yeah, it's true. I feel dirtier than Mike Roe dipped in rabid dog ball pimple puss (too graphic? sorry, lol)

So, every year in our town, the Cabarrus County Fair comes around. In our opinion, its the best in the area and we look forward to going. Of course, being the foodie that I am, I use [any] fair as an excuse to scope out the typical and a-typical snacks that are offered, followed, usually, by the anti-gravity slams of some of the rides.(ever ride the "Tilt-a-wirl" after eating fried dough? Priceless!)

After watching a few in-bred redneck "women" with halter tops eat cotton candy (you should see some of their kids! Reminds me of that monster on "The Goonies" who liked the Baby Ruth candy bar, remember him?), we scoped out the standard food favorites like the infamous Kielbasa Sub with onions and peppers (makes me fart just typing those words). And, the spawn of Satan Foot-Long Corn Dog. After eating those gut-bombs, we hunted for our dessert. Last year, we had our first fried Oreo cookies dusted with powdered sugar. No, I can't tell you how good they were with words, you'll just have to figure it out.


This year, we revisited the site of said fried treats to find that they were now offering every major candy bar on the market dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried to artery clogging goodness. Yes folks, it's true. You can now get Snickers, 3-Musketeers, Milky Way and a few others battered and deep fried! I've heard about this blasphomy on TV but never could imagine I would be in the presence of such greatness! (Hope my doctor, mom or health insurance agent are not reading this, lol).

Well, we got the Oreos again and I had to try the Snickers Bar. Wow. Simply stated. I mean, Snickers Bars have always caused me great guilty pleasure in the past, but eating it this way was just retarded. It was crispy and light on the outside and warm, gooey and crunchy on the inside. Just insane! The Oreos, yeah, they pretty much rocked too. Its hard to mess up an Oreo no matter how you treat it.

Problem with that meal was just this, I'm getting to old to carry that sort of calerie collection around in my body. I felt like total shit the rest of the night and into the next morning up until I took my morning pooh. (Dont ask, it wasnt pretty). I've learned my lesson and will never eat that stuff again! (chuckle, until next time).



 

Atitude of gratitude and my inner a**hole

A good and long time friend of mine wrote an interesting post on his blog recently and asked himself an interesting question into the Google search engine, "How do I stop being an asshole?"  and the result was an interesting quote from a dude that slept with his friends wife and was beating himself up about it and other things he has, apparently, done. A part of the quote read like this, "...I can blame it on depression, or a shitty childhood, but really, I have to blame it on myself. I have had so many incredible opportunities, squandered most of them, bitterly, and been a shitty person dressed up as a funny man." Hmm, interesting question with a deep meaning. It got me thinking, as I type this at 3 am, my wife snoring her ass off in the other room, if I, myself, am an asshole?

Well, my very first thought was, "Yeah, I can be some times", and can't we all? How many times have you watched or listened to someone and thought, "This dude is an ASSHOLE!" lol.

I spent the majority of my life surrounded by a man who, for the most part, was a complete and utter asshole, drunk all the time, cheated on his wife, smoked too much, talked down to his entire family and beat his kids whenever possible. This sort of person was full of fear, I'm convinced, and made others around him feel less-than and not-as-good-as because he, himself, felt that way.

When I started coming of age, I was, for the most part, an angry person. I felt no one liked me, I felt I didn't fit in, I felt fearful and insecure beyond belief! Being this skinny long haired freak with my two front teeth chipped, my self esteem was a little low.

Thankfully, on hind-site, no one tried to fix this for me. I was forced, in my own way, to deal with those feelings of self worthlessness and self loathing. I tried fixing it with booze and drugs and it only acted as an amplifier of my true inner feelings and pushed friends and family away from me, which started the vicious circle. I'm not loved, I should drink, people hate me, so I should try to fit in by getting high with them, and the more I do this, the more my inner feelings come out and the more people couldn't stand to be around me (or so I thought), so on and so on. Eventually, I ended up completely alone, on that ugly blue shag carpet in a two room apartment with no furniture with nothing and everything I thought I needed to make me feel whole, was gone. I have never felt so empty and sole-less in my entire life.

That same day I began a journey to get better. It took me a long time to feel worthy by loving myself and not concerning myself with what others thought of me. By not comparing my insides by peoples outsides. By mending these fences in my life that have shut me off from love and personal growth. Today, I am far from perfect and will most likely never posess personal peace within 100%, but I have the greatest thing anyone could ask for in life, a reason. A reason to get out of bed in the morning, a reason to want to do well in life, a reason to want to be nice to others (most of the time, lol). That reason, bottom line, is gratitude.

For me, I must be grateful for what God has given me. I must remember where I came from as I could go back there in a second! I must be thankful for the lessons learned in my life, especially how NOT to treat others. If I'm treating people like shit, I must have something going on in my head that needs to be looked at. Some conflict of sorts that needs to be addressed. Most of my inner conflicts revolve around perceptions. and, its amazing how my perceptions can change based on many factors. If I hadn't gotten enough sleep, for instance, or hadn't prayed or sought spiritual growth in some way, or if I hadn't eaten in a while of whatever, my perception changes and my inner asshole comes out 10 fold. But, even if Ive gotten 12 hours sleep the night before, had a healthy breakfast of tree bark and love, even if I just came floating out of church, well, my perception still has a way, sometimes, to be a little skewed.

Who knows why, really, people are assholes to each other some times and why others are so nice you want to puke. Its hard to figure out why some people only need to lose everything once and learn their lesson or that some people need to lose everything like once every 6 months and still blame others for their mis-givings, laying out the "poor-me's". Who knows, really.

Well, one thing I have learned in these past 37 years, that we are all human with feelings and expectations and, when you are as complicated as most of us are, you tend to want to punch one of them in the face sometimes, no matter what the bible says, right? For me, my only goal is to, perhaps selfishly, feel fulfilled. I want to make sure I gave those around me the love and respect they are owed. Not only in a self centered way, but feel like Ive accomplished a good life and when the day comes when I will meet my maker, can only hope that I wasn't too much of an asshole that at least a few of you will come to my funeral, lol.

Eh, life is crazy, fun and exciting as long as I keep my mind out of it, lol.

*Edit - Oh, and since we're on the topic of being an asshole, Rob H., if you're still following my blog, you should grow up and learn a few things about burning bridges with your employer(s) and keeping your dick out of places they don't belong. God bless you dude, you deserve whatever heart-felt-pain you receive. Douche Bag.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

OMG, this might be the best sandwich I've ever eaten!

Wow man, I think we found the place that makes the best sandwich I ever ate and it's right in my back yard!

We drove by "Havana Carolina" a few days ago and I mentioned to my better half that I'd like to check them out one day. As a matter of fact, they sell one of my favorite sandwiches on the planet which inspired me to put one on my menu at work (which sells very well I might add).

It's this little Cuban sandwich store that came to town about a year ago, I think, and has gotten pretty great reviews from the locals.

Anyway, a few days go by and we ended up there for a quick dinner a couple nights ago before seeing a movie. We walked into this simple little joint with palm trees and ocean painted on the walls, tacky table cloths and place mats and Spanish guitar plucking from a boom box in the corner, pretty cool little place. This little Cuban dude behind the counter welcomes us with a huge grin and broken English. When I saw the panini press and the hand written menus, I knew we were in for a treat.

I look up and point to the "Cuban Sandwich" written on the wall, the wife goes safe and gets a pressed club sandwich (yes, she's a big fan) and a couple beef and chicken empanadas. Our new found Cuban buddy suggests a couple authentic Latin-esqe soft drinks to go with it and, within a few short minutes, we were crunching down on our heavenly prizes.

The empanadas were hand made and filled with spicy flavorful beef and shredded chicken. I dashed a few drops of habanaro hot sauce and we were in heaven! Perfectly made with love, I'm sure.

Now, when I tell you this Cuban sandwich was the best I've ever eaten, well, there's no need for too much proof. I've had some others made by very reputable sources (including my own kitchen!) and none of them can even hold a candle to this bad boy.

He put this slow roasted pulled pork on it that must have been made by someones loving mother or something, thin slices of smoked ham, slices of pickles, Swiss cheese a little mustard and some mayo and it was pressed between a press made especially for this task. Perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with juicy pork fat oozing out along with mayo-ey (is that a word) cheese glistening out the sides, JEESH MAN!!! And yes, even my wife's Cuban-style club sandwich was pressed to utter goodness.

We washed our meals down with "Iron Beer Cola", a fruity version of coke, and "Malta", an alcohol free malty cola that reminded me of malt balls or something, perfect.

Of course, one can't visit a Cuban joint and not get an espresso! They are a bit different than the espressos you may be used to as they add sugar during the pressing and are served in really tiny cups, smaller than your average demi-tasse.

Needless to say, it's on the top of my list of best meals and definitely nailed the best sammy award! Check it out if you're in the area.

Some pics for you:


Cute neighborhood joint, eh?



Iron Beer? Yes, it's yummy.


Yea, the burps make your eyes water, lol


Chicken empanadas with firey habanaro sauce.


The beef empanadas were our favorite and we liked the green sauce a little better, too.


If anyone asks, my wife does NOT like espresso! :) (she hates this picture!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A burger with a fried egg? And, BACON?

So, I had a really long week at work last week and my wife went out of town to watch the Bristol race with her family. We hadn't seen each other in a few days so I thought it would be nice to take her to lunch on my day off, this past Monday during her lunch break.

We go to this place in Charlotte called Brazwells. They don't seem to even have a web page yet as they're pretty new. It was the old Press Box for years (a shitty, dirty hole in the wall that has been around for decades. I was afraid to piss in their bathrooms back then) and has really gotten a face lift!

It's clean and new and full of life. The dining room/ bar area is pretty typical for a current American style sports bar acting as a "pub" with wide screens and HD sports playing on every screen. Hotty bartenders and server chicks running around with really tight "give me a bigger tip" jeans on. This is what I was told as, being as my WIFE was with me, and I'm a VERY happily married man, I didn't even THINK of looking for myself! (ahem)

Anyway, the great thing about this place is this huge patio bar area in the back. Full of seats under really nice tree cover and ESPN playing silently on the walls and this "music" playing in the background (new wave garbage, I must be getting old, lol) and ceiling fans.

We open our menus and start looking through. The wife orders her usual, a Club sammich with nothing but mayo, cheese and meat on white bread (toasted, of course) and me, I was in the mood for a burger, a good old fashioned Carolina burger with chili, slaw, mustard and onions, yum. They offered hand cut fries too, YAY!! We were in like Flynn (wtf does that mean!?)

Our server, taking our order by memory as most new restaurants do these days (side rant; why is it that suddenly its considered more "efficient" or "proper" for the servers to take our orders by memory lately?! I mean, my entire life up until a few years ago, when we went to a restaurant, the waiters or waitresses (got to call them all "servers" now) wrote down our orders on little pads and, magically, our orders came to us EXACTLY how we ordered them. If I wanted an extra lime for my steak, BAM, 2 wedges of lime. If someone wanted to dip their fries in Ranch dressing (yes, Ranch ain't just good with raw broccoli florets and carrot sticks) we'd get a side of ranch. Now, they like to take it by memory and ALWAYS (yes, ALWAYS) forget some little detail. And, if the poor bastard has more than two tables in their section, forget about getting that extra pickle or stack of napkins with your ribs you requested! (rant over).

Any who, I order that burger, you know, the one with chili and slaw and stuff? 20 minutes later, she lays down this perfect club with these amazing fries in front of my very pleased wife. And then, she lays down this big ass 1/2 pounder with fries and this yellow love sack stares back at me.

Is this a FRIED EGG!???


Proving my point that taking an order by memory is a bad idea, she gives me this "sunrise" burger with bacon and a fried egg on top instead of the "southern" burger I ordered just a few short minutes ago. As she walked away, I realized that there was no chili, slaw OR mustard anywhere near my burger. But, but, there was a fried egg on it man!! I ate it anyway and it was divine. The burger meat was a little tough and flavorless, but with a few shakes of salt and pepper, a great burger. The fries rocked too (sprinkled with Greek seasoning I think)

Thing of beauty, eh?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cigars, tiny veal, small batch liquors and BIG ASS SKRIMP!

Well, yea, another great night. We did something really fun and exciting; a cigar dinner for the members and it went really well. I wrote a 5 course tapas-style dinner using the freshest ingredients cooked over oak charcoal and, yes, everything was YUMMY!!!

Menu looked a little something like this;

1st course, 4-7 sized prawns (gigantic), grilled over oak on a chunky avocado cocktail sauce

2nd was asparagus wrapped in prosciutto over lemon garlic aioli (after this course, Charlies Cigars on Johnson Road gave the members one of two cigars to start off with followed by a small batch liqour to gulp down, let the fun begin)

Intermezzo of local musk melon and mint sorbet

3rd, petite veal lolly pops with caramelized onion demi

4th was (my favorite) hickory smoked duck breast (which was then
rendered crispy on a saute pan and finished to mid rare on oak coals,
baby arugula (tossed in Olive oil, rice wine vinegar and s+p) then
drizzled with an orange reduction sweetened and garnished with fried
capers. (another shot of small batch booze to lube them up a little more)

5th, dessert, mini assortment of cannoli, raspberry truffle rolled in
brownie crumbs and a mini eclair. (second cigar and a shot of Port to bring it all together!)

Everything was done from scratch from smoking the duck, to making the sorbet and the mini desserts to pulling the teeny weeny baby cow from its mothers womb!! (yes, I was kidding).

Check out the pics below.