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:

video


"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.