Inspirations from ‘Notes from a Kitchen’

Charleston, SC. Anyone who knows me, knows it is my happy place. From the historic downtown that is as walkable as anywhere to the amazing food and Kiawah Island, I love coming down here. Christy and I had the chance to fly down for a dinner celebrating ‘Notes From a Kitchen’, the amazing book that is one of my favorite Christmas presents ever. This two-volume book is an artistic look into several chefs’ notebooks, kitchens, ideas and creative process, which in and of itself is an inspiring thing to see.

Christy and I sat at a table full of people we did not know who were all locals, which is always a great way to learn something new about a place where you have spent so much time. We discovered new places to try, local favorites that are hidden treats and new neighborhoods to explore.

And then there was the food – oh the food. These chefs clearly had fun – they hung out and celebrated the Super Bowl (or possibly just drank in support of the Super Bowl!) and created a culinary experience that reflected their unique perspectives, passions and some local, seasonal flair.

The dinner featured six courses, two by each of the following chefs: Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, SC, George Mendes of Aldea in New York City and Johnny Iuzzini, former executive pastry chef for Jean Georges and head judge for Top Chef: Just Desserts. Here is the menu:

After a fun little crab starter with bubbles, the dinner started with George Mendes’ two dishes – the first was a lovely mussel soup with a broth that was light and yet creamy. The chestnut and fennel combo was a perfect start to the meal and the sausage did not over-power the rest of the dish. I captured the soup start and the broth pour-over.

Course two was one of the ones I was most excited about – cured foie gras with radish, pear and maple syrup. This dish did not disappoint – it was the perfect balance of flavor and texture – and the wine with this course really made the flavors stand out.

Course Three was Wild Sturgeon – the dish was a great follow to the richness of the foie, with a light broth to complement the delicate fish.

Course 4 was another dish I was excited to try – less for the beef, and more for the cauliflower. Not that the beef was not delicious but the whey-poached cauliflower was so intriguing. It was rich and creamy but also earthy, which made for a great dish. The wine paired with dish also worked quite well.

All of the deliciousness was about to get even better with not one, but TWO desserts. Now, when I read the first dessert, I thought, who thought that up and how is it going to work? Well, let me tell you, it worked and then some. My next kitchen project is to figure out how to replicate this dish because it was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. I mean, my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. Oh, and before we ever had dessert, Christy had declared her love of Johnny Iuzzini. After dessert, I think we were ready to battle each other for his affection.

Last, but not least was the chocolate dessert – with some roasted beets, chocolate in many ways, it was a playful, fun and delicious end to our night.

While this dinner was a once in a lifetime special event for us, it also reminded me that having fun and loving what you do can ABSOLUTELY be tasted and should never be underestimated. These guys are not only bringing their extraordinary talent to the plate, but also all of their passion and creativity. And that was inspiration that I will keep with me for a long time.

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The beauty of food.

I love food. I love eating it. Admiring it. Taking pictures of it. Sharing it. Experiencing the passion of others’ in it. But the one thing that has struck me this month, as we truly put “use our kitchen” into action, is the sheer beauty of food. The light coating of dirt on my table as I unpack my treats from the Chef’s Garden?  A reminder that those potatoes were picked and packed for me, with a true love for where they came from and where they were going. The brightly colored heirloom carrots that we roasted? Those colors would brighten even the dreariest day.

As we have tried some new recipes this last week, I got to appreciate that beauty – from the raw form to the finished product. And it made me realize what I miss when we eat out all the time – I miss the chance to really appreciate what I am eating, how I can take 5 ingredients and turn them into a lovely comfort soup or the sense of pride I feel when I figure out how to master something in my own kitchen. So, here is a glimpse into our kitchen adventures this past week – I hope you see some of the beauty that I did.

Heirloom carrots from The Chef’s Garden home delivery: 

Chef’s Garden Bounty – greens, spinach, beets, sweet potatoes, micro greens, herbs, turnips and baby potatoes: 

My favorite sweet potatoes – you can find the recipe here: Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes

Avocado – getting ready for guacamole (no Paul Djupe guac, but until he moves in, we’ll have to settle!): 

Simply Roasted Carrots – the flavors were so bright and yummy!

garlicky potatoes – we have made these before and then I saw them on Pinterest and it made me want them again. Easy peasy and these potatoes were gorgeous.

The carrots and onions for the yummy Broccoli Cheddar Soup that I was pretty damn impressed with!

And the broccoli – just chill in’ out, waiting for the soup.

The finished product – so good, so easy. I used this recipe: Broccoli Cheddar Soup (I used a VT white cheddar so sub away on the cheese option!)

The pretty, pretty leek – getting ready to become soup: 

The lovely potatoes from Green Bean Ohio: 

And the leeks (with potatoes under them), getting ready to become soup! (This soup was so simple, I just pureed in blender when I was done to give it creamy texture) Potato Leek Soup

And that is a snapshot or two of my beautiful week!

I am going to be dangerous.

This quote is on the cover of my favorite Christmas gift this year – Notes From a Kitchen, which my favorite person got me. Oh, and not only did she “get” it for me, but she was in on the ground floor of this unique, artistic project and got me the first edition set, signed by the creator. The books are honest and inspiring and interesting and breathtakingly gorgeous. I am going to haul the first volume to South Carolina with me, in hopes that Sean Brock will sign it for me too.

So, back to the quote. This phrase struck me almost as a challenge, a dare to others to take chances, to explore new things, to be committed to something that you believe in. Be. Dangerous. I don’t know if that was ever the intention behind the phrase but that is what it said to me. And, if you have read anything about Sean Brock, you know that he is passionate, committed and takes chances for what he believes in. So, in 2012, I am going to take this and run with it – I am going to be dangerous.

Check out a few shots of this gorgeous gift….

Getting reacquainted with my kitchen.

So, I am not one big on resolutions, partly because I suck at sticking with things I am supposed to stick with and partly because setting those big goals seems daunting to me. But this year, we have made the commitment to eat at home more so, while I am not technically calling it a resolution, I have to say that so far, January is off to a great start. I am almost sure that we have used our kitchen more in the last two weeks than we did the entire second half of 2011, which is big and fun and interesting and helping us connect to each other too.

I am currently obsessed with two things: Indian food and kale. We are lucky to have awesome friends who cook things for us and expand my mind about what I can make in my own kitchen, hence the Indian obsession. My inner healthy side (I know it is in there) is so impressed with my new love of kale and my goal is to try cooking it at least 10 different ways. Oh, and I think February’s obsession might turn toward blood oranges, brussel sprouts and cheese making – watch out world.

Some of my favorites out of our kitchen in 2012:

Kate’s Naan: you can find the recipe here: http://katedjupe.com/naan-stress-naan 

Red Kale from my Green Bean Ohio delivery: you can see them here: Green Bean

Saag Paneer – lots of recipes out there for this awesome Indian spinach dish, next up is making the paneer. My friend Paul makes the best saag, I am still trying to perfect his. His recipe is not online. yet.

Cauliflower Gratin – I used a recipe from Serious Eats but there are lots out there to try!

Grasshopper Pie – if you love to bake, get the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, fun, innovative and downright delicious treats!

Kale Chips – I used simple olive oil, salt and apple cider vinegar mix (do it to taste), tossed the cleaned, washed, stemmed and dry kale pieces in it and baked for 20 minutes at 300 (keep an eye on them, you don’t want them to get too browned)

Slow-cooked beans with kale. We made extra red sauce, I’d skip the bread crumbs next time but I loved the idea and the flavor of this dish. Kate links to it from her blog but you can also find it on the NY Times website.

These 7-Up Biscuits have been all over Pinterest, but in case you do not have an account (and don’t want to wait to get invited to eat these), here you go: 7-Up Biscuits

Making my heart big.

Like most people, I never imagined 20 years ago that my life would be where it is – if you had asked me at 17 where I would be at 37, I would have said raising 4 or 5 kids (!) While kids of my own are not the path that I followed, I have been lucky to get to be a rock star aunt to my niece and four nephews. These five children remind me that one’s heart can always get bigger, things are funnier when they are not your own and that taking a moment to enjoy them is better than any TV show or dinner out. These are some of my favorite moments, capturing their unique personalities and serving as my little reminders of the best parts of life.