Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One for the ladies...

Ladies, I'd like to introduce you to a culinary dreamboat. He's tall, dark, and handsome. He has the most intense eyes that still have a softness to them. He's a tattooed bad-ass who rides a motorcycle. He's a big ole flirt. And more importantly, he is a world class pastry chef. I present, Johnny Iuzzini:

Isn't he just wonderful? So he might not be everyone's type, but he sure does it for me.

He has a book out called "Dessert Fourplay" (released in 2008). It is his first and long awaited cookbook. I will hopefully be adding it to my collection soon. In this collection of recipes, he shows us complimentary flavors and a variety of textures to create a quartet of mini desserts that are meant to be served together. I do have somewhat of an issue with "trendy food". However, he's the trend setter; always presenting the most cutting edge tastes and textures in the pastry world. One of many things I particularly enjoy about his desserts is that they are not overly sweet. He doesn't always add gobs and gobs of sugar. It's nice to see that, especially with the way the world is changing it's eating habits and becoming more health conscious. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a chocoholic and I love my sweets. But after a truly gourmet meal, I hate to ruin my palette with a ton of sugar. I find it's also easier to keep with the ideas of sustainability if you cut out white sugar. Again, I love my sweets and Dixie Crystals won't be getting thrown out of this house anytime soon, but it's a refreshing approach to the vast and eclectic world of pastries.

On the flip side of that, he does use some interesting things in his recipes. For example, Coco Puffs and candied rose petals. He'll take super sweet things and pair them with chiles and cinnamon. He plays with spicy and savory vs sugary and sweet. He also experiments with a variety of textures. He's not afraid to try new things and think outside the box. And that is what makes you a trend setter in this industry.

I hope I have the gumption to achieve the things he has. It just goes to show that playing with your food can really get you ahead of the game. Play with your food and think outside the box!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In a pickle!

Everything in my container garden is starting to take off. I've finally got tomatoes coming in. I've been using all of my herbs like crazy. There have been radishes and spinach and I even got my first zucchini. Then, there is the matter of my deck-eating cucumber plant. The same thing happened last year. If I never grow anything else in my life, I'm 99.9% sure I will always be able to grow cucumbers. This plant has a mind of it's own. I can usually harvest at least one cucumber a day. This will last for at least another month. I love cucumbers. Home-grown ones are like no other. But lately I've had so many that I haven't been able to use them before they go bad.

One obvious solution to this issue is to make pickles. However, I'm extremely picky about my pickles. I like them cold cured, never cooked. I prefer sour or savory over sweet flavored. I like thick cut round, whole, or spears. I'd rather they not be crinkle-cut or salad cubes. I'm not a big fan of the sandwich slices either. See? Picky about pickles. So I did a little research to find a good refrigerator pickle recipe that involves absolutely no cooking. I found one! Of course, I tweaked it to my preferences, but it was a great base recipe to start with. It goes something like this:

2 cups cold water
1/3 cup vinegar*
1 Tbsp Kosher or sea salt
2 tsp sugar
5 whole peppercorns
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
3 medium cucumbers, cut into 1/4 inch rounds or 3 inch long spears
1 large Mason jar with lid OR a sturdy zip-top bag

*The recipe calls for white wine vinegar. I used cider vinegar, personally. This is where personal preference comes into play. However, balsamic vinegar is not recommended.

Mix all ingredients except cucumbers until the salt and sugar are dissolved to create a quick brine. Place the cucumber pieces in the bag or jar, then add the brine. Place the new pickles in the refrigerator to cure. If you use a zip-top bag, you will need to turn the pickles twice a day. If you use a Mason jar, invert the jar a few times, once a day. These "light pickles" will take about 2 days to cure.

Chef's note: I also chose to add some chopped dill to my brine. For a spicy flavor, you could add some red pepper flakes. If you like an old-fashioned pickle taste, use a teaspoon or two of traditional pickling spice. These pickles will be lighter in flavor if you follow the above recipe. You can experiment with the amount of vinegar you use if you'd like a stronger or weaker flavor.

I just made my first batch tonight and have to wait a few days before they're ready. I'll let you know how the turn out. And if you try this, please let me know how it worked for you!

Original recipe credit:

Friday, June 18, 2010

I've attempted to start a post about 13 times since my last update. There are so many things that have been on my mind and I can't seem to organize my thoughts. Scatterbrained is a good word for the way my brain is "working" (at least for the past few weeks). But there is a constant for me: my goal or mission during my culinary career. Local food is better for your health, better for the local economy, and while it may not necessarily be easier on your wallet, you'll definitely be getting your money's worth.

Two weekends ago I went on the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Upstate Farm Tour, 2010. My grandfather, "Pap", would be so proud of the all the farming I did. Charlie and I went to 3 farms on Saturday and my parents and I went to 3 farms on Sunday. It was a lot of fun and fairly educational. It was really nice to see local farmers making a great effort to put the message of local, fresh, seasonal foods out there. As I explained in a previous entry farming, sustainability, and eating seasonally are very important to me. I'm glad to see that it isn't just a dying dream.

We visited the Milky Way Dairy in Starr-Iva, first. They raise Jersey cows and milk them for the production and sale of raw milk. The next stop was the Lucky Acres Alpaca Farm in Anderson County. The Alpacas are so sweet and their fur is wonderfully soft. The last farm on Saturday was the Split Creek Farm, also in Anderson. They raise and milk goats...lots and lots of goats. And can I just tell you that goats are some of the funniest creatures. Especially when interacting with chickens! On Sunday, my parents and I ventured a little further away from home. The first farm was the Sharon Rose Farm out towards Spartanburg. They do things the old fashioned way there. All their animals are grass fed (with a few exceptions) and they have just about every typical farm animal; cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and pigs. They have also recently started raising rabbits. The owners of the farm founded Native Meats, which supplies products to many restaurants in the area as well as individual families. After that tour (and some delicious gumbo made with Native Meats products) we headed out to Red Fern Farms where they raise lamb for meat and wool, and also seasonal produce. We didn't get to see the lambs, but we were able to sample some lamb meatballs and snow cones made with fresh, lemon-basil syrup. It was wonderful! Our final stop of the day and my final stop on the tour was the Bethel Trails Farm (no known website). This was another "we do it all" kind of farm. They had pigs, cows, turkeys, a few sheep, lots of ducks, chickens, and even an emu.

It was a really good experience. There are, of course, tons of pictures that Charlie and I will upload some day and share with the class. Until then, I'll leave you with the picture I've put in this entry. It doesn't just apply to just the Appalachians, you know. Eat REAL food; as fresh and local as possible.

**I would like to note that I understand it's not always possible for everyone. Money-wise, it could be difficult. It may also be difficult to find fresh, local ingredients in your area. My goal is just to spread the word and ask people to consider what they are eating and where it comes from.