Friday, June 26, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Click on the "Fabulous Faces...." headline in the masthead. It includes interviews and quotes from farmers around the region.
I hope you like it!
Friday, June 19, 2009
A fund-raiser extraordinaire, the goal was to raise funds and awareness for the aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Initiative, showcase the talents of the students and the chefs, and present an award-winning, five-course feast to the evening's guests. Served within the intimate, soothing space of the school's working classroom/restaurant, 181 Palmer, the event achieved all this and more.
Between courses, Megan Westmeyer, the aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SSI)Coordinator, provided informative and humorous anecdotes about the significant progress the initiative has made in improving the lives and longevity of the fish that populate our coastal waters. From improved long-line techniques and gentler and kinder lures that prevent wastless ensnarement (and murder) of the denizens of the deep to the chivalrous mating habits of male triggerfish, Westmeyer had the small crowd of 40 alternating between waves of laughter and hushed, appreciative enlightenment.
The menu showcased 100% sustainable fish, including blue crab, yellowfin tuna, triggerfish and swordfish and each course was paired with wine, every bottle retailing for $20 or less. Hank's Seafood Chef Frank McMahon's pink, seared slices of yellowfin tuna swam in a cool sea of sweet corn, tomatoes, tangy pickled okra and dill while Waterscapes at the Marina Inn (Grand Dunes) chef James Clark triggerfish went Lowcountry with the round, rich flavors of sweet peas, country ham, shrimp and Vidalia onion relish. Dessert came in the delightful form of a round scoop of fresh peach ice cream served on a crisp shortbread cookie with a blueberry buckle; a type of sophisticated spoon bread.
Students worked with the chefs to create the dinner, just as they do every day of the school year with chef Scott Stefanelli in the school's kitchen laboratory. One of Charleston's best kept restaurant secrets, 181 Palmer serves a three-course lunch ($15)throughout the year when school's in session, and everyone is invited. Just be sure to make a reservation. Stefanelli and his students infuse the food and the dining room with talent, skill and unbridled positive energy that's on par with any five-star restaurant anywhere in the world.
Culinary Institute of Charleston/Trident Technical College - Palmer Campus
66 Columbus Street, downtown
For required reservations: (843) 820-5087, ext. 2
It's entirely different, yet equally compelling. In both cases, of course, I was there to sign Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. At Marion Square, I was almost sadistically positioned straight across from those dreadfully seductive mini-doughnuts, flanked on my right by Frank Fleming of Simply...Bananas and on my left by an ambrosial, aromatic sea of exotic lily's and lavender. The lavender followed me again, this time from Thackery Farms, to Daniel Island. Talk about olfactory over-drive.
Behind the booth, the focus was on the people, not the produce as I'm accustomed. Endearing vignettes unfolded again and again before my eyes. The husband/father with two, beautiful children who was there to secretly buy a book for his wife while his little girl squealed in delight, "It's a secret!" The couple visiting from New England describing how they split culinary duties and the sweet daughter buying a gift for her Dad. All of it so entirely feel-good it was enough to make one nearly explode with joy and completely forget all the bad stuff we've been hearing about for so long.
But, it was the man buying flowers for his girl-friend (talk about feel-good) at the lily booth that said it best. As the vendor wrapped them with care and handed them over to him, she said, "Have a good day." He beamed, practically danced and opened up his arms in wonder, saying, "How can I not? I'm surrounded by beautiful flowers, warm mini-doughnuts, and farm-fresh produce on a beautiful day?"
I could not say it better myself! No matter how you slice it, or what angle you're looking at it from, a local farmers' market is a thing of beauty of the human kind. If you're lucky, fringe benefits include good restaurant tips from a fun neighboring vendor (Frank Fleming told me about Pollo Tropical and H & L Asian Market in North Charleston - even drawing a detailed map!)and then, there are those doughnuts. The former are on my most pressing must-do list and the latter, well, they're history - until next time.
Monday, June 8, 2009
UPCOMING SIGNINGS IN THE CHARLESTON AREA:
Charleston Farmers Market, Marion Square
Saturday, June 13, 8 a.m. - noon
Daniel Island Farmers Market, Daniel Island
Thursday, June 18, 3 p.m. - dusk (7:30 p.m. or so)
Corner of King and Queen Streets, downtown Charleston
Saturday, June 20, 10 a.m. - noon
Signing and Chow-Chow Shrimp Deviled Egg Tasting
Downtown, Meeting and Market Streets at Charleston Place
Tuesday, June 23, 10 a.m. - noon
Signing and Chow-Chow Shrimp Deviled Egg Tasting
Most of the ingredients, from the crawfish to the beans and sausage, are shipped in from New Orleans to ensure the authenticity of the flavors of the seafood and produce of the region.
The Crescent City Connection jumps over the moon with its gumbo (small, $3.50, large, $6), a heady, brown gravy layered with smoky heat and spice, thick with roux and savory morsels of meat and seafood. A scoop of buttery, nutty rice is presented on top at the table, consequently sealing the deal on what's essentially a meal in a bowl. Similarly, sides like macaroni and cheese, corn macheux and smothered okra, are satisfying, stick-to-your ribs fare on the cheap. The corn macheaux (small, $3.25, large, $4.75) stands out as a fancy creamed corn winner of roasted corn nuggets awash in a spicy, sweet sea of cream and flavor points of fresh thyme. Alas, an otherwise sublime crawfish etouffee was marred with the lingering after-taste of burnt roux and was light on crawfish. Still, it's a worthy eating endeavor and one that was probably just having a quasi-bad day.
Little bars of slightly dry corn bread, served without butter, arrived mid-meal. Indeed, timing was off throughout the meal, which is an area where Crescent can and should improve. After all, most of this food is prepped well ahead of time. Thus, there really is no explaining slow, awkward, stop-and-go service timing, except for lack of organization in the kitchen or other distractions. Since we were two of a total of six diners in the small restaurant, it can't be attributed a sudden order- glut. If this glitch is ironed out, Crescent Connection should make an excellent lunch choice for the many professionals that work in the nearby Park Circle and North Charleston area. Until then, bring snacks or a good dose of patience, or your stomach will be rumbling (like mine was) louder than the New Orleans-style music that permeates the merry little space.
Indeed, Crescent Connection's location, in a little strip mall near the corner of Montague Avenue, is an odd one. However, parking is easy and the food and super endearing staff make it worth a visit to bring your heart just a little bit closer to the Big Easy, if only for a day. Dinner offers a broader menu of choices at slightly higher prices. Take-Out and catering are also available.
The Crescent Connection Bistro
1910-E Montague Avenue
Lunch, Tuesday - Friday, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Dinner, Tuesday - Saturday, 5 - 9 p.m.
We caught him muddling away last Saturday night, but instead of traditional fresh mint leaves, he coaxes the flavor from fresh pineapple-sage leaves to create his incredibly crisp, cool and savory creation he calls a "Pineapple Sage Yuzo Mojito." He wouldn't share the precise recipe but conceded it includes the aforementioned herb leaves, yuzo, vanilla, honey, Bacardi rum (of course), a mint simple syrup, lime juice and soda water. Clear as water and peppered with shards of green, taking one sip feels like jumping into azur Carribean waters.
Hall just might be the guy to beat at this year's contest. Not a rum fan? Try Hall's "Cool Breeze," a sultry blend of Hendrick's gin, muddled fresh cucumber and lemon with fresh ginger, simple syrup and soda water.
Both go down remarkably well with the bar side gratis goodies of candied/smoked nuts, olives and pickled onions and even better with executive chef Michelle Weaver's artful fare, especially the crunchy hot bites of fried mac 'n cheese and the corn beignets.
A girls' night out never tasted so good!
224 King Street, downtown
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
OK. After today, I'm done with the shameless self-promotion and on to a new restaurant review gig which I will share with you tomorrow. Hint - it's Cajun and in North Chuck.
Until then, happy fresh and seasonal cooking. Best, Holly
Culinary Cost-Cutting 101
When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.
It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.
The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like couponmom.com) which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.
Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like couponmom.com with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site (harristeeter.com) , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.
The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!
My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"
Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.
One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals
With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.
In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).
For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.
Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!
Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!
Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.
Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!
Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.
Chicken never tasted so good for so little.