I’m Writing Less, Doing More (Food Porn)

23 03 2014

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately (unless you count recipe development) because I’ve been cooking.

Cooking at home, making quick dishes that use what I have on hand.

Cooking at work for members of the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club for various cooking classes and events.

I even cooked for friends recently, laying out a buffet of finger foods for their daughter’s Baby Shower – it was how I spent my “day off.”

Yesterday’s “No-Tomato Italian” cooking class menu was particularly tasty.  Italians love tomatoes, but they don’t eat them at every meal or every day – there is a whole country of good eating that we Americans often overlook in favor of pasta and tomatoes when thinking of Italy.  I think the best meals are the ones where the focus is on quality ingredients prepared in a minimalist fashion, which is exactly what yesterday’s class was all about.  The menu was Melon & Prosciutto Salad with Blood Orange & Shallot Vinaigrette, Lemon Oregano Roast Chicken with Parmesan Polenta and Balsamic Grilled Onions, and a delicious Orange Olive Oil Cake with jarred Peaches.  One of the students recently went to Italy and said that my recipes transported her back to that trip.  Frankly, that’s the most flattering thing anyone could say about my food.

Of course, I failed to get any pictures.  As a marketing manager, I suck.  As a cook, instructor, merchandiser, writer, and General Manager I do a pretty good job.  Perhaps its all those other responsibilities that interfere with my being better at marketing and social media – I just have too much on my plate.  How can you worry about pictures when you are feeding, educating, and entertaining guests?  The person in front of me is always my focus, and I never seem to get back to all those potential guests and customers out there in cyberspace.  There’s just not enough time.

So perhaps this little picture book of a handful of the food I have created lately will encourage my local readers to stop into The Seasoned Gourmet to say hey, or to join the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club to take some classes with me and taste my food themselves or learn to make it.  If nothing else, it will serve to inform you all that I am not gone, just busy doing rather than writing.

If you’d like any of the recipes for the tasty food shown here, just ask and ye shall receive!

Happy eating!


Porking Around Wilmington & Chicago…and Ponzu

8 03 2013

Hello My Dear Readers!

Sorry for yet another long pause in the white noise that is my so-called foodie blog.  You probably slept just fine without me.  But here I am, back to annoy you.  While I was away, I wasn’t merely chained to the stove at work like usual; they actually IMG_1677extended my leash and let me go to Chicago for a trade show.  When I returned from freezing my tail off up north, there was a bracing cold 30 mile per hour wind blowing here in coastal North Carolina that seemed to have followed me back from the Windy City.  My apologies to my neighbors.

It seems that March is shaping up to be all about pigs in my corner of the universe.  I’m thinking about bacon, belly, barbeque (which to those of us in this part of NC means pulled pork shoulder or butt with a vinegar sauce), chicharones, lardo, all manner of charcuterie – pretty much anything that comes from our cleft-hooved friends.  So let me share with you some of the porky highlights going on ‘round here.

‘Prince of Pork’ Packs his Pouch:  We got word that Chef Kyle Lee McKnight – most recently manning the stoves at manna in downtown Wilmington – is departing our fair city to run the kitchens of a new venture in Hickory, NC.  Kyle has been dubbed the “Prince of Pork” by locals because of his work with Bev Eggleston to create “outrageously fine swine” including delicious artisan charcuterie crafted by Kyle and made from Iberico hogs (the delicious breed made famous in Spain).  So what happened is that local star chef Keith Rhodes and local food blogger Kyle McKnightextraordinaire Liz Biro planned an event to bid Kyle farewell and this coming Sunday, March 10th, some of us will be enjoying a 10-course tasting menu in his honor featuring – you guessed it – pork!  (If you want to join us, click here to see if tickets are still available.)  We are starting with chicharones and ending with bacon and waffle ice cream – are you jealous yet?  Serious respect amongst industry folks in our town for Kyle…can’t wait to see where his future takes him.

Chocolate Wins (on anything):  On March 4th, the Fire on the Dock battle between Chef Brent Poteat of 22 North on Wrightsville Beach and Chef Pat Greene of Elijah’s downtown featured Heritage Farms Premium Pork.  Though the evening’s victory went to Brent, the diners seemed to really dig Pat’s Seasoned Collard Green Pork Soup with Candied Bacon.  I think the idea of featuring pork in a soup is genius;porksoup it’s certainly not on my Top 10 list of things to make with pork, but the scores were pretty high.  Way to go, Pat!  At the end of the evening, it seems that you get more points with chocolate crème fraiche cake than with pork roulade (didn’t anybody tell Pat that, while not required, dessert has won these battles for many a chef?)  It looked like a tasty battle and I am sorry I missed it.  Perhaps I will see Brent in the final four coming up at the end of the month.

Mangiale il Maiale (Eat the Pig):  I couldn’t help myself, I had to work pork into a cooking class.  So I came up with an ode to Florence, Italy and surrounding countryside for a cooking class I am conducting on March 26th.  I’m calling it Flavors of Florence and I’m serving an anitpasto of Calamari Salad with Basil, Mint, Grape Tomatoes, and Shallots; Spaghetti tossed with a spicy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce; tender Marinated Pork Chops with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce; and simple but stunning individual Puff Pastry Fruit Tarts with Chantilly Cream.

Happy as a Pig in…Wine?:  While in Chicago for a trade show scouting the latest, greatest kitchen tools for our store, I had the opportunity to dine at The Purple Pig, a happening little place on North Michigan Avenue in the heart of the Windy City.  I arrived early, which is to say that there was no line yet, though nearly every seat was full on this Sunday evening.  Since I was alone, they squeezed me into a bar stool at what they call “The Chef’s Counter,” behind which most of the cooking takes place in this pork-centric culinary haven.  Next to me, the Expediter on my side of the counter was in constant eye contact with the Chef de Cuisine who called out near-constant orders to the cooks on the line and tasted nearly everything before sending it out to the diners.  Here, Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. and crew craft some of their own charcuterie and transform all parts of the pig into delicious creations that are carefully prepared and beautifully presented.  It was a friendly place with more than reasonable prices for the quality; my tab for the evening came in under $50 for four courses.  The wine list is extensive and well chosen, hence the color purple in the name on the door.  I was so excited about the cheese and charcuterie course that I failed to snap a photo for you, and the same thing happened with the beets – sorry.  I did, however, sneak one of my neighbor’s marrow bones; I have a tiny twinge of regret for not ordering them myself.  But everything I had was fabulous:  Lingua Agrodolce with Quadrelo (both house made); Salt-Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese and Pistachio Vinaigrette; “JLT,” an open faced sandwich with Pork Jowl, Tomato, dressed Frisée, and a fried Duck Egg; and I stole off into the frigid night with Grandma D’s Chocolate Cake with Almond & Orange Marmaletta.  You must visit this approachable and delicious place when next in Chicago – you will not regret it!

IMG_1689 IMG_1688 IMG_1686 IMG_1685 IMG_1681 I am sure there are more porkified events going on, but that’s what I have to report for now.  So get in the spirit and start porking around – the possibilities are endless!  Here’s a little recipe to get you started.

P.S. The Ponzu keeps in the fridge for a month or so and makes boring Chinese take-out on those busy evenings a whole lot better!

Ponzu-Orange Marinated Pork Tenderloin

2 cups Ponzu Sauce (recipe follows; or use store-bought)

Juice and Zest of 1 large Orange

½ cup Canola or Vegetable Oil

1 Pork Tenderloin, trimmed, silver skin removed

Combine ponzu, oil, juice, and zest in a Ziploc bag.  Add the tenderloin to the marinade, squeeze the air out of the bag, close and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat your grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.  Sear the tenderloin for about 2 minutes per side.  Reduce heat to medium and grill an additional 5 minutes per side.

Remove from heat and tent with foil.  Rest for 5 minutes.  Slice into 1” thick rounds and serve.

Serves 4.


Ponzu Sauce

2/3 cup Lemon Juice, more to taste

1/3 cup Lime Juice, more to taste

¼ cup Rice Vinegar

1 cup Soy Sauce

¼ cup Mirin (or 1/4 cup sake and 1 tablespoon sugar)

1 3-inch piece Kelp (konbu)

½ cup (about ¼ ounce) dried Bonito Flakes

Pinch Ground Cayenne Pepper

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight. Strain. Just before using, you might add a small squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.

Cover and refrigerate.

Makes about 2 ½ cups.


Inspired Cooking with Marc Copenhaver

19 09 2012

I was sitting at home on Friday evening catching up with what people were saying on Twitter, and came across a tweet from Marc’s on Market about a cooking class on Sunday.  If you don’t know, Marc & Sara Copenhaver own and operate the restaurant Marc’s on Market at 7213 Market Street here in Wilmington.  I was looking forward to a day off on Sunday and had no plans; going to a cooking class sounded like fun.  So I called and left a message for a reservation and made a note on my calendar.

Those of you who know what I do to earn my paycheck may find it a bit weird that I went to a cooking class.  I manage The Seasoned Gourmet, a locally owned kitchen store that hosts the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club; cooking classes are a major part of what we do, and I teach classes myself.  For you, I submit this:  Just because I host classes every week and teach a few doesn’t mean I know everything.  I’m not a gourmet chef; I’m just a good cook.  I love food and cooking and am always looking for inspiration in the kitchen.  As it turns out, Marc’s class was definitely inspiring – I’m so glad they had room for me to attend!

On this day, we went beyond the simple, modern dining room I have patronized numerous times into the spotlessly clean operating room of this 2008 Wilmington Top Chef.  Marc’s theme for the class was to create a meal from what he found at the Farmer’s Market – seasonal cooking at its best.  He did indeed have some local, seasonal selections like kohlrabi, onions, okra, and head-on shrimp.  He also selected some items that are in season right now but not grown locally, like baby artichokes from California and Hatch chilis from New Mexico.  Marc recommends that you not get too hung up on the local thing, but challenge yourself instead to cook seasonally and enjoy the best of everything that is available.  As he said, “Everyone has a right to make a living selling their products.”

Marc started the session by sharing his thought process about how to bring all these great ingredients together, telling us that we
should apply what we know about cooking different ingredients and use that to guide us as we create new dishes.  The star of the dayCap Steak, Creamed Corn, Okra was undoubtedly the Deckel Steak (also known as Cap Steak or Loin Flap Steak), which Marc described as the cut of beef that is wrapped around the outside of the Rib Eye.  It looks a bit like the flank, but Marc says the grain runs the opposite direction of flank.  He trimmed the excess fat, sliced the meat lengthwise against the grain, and rolled it into pinwheels tying it together with butcher’s twine.  A simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and a brush of oil and Marc grilled this to a perfect medium rare.  Served with Fresh Creamed Corn with diced Hatch Chilis and Onions plus Pan Seared Petite Okra this was a fantastic small plate of food packed with flavor.

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Before we enjoyed the Cap Steak et al, we had what Marc called a counterintuitive take on Shrimp; “Sweated” Shrimp cooked low and slow (well, slow for shrimp anyhow) in a dab of butter and served with Kohlrabi Slaw and Roasted Baby Artichokes.  The texture of the shrimp was amazing.  “It’s the same bite all the way through,” Marc said, as opposed to the rubbery outside and soft inside that quick-cooked shrimp often has.  Marc’s idea here was to let the shrimp cook in their own juices with minimal seasoning, which can only be done with super fresh shrimp that hasn’t been drowned in tap water or frozen.  The kohlrabi slaw had a great texture but I would have kicked up the flavor some (the older I get, the more flavor I crave).

The final dish was like going to science class – and I was the student who was awed by it the most!  My cooking is very basic and traditional, so imagine my surprise when Mark flavored up some sour cream in the stand mixer and then added crushed dry ice to it to make an almost instant ice cream!  While I didn’t care for the flavor profile – sour cream, maple, cinnamon, apple cider – I was highly impressed with the texture and the speed of the process.  I will be going to Rose’s to get some dry ice to try this technique very soon.  Marc served the ice cream with roasted, caramelized pears for a sweet finish to a fun class.

Unlike other classes where you know the menu in advance and the table is set for you, this experience was totally folksy (carry your own chairs to the kitchen if you want one) and free form – the menu is not announced in advance.  As long as you don’t suffer from any allergies or dietary restrictions, it’s rather fun to walk in and be surprised about what you will be eating.  The portions are modest, so you won’t have to cancel your dinner plans.  You aren’t provided recipes – you write down what you want to remember as you go, and Marc happily repeats anything you might miss during the action.  Sara pours generous samplings of the wines that she has carefully paired to the menu.  At $45 per person with the modest portions of food and the self-help aspects, I would rate it a fair value but not a great one.  However, if you want the chance to go behind the swinging doors into the restaurant kitchen of one of Wilmington’s most talented chefs, then the experience is priceless.

I hear that Marc & Sara offer these classes once a month on a Saturday or a Sunday at lunch time.  If you “like” them on Facebook or follow them on twitter (@marcsonmarket) you are sure to hear about them, as well as their menu changes and specials.  Whether you  attend a class or stop in for dinner any given day (except Monday), you are sure to enjoy good food and great hospitality!

Making Bread with a Master

28 04 2012

My journey into bread making started about 6 years ago.  It’s hard to believe, but internet resources were scare back then (YouTube wasn’t created until 2006, about the same time as my bread journey began).  Recipes were readily available, along with some pictures, but videos and step-by-step instruction was not.  So I found a few recipes, bought some yeast and flour, and headed to the kitchen.  For the first two years, it was not a pretty scene.  I would try a recipe, produce something that more closely resembled a football than a loaf of bread, then head back to the grocery store to buy a loaf, discouraged.  A couple months later I would try again, with more or less the same results.

It is said that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.  One day I realized that this was my problem.  I had been trying to achieve this oft-cited state of “smooth and elastic” without really knowing what it meant.  In the process, I was producing very firm, dry dough.  Since I had already wasted a ridiculous amount of flour and yeast – which are thankfully quite inexpensive – I decided I could afford a little more dough in the trash can to give it one more try.  I was going to do the opposite of what I had been doing and see what happened.

Once again I started with the water, yeast, and a touch of salt and sugar.  I added the flour a cup at a time as called for in the recipe, but stopped short of using the full amount this time, leaving the dough a bit sticky.  I turned it out onto a very lightly floured counter top and kneeded gently, just until the dough became a little less sticky and held together.  Then I put it in the oiled bowl, covered it, and waited.  I just couldn’t stand it after about 30 minutes, so I peeked.  Miracle of miracles, it was rising!   When it finally went in the oven, I sat on the floor staring through the window of the oven watching it every minute.  Maybe I was a bit insane, but I had finally made something that resembled bread, so I felt a little less crazy that day.

If I had known Eugene Spagnoli back then, I would never have spent two crazy years trying to learn to make bread.  I would have gotten the basics in just one lesson, much like the students today at his bread class at the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club.  Eugene is a soft spoken retired music teacher who has spent many of his retirement days exploring the art of yeast breads.  The years of practice were evident in his deft handling of the dough today.

Eugene goes through the bread-making motions so effortlessly that we would have missed many of the finer points were it not for his lovely wife, Marian, who is clearly the yin to his yang.  She called our attention to many of his processes, and skillfully reigned in our chit chat so that we would not miss any of the stories and tips Eugene had to share.  I neglected to ask if she had also been a teacher, but she sure has the crowd control chops of an experienced educator.  They make such a great pair!

Eugene shared two basic recipes with us today – one for a white dough that he uses for dinner and sandwich rolls, and one for a tasty whole wheat honey-seed loaf.  Both were absolutely fabulous and I

Students gather to watch the mixer do the work

will definitely be making them at home.  When I do, I will share the recipes with you.   But my ulterior motive for attending was to pick his brain about achieving that crunchy crust for artisan loaves.  I suspected it would involve steam, but I wanted to know his technique.  I was right, steam was involved – not just a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven, but also periodic spritzing of water on the loaves during baking as well.

Eugene is also a firm believer in bread flour, which is high in gluten and gives that lovely chewy texture that we are all so fond of in bakery bread.  He also likes unbleached flour, a philosophy with which I am in total agreement.  Why take all the goodness out of the wheat and try to put it back later (which is what the bleaching process does)?

Without any more specific information than that (he’s going to do another class, so I didn’t want to steal his thunder with the other students), I came home and got to work.  The results follow.

A huge thanks goes to Eugene for sharing his years of trial and error so that I can have immediate gratification!  You can catch his classes and mine at Cape Fear Food & Wine Club, hosted by The Seasoned Gourmet.  I will be leaving the bread classes to the master from this point forward.

I used up all my bread flour and am too lazy to go to the store.  So today I am using all-purpose flour, which will yield a finer crumb in the final product.  That will be just fine with me for today.  For chewier bread, substitute bread flour for the all-purpose.  I achieved my crunchy crust, which is what this was all about for me.

Easy Bakery-Style Baguettes – Makes 2 loaves

This also makes great submarine sandwich rolls if cut into 4 or 6 equal pieces before the second rise.

2 packets (2 ½ teaspoons) Instant Rise Dry Active Yeast

5 cups All Purpose Flour

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

1 teaspoon Sugar

Fresh Herbs, if desired (I used thyme)

2 cups Water (slightly warm, no more than 110oF)

½ cup Oil (canola for a neutral taste, olive oil if preferred)

Note about Warm Water:  If your water is too hot, you will kill the yeast and your dough will not rise.  It is better to err on the side of caution and use room temperature water if you don’t have an instant-read thermometer to verify the water temperature.  It may take a little longer to rise, but rise it will.

Place your water and oil in a large mixing bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients together in another bowl or shake together in a Ziploc bag.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.  If you can’t get it past being shaggy, add a bit more water.  If it is really sticky, add a bit more flour.  Use very small amounts of water and flour to make these adjustments, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  Once the dough comes together in a ball, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter or board.  Kneed the dough for about 3 minutes, until it is smooth and less sticky.

Lightly oil and bowl and place the dough in the bowl.  Turn it once to coat with oil.  Cover and let rise until doubled in volume (time varies with room temperature, humidity, etc).  Remove the dough from the bowl, cut into 2 equal pieces, and shape into baguettes.  If you have a baguette form, oil it and place the loaves on it now.  If you do not, you can arrange them freeform on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal or lined with parchment paper to prevent sticking.  You will not move the loaves again – they will be baked after the second rise on the pan they rise on.  Rest until doubled in size again, then prepare the oven.

Preheat oven to 450oF.  Boil 2 quarts of water and pour it into a rectangular baking pan.  Place the pan with the boiling water on the bottom shelf of the oven.  Place a rack in the center of the oven and place the baguette pan on it.  Spritz the loaves with water, repeating every 10 minutes of bake time.  Bake until deep golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped, about 20 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes before slicing.  To freeze, cool completely then wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

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