National Dry Martini Day

June 19 – Celebrating A Classic

I just got off a cruise and there were 3 different “Mixology” classes. We tasted 9 different “Martinis.” None of them remotely resembled an actual martini. Today any libation strained into a cocktail class can be called a martini. I’m an old fashion type of guy and I’m often reminded how old I am when I have to explain how to make a martini to a bartender.

This is an actual exchange between myself and a young person tending a bar.

ME:  I’d like a Tanqueray Martini up.
BT:   Gin? Do you still want olive juice
ME:   No, I’d like vermouth.
BT:   (Slowly) Okay, you want me to put the vermouth in the glass then pour it out?
ME:   No, I’d like you to put the vermouth in and leave it.
BT:   You mean like an ingredient?

Look if you want to drink chilled vodka with olive juice, knock yourself out, just don’t call it a martini.  In this video I made last year you’ll see how to make a classic gin martini.

Drink Responsibly or stay home and drink.
Ciao Fro Now

Summer Salads

Just Add Lettuce

There are several varieties of lettuce that are looking and tasting great and we’ve been having salads for lunch and dinner. If we got up early enough to eat breakfast we’d probably have a morning salad as well. We can’t give it away fast enough so we’re making complete meals of salads.

Here are two of our favorites.

The Cobb Salad

funny speaker vinny verelli

The Ingredients.

Sharp cheddar, pickled beets, tomatoes, avocado, chicken and very thick bacon. The hard boiled eggs were placed in the jar of pickled beets for an hour to give them the red color. Leave them in for a day and the red goes deeper into the egg whites. We used a Sweet Vidalia Onion dressing.

Just Add Lettuce
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Smoked Salmon Salad

Funny Speaker and celebrity Chef Vinny Verelli

The Ingredients. 

Smoked Gouda, hard boiled egg, capers, yellow pepper, pimento from a jar, chopped onion and smoked salmon. We used Annie’s Shiitake Sesame Vinaigrette. All the ingredients can be adjusted to your tastes.

Just Add Lettuce.
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National Mint Julep Day

Funny speaker and celebrity chef gives his recipe for the perfect Mint Julep.

The secret to making a great mint julep is in the simple syrup that is infused with fresh mint. There’s only so much flavor you can get out of muddling mint.  When you use crushed ice in a drink it can quickly water down the alcohol. By using 120 Proof Single Barrel Knob Creek this dilution is minimized. The bourbon flavor is still there with sufficient kick.

Although May 30 is officially National Mint Julep Day I usually have my first Julep of the Season on Derby Day. If I’m going out of town on derby day I’ll bring fresh mint with me.

The video below was posted originally on YouTube on July 10, 2012.  I found a jar of mint simple syrup in back of the refrigerator from the day this was shot. There was a funky deposit on the bottom but I was able to skim some clean syrup off the top and make a quick julep to celebrate the day.

DRINK RESPONSIBLY… or stay home and drink.

Want some fun facts about the Mint Julep? Check out this site, MintJulepDay.com

National Coq au Vin Day

Funny Speaker and Celebrity Chef Celebrates National Coq au Vin Day

Today, May 29, is National Coq au Vin Day.  This is not to be confused with Coq au Vin Day which is March 22nd.  This classic French dish is so good they gave it 2 days on the food calendar. There are a lot of different elements to this recipe but the good thing is you can do most of it separately and in advance. The dish, like a fine wine gets better with age, for a couple of days at least.

Coq au Vin literally means “Rooster with Wine,” but has become chicken with wine as it’s hard to find rooster in your local market and your neighbors will get pissed if they catch you poaching some of their roosters. The chicken and wine are braised in the oven or simmered slowly on the range.

When I was living in the NYC it was easy to get fresh chicken from a poultry store including rooster as well as beautiful pieces of pork fat. Although you can find pork fat here in the mountains it’s usually Salt Pork, and when they say salt in the South they’re not kidding. You’d have to scrub the salt off and then soak it. It’s just a lot easier to use the thickest bacon you can find. Besides I have learned to appreciate, no love, the Smokey goodness of bacon.

I like to use chicken thighs as they won’t dry out and are uniform in size making for good portion control. Serve the Coq au Vin over egg noodles One way to go gluten free is to use corn polenta.

For years I’ve used Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe printed here is a hybrid. Part Julia but with traditional mirepoix and some of my own ideas thrown in. Click HERE to see the full recipe with notes from an earlier post.

National Coquilles St. Jacques Day

A Classic French Recipe

Today is May 16 and I’m making a classic French dish, Coquilles St. Jacques, pronounced:  Co-KEE saahn ZHAHK. This is a gratin of scallops and mushrooms in a velouté dusted with breadcrumbs and topped with Gruyère cheese.  For a great effect serve up the scallops in actual scallop shells which you can get at specialty foods stores or at Amazon.  Broil the Coquilles St. Jacques until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is a golden brown.

I decided to make this classic in to commemorate this auspicious day.  I’m gonna tell you up front that I did not like the way these turned out. First of all Ingles didn’t have scallops in their “fresh” fish case. And by fresh it just means the fish has already been thawed out. When you live in the mountains, fish is not going to be fresh.  I had to get scallops from the Frozen Shelf. These scallops literally had no taste what so ever. Not going to say the name as they may someday they’ll want spokesperson.

So I tried to over compensate with the sauce. There was nothing subtle about this sauce. Too much vermouth, too much lemon, too much salt. Use the amounts that come up on the screen they’ve been adjusted. I should have put extra seasoned breadcrumbs and loaded the shells up with extra cheese.

The Classic recipe calls for egg yolks yet I found a lot of recipes that didn’t use them. Whenever there’s any indecision about what to do in the kitchen, you have to ask yourself, “WWJD, What would Julia do?” Well Julia uses egg yolks and also butter, milk, heavy cream  and of course the whole thing is topped with Cheese.  Is she trying to kill us?

Although  the bay scallop is an easy size to work with when you’re going to put the dish in an actually scallop shell, sea Scallop has more flavor. Whatever size you get, you’ll want to trim them to small enough pieces to make room for some mushroom in the sauce on your fork.

INGREDIENTS: 
• 1 3/4 cups water
•  3/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
•  1 medium shallot minced
•  1 clove garlic minced
•  2- springs parsley
•  2 springs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
•  2 bay leaves
•  1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1 pound very fresh scallops – See my note below about frozen scallops.
• 8 ounces mushrooms, washed and chopped
• 6 tablespoons butter
• 4 tablespoons flour
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• Bread crumbs
•  Grated Swiss or Gruyère cheese

I like to use a Bouquet garni. I wrap the  parsley, bay leaves,  thyme and tarragon in some cheesecloth, tied into a neat bundle. This way I don’t have small bits of herbs floating in the sauce that will make caught between my teeth.

1. Bring water, wine, shallot, garlic, bouquet garni, and lemon juice to a boil in a saucepan.  Cook the liquid for a couple of minutes to flavor the poaching liquid. Add the scallops and simmer on low heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Check one scallop to make sure it’s cooked.  Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add the mushrooms to the scallop poaching liquid and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Strain, discarding the bouquet garni and reserving the liquid and mushrooms separately. Some recipes say to poach the scallops and the mushrooms together. I don’t do this as I don’t want to over cook the scallops.

3. Cut the scallops into 1/2-inch-thick slices. If you’re using jumbo scallops you may want to cut the slices horizontally. But if you have beautiful fresh jumbo scallops, why drown them in sauce and cover them with cheese.

4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook over low heat for about 2 minutes. Do not let the flour brown.  Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of the scallop liquid into the flour mixture until blended. Now add the blended flour mixture back into the poaching liquid.  Add the cream and simmer and stir until blended and thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the scallops and mushrooms to the velouté and mix all together.

5. Fill 6 scallop shells or shallow 6-inch ramekins almost to the top with the scallop mixture. Dust the top lightly with breadcrumbs and sprinkle with the grated cheese. (If you’re not ready to serve the scallops, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

6. Broil the scallops until the mixture bubbles and the cheese melts and turns golden brown.

Coquilles St. Jacques are great for a first course or fish course served with a chilled white Burgundy or my preference, a Prosecco.

NOTE ON FISH:
If you like to cook fish you should get to know the person behind the fish case and get them to tell you how long the fish has been siting there. Some markets in land-locked areas say, “We fly our fish in daily.” I don’t care if you fly it in daily, you still have to fly it in.

Fresh fish is fish off the boat that is still alive. Fresh fish is fish YOU caught cleaned and cooked that night. After that? “Fresh” is relative.

I’ve gotten large scallops at Costco that have been as good as you can get inland. It arrives to the store frozen and is thawed out in small amounts and sold. Costco is up front with you and doesn’t try to sell you the scallops as fresh. But these scallops have not been processed in a big plant and do have a lot of flavor.

 

What Chefs Cook For Chefs

American Academy of Chefs Gala Dinner: Part 2

As a follow up to my post of May 6 here are some photos and descriptions of the food served at the Daniel Islands Club on Monday, April 28, 2014 for the American Academy of Chef’s Gala Dinner.

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settingAfter 8 appetizers from She Crab Soup to Caviar, from Smoked Duck with Port Cherries, to Southern Fried Oysters. Not to mention Alabama Crab Cakes, Blackened Shrimp and Pork Rillette with Peach Confit, we were ushered into the dining room. The place setting spoke volumes as what awaited us. Not since my meal at the James Beard House in New York had I savored as delectable and decadent a meal.

 

 

salmon mousseBig flavor in a tiny package. The banquet began with Smoked Salmon Mousse with BBQ potato chip and chive oil. The chips were bursting with flavor and would have overpowered the delicate mousse  had I eaten then together.  I savored tiny tastes of the salmon’s followed by the crispy chips. Served with a Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Vally 2012

 

henNext came Guinea Hen on a Foie Gras, Celery Root & Wild Mushroom Duxelle. I was thinking I could make an entire meal of this, but we were just getting started.

Served with a Wild Horse Pino Noir, Central Coast 2012

 

 

 

scallopsThe Fish course was a cast iron seared jumbo scallops with a lump crab fava bean succotash.

Served with a Clos D Bois “Calcaire” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2010

 

 

lambThe main course was a domestic lamb sous vide with a Merlot Demi with smoked Yukon potato au gratin and Lavender Heirloom Carrot. I meant to ask how long the lamb bathed before it was seared to perfection, but my mouth was full.

Served with a Hoge “Genesis” Merlot, Columbia Valley 2011

 

saladIn traditional Continental fashion the salad was served after the main course to aid with digestion. It was an Arugula Salad with Fried Green Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Black Eye Pea Vinaigrette.
No wine was served with the salad.

 

 

desertFor dessert, Dulcey Mousse, Roasted Vanilla Bean Biscuit, Rasberry & Cocoa Nib. In addition a tray of petifores was passed.

Served with a Rober Mondavi Moscato D’Oro, Napa Valley 2012

 

 

A big thank you to all the chefs and staff of the Daniel Islands Club in Charleston, SC for this amazing culinary experience.

 

Food Made Even Better by Impeccable Service

American Academy of Chefs Gala Dinner

IceSculptureLast weekend I attended the Southeast Conference of the American Culinary Federation in Charleston, SC. Founded in 1929 the ACF is now the largest professional chefs organization in North America. These people are serious about food. Sure I made my living doing restaurant work for 15 years, but it was just because I couldn’t make a living as an actor.

Being around, professional chefs, culinary instructors and students for four days I realized how little I knew. We didn’t speak the same language. What we did have in common was our passion for food.

Pork Rib Lollypop, Smoked Homey Grits, Sweet Potato Bourbon, Collard Kimchi

Pork Rib Lollypop, Smoked Homey Grits, Sweet Potato Bourbon, Collard Kimchi

One of the best parts about going to a conferences for professional chefs is that the food takes center stage. There was always something being made and therefore there is always something to taste, from the Rice Breaker on Saturday night to the awards gala on Tuesday night. On Monday night some local restaurants had a reception in the in the hotel lobby with samplings of some of their specialties like the one at the right from Southerly Restaurant and  Patio.

Also on Monday night was the American Academy of Chefs Gala Dinner. Did I say dinner? I would amend dinner to say, “feast.” It must be very stressful to prepare a 6 course meal with wine parings for a dining room full of professional chefs. The Culinary team at the Daniel Island Club was up to the task.

But even more impressive than the food was the service. I don’t remember ever being as impressed with a staff at any venue anywhere. If you had a used napkin in your hand it was taken from you before you could think, “Where can I put this?” If you especially liked a passes appetizer, like the Smoked duck breast on Edisto Island grits with a Port Cherry sauce, the server seemed to seek you out to make sure you were offered another tantalizing taste on their next pass through the room.  And they were smiling, all of them! Not a Stepford Wife kind of service smile but a genuine smile that was warm and inviting. The same severs who passed the hors d’oeuvres also served dinner and poured our wine. With dinner conversations in full swing around the table, the courses seemed to glide into placed and float away. It was a classic ballet flawlessly executed.

Exceptional Staff at the Daniel Island Club, Charleston, SC.

Exceptional Staff at the Daniel Island Club, Charleston, SC.

Service Exceeding Expectations sm
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Therefore the SEE Award for April goes to the servers at the Daniel Island Club in Charleston, SC. Click here to see what was served at the Gala