Monday, March 23, 2015

Food Guide for a Quick Trip to Charleston, SC

This past weekend I took a whirlwind of a trip to Charleston, SC to celebrate my beautiful friend Kelly’s bachelorette party. I’ve been itching for the opportunity to check out this city after hearing about its up-and-coming food scene. It lived up to the hype too. In the 48 hours of time spent in the city, I had more giant flaky biscuits and jam than I’d like to admit, along with plenty of other southern favorites and a few unexpected gems along the way. But, in addition to meal after meal of fabulous eats and drinks, the pastel sunsets, palmettos, and quaint southern charm won me over. Charleston, it was a wild ride!

It’s a quirky spot. It's open for breakfast for unique breakfast sandwiches and then switches to a trendy bar in the afternoon complete with $3 cans of beer for happy hour and one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had (It comes with crispy pork confit, a soft-boiled egg and housemade noodles but I highly recommend adding on the sesame greens). They also sell provisions and pastries in the front room.

If you know anything about the Jeni’s Ice Cream franchise you’ll know that they offer some crazy flavors along with the classics and to put it simply, it’s just really great ice cream. The 7 Layer Bar flavor was fab!

A great spot to grab some drinks and snacks with friends and definitely a place to order one (or more) of everything and have a tasting party. It’s got that speakeasy vibe and the drinks are seriously innovative. I went for a concoction called the “Banana Hammock” (Flor De Cana 7 Rum, Zaya 12 Rum, Banana, Pineapple, Vanilla Syrup, Lemon, Orgeat, Walnut Dram, Angostura Bitters) that had a distinct caramel nuttiness along with the sweet tropical flavors. Also definitely try out the grilled cheese that they somehow make it inside-out where the bread and meat are on the inside and it's concealed in a pouch of crispy, nearly-burnt cheese.

It’s called the best place for brunch in Charleston and I absolutely believe it. They have nailed the perfect southern breakfast, keeping things pretty classic in an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sort of mentality. I ordered the shrimp and grits (it’s a splurge but it’s so worth it) but also heard lots of happy words from those who got the “Charleston Nasty Biscuit,” a biscuit stuffed with a fried chicken breast and smothered in sausage gravy.

Definitely add this on to your to-do list if you have a chance. It’s about a 30-minute drive outside of the city (stop to see the Angel Oak Tree along the way) but it's quite the experience having the opportunity to try both Charleston wines and spirits at the same location. They make their wine from several varieties of muscadine grapes which are native to the Lowcountry. The distillery lets you try 6 of the many varieties of spirits made by firefly with wild flavors like mint tea vodka, apple pie and caramel moonshine, many fruity flavors, and a 100 proof moonshine called while lightning which was quite honestly the smoothest shot I have ever had. Let me just say that after a combination of the two, you’ll definitely need to hang around and check out the farm animals for a bit before taking the drive back.

An excellent spot for a fancy celebratory dinner. There are lots of tempting appetizers so my suggestion is to team up with someone in your party and pick several options to share rather than just sticking with a main course. The deviled eggs were light and tangy and topped with ham and roasted red peppers. We also got a skillet of the truffle Kennebec potato fries which we continued to eat long after we were full until they were completely finished. The fresh blueberry salad with granola, yogurt, and white balsamic was a refreshing in-between course before the spit-roasted chicken with Moroccan flavors and roasted carrots and sunchokes. The S’more Pie also makes for a show-stopping dessert.

And last but not least, Toast!
Again, a classic southern breakfast. There will be a bit of a wait but if you can hold out it’ll be worth your time. Biscuits again are a must along with the fried green tomatoes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lemon Pasta with Bacon and Peas (and welcoming spring)

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) arranging
a window, into which people look (while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here) and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things, while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there) and

without breaking anything.

-E.E. Cummings

In literature, in art, in life, Spring is the time of change and new starts. It is a time to shake off the troubles that Winter brought and to look at the world with fresh new eyes, ready for what will come next. Now, more than any Spring before this in my live, have I felt it representing rebirth as a stronger more confident person and with a greater understanding of what I want to come. In the recent dying days of this Winter, I have plummeted to the bottom but already, with warmer and longer days and the encouragement of those around, I can already feel myself stepping up from that. And, for me at least, the feeling of rejuvenation generally turns into time in the kitchen, and yesterday, this is what resulted from that.

This pea and bacon pasta is very appropriate for the seasonal transition. It still contains the richness that we desire in the colder months from the bacon and mascarpone, while inviting in lemony freshness and bright pops of fresh peas. It’s a quick, throw-together dish that doesn’t necessarily require specific measurements or a strict following of ingredients, but more so encourages intuition and going on what seems and feels right. And when it done this way, it’s a freeing feeling resulting in a pretty fantastic dish. It's letting go, trusting instinct and the things you’ve learned to guide you, and finding yourself with something wonderful. It’s a nice way to welcome the forthcoming Spring.

Lemon Pasta with Creamy Bacon and Pea Sauce
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Food Revolution

6 slices of bacon
1 lb of pappardelle pasta (I highly recommend the Lemon Pepper Pappardelle from Trader Joe’s)
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cups frozen peas
3 Tbs. mascarpone cheese
1 lemon
6 oz parmesan

Start by finely slicing the bacon and grating the parmesan cheese and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile add a bit of oil to a large frying pan and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the bacon. Crack some fresh black pepper overtop and cook until crispy. Once the bacon is cooked, add in the frozen peas and give everything a stir. Cook for about a minute and then add in the mascarpone cheese. Stir to combine.

By this time the pasta should be about done. Reserve about a half-cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta into a colander. Add the pasta to the frying pan with the bacon and peas and toss everything together. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon overtop and add in a bit of the pasta water if the sauce needs to be thinned out a bit. Throw in the grated parmesan and a bit of salt, if needed, and give everything a quick mix before serving. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chocolate Whisky Fudge

About a week back I was working from home because we had a snowstorm, which in Washington D.C. speak means we got 4 inches. But, rather than getting excited about the idea of working in my pajamas for the day or taking advantage of the chance to coincide household chores with work, I instead took the opportunity to make whisky sugar. That’s a normal thing to do, right…?

An infusion of simply those two things, whisky sugar doesn’t take much effort, just time. After combining the two ingredients and spreading the mixture out on a sheet pan, it goes into a 200-degree oven for about 8 hours until the moisture evaporates and you’re left with something resembling the demerara sugar you started with, but infused with a nice boozy flavor. The whisky doesn’t have an overwhelming presence, but just enough to let you know it’s there. So with whisky sugar at hand, the next natural step was to make chocolate whisky fudge…you know, in order to sprinkle the sugar overtop it. I suppose these are the thoughts that go though your head when cabin-fever craziness coincides with chocolate cravings.

But yes, the next step did indeed happen, the two entities merged, and I have therefore spent the last few days failing at resisting temptation to eat fudge every time I think of it. Which is often. I wasn’t even much a fudge fan to begin with but there’s something different about this one. It takes on a quality that it more like a chocolate truffle since it’s much smoother and creamier than the gritty and crumbly fudge I used to know. The whisky, in both the fudge and the sugar, also lends a deep caramel flavor rounded out by a sprinkling of flaky salt on top.

The fudge itself, excluding the time it takes to make the sugar, actually comes together quickly and easily so it’s certainly something you can make when short on time. Just top with plain demerara sugar instead. Perhaps this is a little untimely with it’s post Valentine’s Day unveiling but if you’re itching for something to do while hiding away in the house, escaping the cold, you too may find that making fudge is a rather nice way to spend the day.

Chocolate Fudge with Whisky Sugar
Adapted from Bon App├ętit
Note: you will have lots of leftover sugar, which is great in a cup of coffee. It will keep for 2 months.


For the Whisky Sugar
1 cup demerara sugar
2 Tbs. Whisky (I used Crown Royal Maple Whisky for a bit of added sweetness)

For the Fudge
10 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
10 Tbs butter, cut into pieces
2 Tbs whisky
1 Tbs light corn syrup
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
The whisky sugar and Maldon Sea Salt for sprinkling on top

Make the sugar. Heat the oven to 200 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Mix together the sugar and whisky and spread out evenly on the pan. Place in the oven for 8 hours leaving the door of the oven slightly ajar. After about 4 hours, I recommend pulling it out and breaking up the sugar with a rolling pin since it will start to form into one big sheet of sugar. By the end of the 8 hours, it should feel like dry sugar again. If not leave in the oven until it does.

Now make the fudge. Line an 8x8 inch brownie pan with parchment paper, leaving overhang on all sides, and brush lightly with vegetable oil. Heat the chocolates in a heatproof bowl that is set overtop a pan of simmering water (don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Stir until the chocolate is just melted and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the condensed milk, butter, whisky, corn syrup, salt, and vanilla. Heat on medium, while stirring, until just hot.  Using a rubber spatula, stir a quarter of the milk mixture into the chocolate. Continue adding the milk, one quarter at a time, stirring after each addition. It will look like it’s separating but it will come back together so don’t worry. After adding the last of the milk, stir the mixture vigorously for about 5 minutes. It should be shiny and almost stretchy. Scrape into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle over the whisky sugar and the flaky salt, as much as you desire. Let cool, cover, and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Once chilled, remove from the pan and cut into blocks. The fudge will keep in the fridge for a week.