Sunday, December 6, 2015

Weekend Getaway - Charleston SC

The weekend before Thanksgiving Zac and I spent Thursday - Sunday on a long weekend trip to Charleston SC and Savannah, Georgia.  I detailed our amazing meal at Husk in Charleston here, check it out.  Friday began with work, but by midday we were ready to conquer historic Charleston. We started off with lunch at Slightly North of Broad, or S.N.O.B.  

We started with a couple of appetizers, the Butternut Squash Bisque with pecan crumble, creme fraĆ®che, and Steamed Local Clams parsley, roasted garlic cream, grilled baguette. 

For an entree, Zac ordered the Shrimp and Grits with house sausage, country ham, tomatoes, green onions, Geechie Boy grits.

I had one of the specials, which was sauteed shrimp with vegetables and avocado salad. All the food was good, shrimp and grits was probably my favorite!  Bisque had the perfect consistency, it was surprisingly light and airy.

After lunch we set about exploring the peninsula of historic Charleston on our own self paced walking tour.  Charleston is a beautiful city, and I particularly enjoyed the area south of Broad on Meeting Street. Below is the Calhoun mansion, so pretty! 

We walked down to the tip of the peninsula to Battery street and park.  The blue skies, blue water, and trees (and perfect upper 50s low 60s temps) made the park a perfect place to take a break and enjoy the scenery!

Ft Sumter in the distance

Along the bay on E Battery
Zac in front of the cobblestone Vendue Range, cute street!
For dinner we headed southwest of Charleston to the Folly Beach area to Bowens Island Restaurant. We passed the restaurant and went all the way to Folly Beach to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, and got there just at sunset! 

Folly Beach

We watched the sun completely set over at Bowen's Island Restaurant, which is a few minutes inland from the Ocean.  What a show!  A small boat passing by made it that much better, it was beyond perfect.  One of the best sunsets ever.

Now down to business - dinner!  We knew we had to get the oysters, heard good things about them here, and decided to get a sampling of just about everything.  At Bowen's you order at a counter, find your table, and then listen up when your food is ready. Pretty casual place.  For the oysters, they give you a ticket and instruct you to go downstairs to the "Oyster room" where your batch is steamed fresh just for you.  I handled getting the oysters.  We ordered a tray, not really knowing what that meant.  It literally was a tray, like at a cafeteria, full of oysters.

One tray of oysters
Large sampler platter
Frog-more Stew aka Low Country Boil
All of the food was delicious and exactly what we were hoping for! So let me tell you about the oysters.....I wish we had a better photo, or better yet a video of what shucking those oysters was like. It's not shucking AN oyster but taking this huge chunk of what looked like ocean floor, which could have 5-10 oysters of varying sizes on each chunk.  Also, we had not actually shucked any oysters ever, much less thus mass of ocean floor like substance I'm describing.  But we are brave and adventurous, right? Right, we don't even hesitate.  

I dive right in.  Not to brag, but I'm a natural.  Zac said I looked like an otter or some other marine mammal analyzing it's prey, and immediately figured it out as if my life depended on it and shucked away. I cracked the code.  Anyway, it was a LOT of fun.  I shucked and shucked to the point one of the waitresses must have taken notice and brought ANOTHER HALF TRAY that another nearby couple had given up on.  They did not crack the code.   I could have used the towel more effectively to hold them, lesson learned.   Another tip - you can't be afraid to get your hands completely covered with seafood plunder.

Very glad we went to Bowen's Island Restaurant! If back in that area could see us going back there again.  It was pretty affordable too, particularly the oysters (I guess since they make you do half the work!)  Fun casual place with great fresh seafood!

Later that night, we ventured out again to experience Charleston at night and hunt out some tasty sweet treats.  We first stopped at Belgian Gelato on Vendue Range.  I have never thought to put ice cream on a hot waffle.  Given my love of waffles, I don't see how I've never seen or had this before! We ordered one of the waffles with cappuccino gelato, chocolate, and coffee sauce.  It was SO GOOD.  Waffle + ice cream + hot fudge type sauce = heaven.

The night life picked up a bit near Market street, but we were actually a little surprised how quiet it was everywhere else. Since so much of historic Charleston is residential, I guess this shouldn't be so surprising after all.  We had Kaminsky's dessert bar the night before after Husk, and didn't have to wait at all (it was a Thursday night).  The line was now out the door and down the street! Tip - go to Kaminsky's on a night other than Friday at 9pm.

We kept walking, turned north on King Street, passed the College of Charleston area, until we got to Macintosh. Zac had heard good things, so we wanted to stop in just for a small bite (meaning a 2nd dessert, but it's a vacation, so it's ok).  Zac ordered the RC cola cake (with pop rocks on the inside!) which came with strawberry shortcake home made ice cream.  I got a coffee and the home made ice cream sampler.

Ok now we were officially full, but what a great ending to our time in Charleston!!  We Ubered back to the hotel, got a great night's sleep, and hit the road to Savannah Saturday morning.

So long Charleston, thanks for a tasty and fun couple of days!  

Next up - Savannah, GA!  Tune in, post coming soon.....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Leftovers Sweet Potato Waffles

So it's been a while since I've written anything about the food I've cooked.  I mean a WHILE.  I'm one of those people who takes plenty of pictures and has all the best intentions, but you know life happens and I ignore this blog for months on end.  I post my food photo on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and move on.  Today though I totally want to share what is now one of my favorite waffle recipes ever!   This may be my absolute favorite actually.  I found it by googling recipes for leftover mashed sweet potatoes.  I first found Alton Brown's recipe, which i'm sure is delicious.  I use his classic waffle recipe, and all in all find all things Alton Brown to be delicious.  He is a genius.  But here, I stumbled upon a recipe from the company Nature Box (that snack box company) of all places, and adapted my recipe from there.   I rarely "adapt", which for me usually means I don't have exactly that the recipe calls for so i'm making due, but on a rare occasion i'm making it healthier or truly adapting to my tastes.   I suppose all of the above is true in this case.  Here we go, leftover mashed sweet potato waffles!

I literally used leftover mashed sweet potatoes.  My mom made them for Thanksgiving, so I can't tell you exactly the amount of butter and milk in them.  Point is, you don't need to know, as long as you have some faint idea.  It is important to know if there is any salt so you don't add even more when making the waffles.

Leftover mashed sweet potatoes

Gather your ingredients (this isn't everything but looks good for a picture ;)
I use the "Muffin Method" for making quick breads, waffles, pancakes, and muffins courtesy of Alton Brown, because again, he's a genius.  Mix your wet and dry ingredients in different bowls, then combine.

Wet Ingredients

Dry ingredients

Mix each well before mixing together

Make a well at the center of the dry ingredients and pour on the wet mixture.  Fold them together for no more than 10 strokes! DO NOT OVERMIX.  That ruins it (for years i wondered why my pancakes didn't rise well and it was because I was an overmixer).  It will be lumpy but that is ok.

If you felt inclined to add pecans or some other add in, fold it in now. (Wow toasted pecans sounds like a great addition for next time!)

Let the batter sit few minutes. Now is a good time to go find your waffle maker and let it preheat.  By the time it's ready your batter will be ready.  

I lightly sprayed mine with cooking spray the first time, but found I didn't need to as all the other batches released just fine.  

Now make waffles! I cooked my first one on 3.5 setting, but for waffles 2-6 bumped it up to 5.  Drizzle with real maple syrup (please none of the fake stuff!) or honey.  No butter needed. 

At this point since I'm the only waffle eater in my house, I put them on a pan to cool completely, the bag and freeze for later.  Homemade frozen waffles toast up great later!

Thanksgiving Leftover Sweet Potato Waffles

Makes: 6 waffles.  I'll let you decide how many servings that is. 

  • 1 cup 100% whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (only if your mash doesn't have salt)
  • 3/4 cup leftover mashed sweet potato
  • 1 cup milk (almond or soy also works fine)
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt (I use plain)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (can use any oil like canola, vegetable, olive, etc)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Maple syrup, for serving
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
2. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together sweet potato puree, milk, Greek yogurt, melted coconut oil, eggs and vanilla. If the melted coconut oil is hot, drizzle it in slowly while constantly whisking. 
3. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist, about 10 strokes. Do not overmix!!  It will be lumpy. Fold in pecans, if using. 
4. Preheat your waffle iron and let the batter rest while waffle iron heats. 
5. Lightly coat the waffle iron with nonstick spray (if needed). Scoop just enough batter to cover the waffle grid and cook until the waffle is golden brown on both sides.  I recommend using the highest setting on your waffle iron.  Serve with maple syrup.
Tips: If you’re making a big batch to serve, hold the waffles in a 200 degree F oven to keep them warm.   If you won't be eating them all immediatly, let cool and freeze.  When ready to eat, go straight from freezer to toaster oven.  Toast and eat. 
Adpated from NatureBox Blog - Sweet Potato Waffles

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Husk - Charleston, SC by Chef Sean Brock

Last weekend we took a long weekend getaway to two cities we'd never been to before - Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA.  Zac had an opportunity to go to Charleston for a speaking engagement.  I took some time off work and we made a mini-vacation out of it.  We live in the South, but for whatever reason had never made it over to either city.  Charleston has been on our short list of places to visit due mostly to  the city going through a food renaissance of sorts over the past several years. What we've heard about James Beard Award Winner Chef Sean Brock and his restaurant Husk pretty much sealed the deal in our wanting to go sooner rather than later.   So off we went!  

We went down on a Thursday and came back on Sunday; Charleston is roughly a 7 hour drive from our house.  We were not able to get reservations to Husk, but found out that at 5:15pm you can get on a waiting list for the porch, which is literally a small porch on the front of the Charleston mansion turned restaurant.  We arrived about 5:25pm and were told we'd only have to wait 20 mins!  So far so good.   Oh, and they send you a text when your table is ready, super convenient!

Upon checking in with the hostess, we were told they had a cancellation, and asked if we preferred to sit inside or outside.  We opted for inside, even though eating outside on a cool November evening would have been fine too. 

As is our tradition for our fancy meal splurges, we created our own chef's tasting menu (they did not have that option available) and ordered lots of first courses to share, and then an entree each (which we also share!).  Here is our menu for the evening:

I won't spend much time on the background of the restaurant, cuisine, or Sean Brock, so I encourage you to check out Husk's website and read about it for yourself.  Also encourage you to watch PBS's Mind of a Chef season 2, on which Sean Brock is one of the two main subjects.   Basically Husk focuses on food regional to Charleston and using heirloom varieties of both produce and protein.   It's not your typical Farm to Table restaurant or your typical low-country restaurant, but the best of all of that.  They have contributed significantly to research and cultivation of many heirloom foods  native to the area that have long been lost to industrialized farming.  Same goes with pork, they are well known for what they are able to create with pork and the variety of pig as well.  So, that being said, we have to order lots of pork!

First up, appetizers.  We order the Kentuckyaki glazed pig's ear lettuce wraps with sweet vinegar marinated cucumber, red onion, Bourbon Barrel togarashi.    The pig's ears were super crispy and very tasty!

Next up - Tempura rock shrimp with tangerine, oyster mushrooms, napa cabbage, red pepper-soy dressing, radish, and cilantro.  Delicious.

Third course - Kurious Farm Bibb with crispy chicken skins, cherry tomato, farm egg, cucumber, radish, feta, and charred onion vinaigrette.  More deliciousness!

Fourth Course - Anson Mill's Farro Verde with preserved duck, heirloom pumpkin, fried egg, and baby brassicas.  This was my first time having farro, and I'm now a HUGE fan.  I recently bought some after Cooking Light highlighted it with other lesser known grains, but hadn't made it yet.   Can't wait! Although I don't think I can get it anywhere near this tasty.  They just rolled this out on the menu the day before, lucky us!

Close up of the farro - duck dish
Fifth courses - the entrees.  I got the Wreckfish from Mark Marhefka with roasted autumn squash and heirloom cauliflower, pecan gastrique, and brown butter.  Wreckfish was very mild and well cooked (never had it before or heard of it before), cauliflower and vegetables were perfectly charred.  The squash was so tender and sweet I almost convinced myself they had given me some sort of fruit by mistake! The pecan gastrique made it even more tasty.

Our other entree was the creme dela creme - American Spot Heritage Pork with Carolina Gold red rice, Benton's bacon, Heirloom kale, lemon, and chilies.   The entire dish lived up to all the hype and then some!  The pork was very terrine like, meaning it was several cuts mashed together in the patty shape.

close-up of pork terrine
We also got all of the sides, which were a skillet of Allan Benton's Bacon Cornbread, Wood fired Geechie Boy Mill Grits with TN Cheddar, and the last dish of Napa cabbage, Mepkin Abbey Shitake with peanuts and black garlic.

Grits and Cabbage side dishes

Napa cabbage dish


Grits closeup (notice I have the pork dish now!)
So what did we think?  There is a good reason that Husk is one of the hottest restaurants in the country right now.  It's not just an award winning chef making good food, it's the food itself.  Using the heirloom varieties with so much more flavor than what we are used too is super cool.  If we had to choose just one thing to order again, it would be the pork entree.  Amazingly delicious! Overall a wonderful meal and very glad we had the opportunity to eat at Husk.  

Next up I'll write out all our other tasty adventures in Charleston and Savannah. Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

NYC Trip 2015 - Day 5 - LETTERMAN! Le Bernardin! AHH!

Day 5 - Our last full day!! Ahh!! What an AMAZING trip we have had so far, it's hard to know how it can be any better.  Well except going to see The Late Show with David Letterman during his last few weeks on the air!!  Eating dinner at Le Bernardin!! Even one of those things would be the perfect way to end our trip.  Both though! How lucky are we!!  

We've been told to be at the Ed Sullivan theater ready to check in at 1:00pm.  We wake up and leave the hotel with enough time to take in the area around Central Park, and get a quick bite to eat at the Plaza Hotel Food Hall.   On the way we stop in at Barney's, well just because that's a fun thing to do, take in some nice views of the Plaza, and then emerge from the buildings to this beautiful site:

Another PERFECT weather day. 

We are so pumped for Letterman! And some good food beforehand.

A friend had told me to not miss Lady M cake boutique when in NYC.  Guess who has a booth at the Plaza Food Hall??  Green tea everything is all the rage in NYC, including the mille crepe cake at Lady M.  More on this later.

View of part of the Food Hall
It was hard to choose what to have for lunch, but we landed on Luke's Lobster.   Zac got the sampler which is 1/2 lobster roll, 1/2 shrimp roll, and 1/2 crab roll.  I got the classic lobster roll.  Delicious!! 

Sampler dish on top, lobster roll on bottom

Succulent, right? 

There are a million dessert options at the Plaza Food Hall.  Really literally thousands if you include all the flavors of truffles and chocolates!! But, we could not pass up a Lady M cake experience, so shared a piece of the green tea mille crepe.  See all those layers??  The creme between each was so creamy and light and the crepes were airy and perfect.   We've never had anything like this ever, and not sure we will again! (So as luck would have it, you can order this cake online and they will send you one in the mail!! It's frozen, but after thawing the texture was not at all compromised.  We ordered the standard flavor for a summer celebration, delicious!!).

Green tea mille crepe devoured

Full of lobster and crepe, we head over to Broadway to scope out the Ed Sullivan theater.  Now is the time that I will mention why we were told to be there at 1:00 pm for a 4:00 taping.  The guest was First Lady Michelle Obama!!  We did not know this until the day before, it was a surprise for everyone.  So we decide to get there closer to noon, park ourselves in a Starbucks across the street so we can monitor the situation.  We start to see some people lining, up, and go ahead and get in line ourselves.  If you are like most people and have never seen the Late Show taping, this is a very secretive process.  First, we have no tickets.  We only received the phone call that we have been selected (via lottery by registering on the website) the Friday before.  We planned the NYC trip knowing we COULD get tickets but not banking on it.  So the Friday before call was unexpected! During the call they said to show up at 1pm, and to say this special phrase when asked, and that was it.   Thanks for Zac's superior online sleuthing skills, he found out you can't show up to stand in line TOO early.  While we know we already have a ticket, we do not understand the line, but know we should get there early.  Zac also learns online that letting your enthusiasm show if and when you are approached by a Letterman Page is a good idea, although no so enthusiastic that you seem like a crazy stalker person.  Just enough.  Tip #3 - don't dress like a crazy person or a homeless person.  You will be on TV after all, and neither are good TV.  So, we leave the Starbucks closer to 12:30 and end up about a dozen or so back in line.  Here's some of the security;

Also, what they don't tell you is there are many lines to stand in.  We go through the first line, show our ID, let our enthusiasm show, and get actual paper tickets.  They are then sending most people to another line, but tell us we have been selected as audience leaders (!!!!) and can leave and be back in about an hour.  Audience leaders!! We have no idea what that means, but it must be good since we get to leave and come back. Not like most others who have to keep standing there corralled like cattle.

We have just enough time to stroll over to Rockefeller center and get Top of the Rock tickets.  We thought we could actually GET to the top of the Rock during this break not realizing that we had to get a reservation for later. But that's fine, we made reservations for early evening after Letterman would be finished and well before our dinner reservations at Le Bernardin.

Back at the Late Show......

We are super pumped.  We find out we are "special" and will be sitting at the front of the theater.  We are told by the Pages that they liked our energy.  Dave likes positive energy people down front.  Ahh!! That is what I kept saying in my head this whole time, and sometimes out loud :).  But not enough that they would think I'm a crazy person.

Can you tell we are excited??

Our Tickets
What's the deal with the blue dot on the back you say? I'm glad you asked.  It's the "you are super awesome with awesome energy and good looks so you get to sit at the front" sticker.  That sticker set us apart, let us leave and come back, and let us stand in the special line.

No photos are allowed upon walking through the front doors of the Ed Sullivan theater.  No sneaking iphone photos either, they will seriously take it from you!!  So, the only photos of our experience at the Late Show are pictures of the TV of the show that aired.  Hey, it works!

Back to how awesome they thought we were - So not only did we make the cut for the general front section of seating, but they take you and escort you to the spots they want you to sit.  They grabbed us and plopped us down on the front row!! The FRONT ROW!!  We were on the aisle, on the front, in the section just left of center.  I circled us in the photo below.  Ahhh!!! To the guy that was seated to my right - you were a super fun Letterman show taping-mate.  We will never see you again, but will always remember you when looking at this photo.

First Lady Michelle Obama!

The First Lady surprised everyone and brought in The President's Own Marine Band!  Seeing as how we were on the front and on the aisle, we had an up close and personal view of the band marching in.  See us below to the left of the band member.  It was so exciting!! Ahh!!

Here we are again just to the left of the band, on the front.  Where's Waldo anyone? 
The whole show seemed to pass by in a flash.  I remember giving a thumbs up to one of the band members when we were leaving and he gave me a thumbs up back.  David Letterman looked exactly like he does on TV.  Oh! The orientation video!!  After we were all seated they played a video for us. It was HILARIOUS.  It was an orientation to being a Late Show guest, hosted by Alec Baldwin.  Great way to start the evening.  Dave came out before the show and chatted with the crowd, took some questions, and found ways to interject into the actual taping bits from these questions as little inside jokes with the crowd.   We were and are Letterman fans.  He will be greatly missed and we feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see him before he decided to hang it up.  Once in a lifetime experience.  

The musical guest! Forgot to mention - it was Hootie and the Blowfish!  They sang Hold My Hand and it was great.  After the show guess who's hand I shook?? Darius Rucker!  Our stellar luck continued with catching him going from the studio to the car and getting to the front to see him! That is my ear on the lower right, my hand locked with his. 

We go from the high of seeing Letterman to the actual high of being on top of Rockefeller Center!  What an amazing view!!

We could have stayed up there for hours, but dinner called.  Our reservations were for 8:15, time to go rest and freshen up! 

Dinner at Le Bernardin, a 3 star Michelin restaurant and consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in the world....and we are there! Wow. just wow.  Le Bernardin is known for the highest quality of fresh seafood and they lived up to that reputation 100%. Each bite was melt in your mouth perfection.  The presentations were so elegant too!  We love watching Eric Ripert on his show Avec Eric; dining at Le Bernardin is a perfect way to close out to our NYC getaway.  We were fortunate to dine with friends, so not only good food but good company too!  We all opted for the 4 course prix fixe menu.  

First course - Zac had  the first dish below, we will call it The Dish So Good We Can't Remember Exactly What Was In It.  No hard copy menu souvenir to reference and this dish was missing from the menu online the next day.  Whatever it was, it was beautiful, fresh, and delicious! I had the Scallop-Sea Urchin, with of Maine scallops, marinated Granny smith apples, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette.   We also ordered the assortment of oysters as an extra appetizer. 

The Unknown Dish

Assortment of oysters

Sea urchin and scallop dish

2nd Course - Zac had the Geoduck, thinly shaved, wasabi tobiko; lime dressing.    I had the Langoustine, sauteed, with truffle and wild mushrooms; aged balsamic vinaigrette.

Geoduck dish

Langoustine dish
3rd course - I had the White-tuna and Kobe beef dish with grilled escolar; seared Wagyu beef; fresh kimchi; Asian pear, and Soy-citrus emulsion.  Zac had the Dover sole, sauteed with Almond-Pistachio Barberry Golden Basmati; Chardonnay-Shallot emulsion.

White tuna and Kobe beef dish

Dover Sole dish

Golden basmati
Dessert!   I had the Dulce de Leche dish with petit choux, roasted pineapple, spiced coconut dark rum sauce.  Zac had the Matcha dessert with green tea custard, preserved lychee Jasmine ice cream.

Dulce de Leche dessert

Matcha dessert
What a feast!  I don't have any pictures, but I may have helped one of our friends finish her dessert. She got the Dark Milk Chocolate dessert and it was delicious!

After 5 days in NYC, we haven't yet seen Times Square, and Le Bernardin is just a few blocks away. We finish up our evening with a stroll to Times Square and then back to the hotel to call it a night.  New York is so pretty at night!


NYC at night

Last view of the Chrysler building! 
 I can't close out our trip without a shout out to the Paris Baguette a block from the hotel.  We stopped by for breakfast on Day 6 - Travel Day home and got a nice assortment of brunch items.  We also got some pick me up snacks there on other occasions on our trip.  It was all great!

Assortment of items at Paris Baguette

Goodbye NYC.  Thank you for helping us having an unforgettable 10-year wedding anniversary celebration!   We will be back!

Catch up on the other super awesome days of our trip here:
Day 1 - Dinner at Per Se, a Thomas Keller Restaurant
Day 2 - Momofuku Noodle Bar and Babbo
Day 3 - Flushing, Sushi Yasuda, and Spot Dessert Bar
Day 4, Part 1 - Katz's, Russ and Daughters, Lower Manhattan, Chelsea Market
Day 4, Part 2 - Peter Luger Steakhouse