Monday, May 9, 2016

Artful Dining at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre


Recently I was invited to a behind-the-scenes taste of the culinary creations at the Cobb Performing Arts Centre. It turned out to be such a special evening as I joined several local food bloggers from the Association of Food Bloggers and we were seated right in the centre's main kitchen with Executive Chef M.G. Farris. I've never been to the Cobb Performing Arts Centre, so I was really excited to get to see it up close and personal {we got a tour after dinner...woo hoo!}. And what fun it was to sit at the chef's table for all the evening's action.
Our hosts were incredibly gracious, including Food and Beverage Manager Ramin Djaved; Banquet Captain Joseph Abouem; Food and Beverage Director Kirsten Gleaves; and Marketing Manager Karen Caro. I felt like every little detail was carefully planned and gracefully executed.
Chef M.G. Farris and his right hand, amazing Banquet Chef Lillian Diaz were ready to dazzle us!


Our four-course spring dinner was paired with some excellent wines....thank you Kirsten! You can never go wrong starting off dinner with a glass of bubbly and I enjoyed the  Gloria Ferrer Sparkling wine served as we were seated and with our salad course...Petite Organic Lettuce Mix with Truffle Vinaigrette, Steamed Asparagus and Hollandaise Foam. Chef described that by using a foam instead of a traditional hollandaise you have less butter. It played off well with the tender greens and soy in the dressing. Really nice.


I had to smile when the wine for the second course came out. It was Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc...one of my favorite Sauv blancs. In fact, I had a bottle waiting in my fridge that same night. Our second course was artfully plated and delicious....Steamed Black Bass with Orange and Cumin Braised Carrots and Quick Candied Lemon. I teased the chef that as much as I loved the fish, I could have eaten an entire plate of those amazing braised carrots and been perfectly content. So good. Maybe I was a rabbit in a former life??
 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Exquisite Dinner with Chez Montier and Leaning Ladder


I had the distinct pleasure last week to attend a fantastic spring media dinner at Leaning Ladder in downtown Woodstock, GA. Our featured chef for the evening, Juan Montier, of Chez Montier, blew me away with his culinary creations and generous personality {more about him in a moment!}.
Melissa Pelkey Hass, of The Front Porch Gourmet, was the ultimate hostess and event planner for our evening, and she sprinkled her own bit of magic wherever she went.
Chef Montier greeted us with his refreshing "Saketini" drink, garnished with lychee fruit and honey ginger balsamic vinegar, while Melissa gave us a tour of Leaning Ladder and their incredible array of flavored balsamic vinegars and olives oils. Wait till I tell you about some of the olive oil and vinegar pairings....little bursts of happiness in your mouth.



To say that Chef Montier is infectious is a bit of an understatement. He is like a big teddy bear wrapped around a tall glass of effervescent champagne. His cooking chops were evident throughout the evening, as he deftly took on the task of creating an upscale dinner incorporating Leaning Ladder's premium olive oils and vinegars {and even making items gluten-free for one of our bloggers}. And, well, he made us laugh and smile a lot throughout the evening, like we were old friends sharing a dinner in his home.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Caramel Cake


This is a cake for someone special. For yourself. For sharing with friends. For celebrating. For having a really bad day.
I made this last weekend for a birthday girl. She appreciates the divine nature of caramel as much as I do. One of my all time favorite flavors in the history of my pastry-loving life.


It's funny that I never made a caramel cake before. I think it might be because I always heard that making the icing was a beast and finicky...and you had to get the candy thermometer out....blah, blah, blah.
So, I decided I needed to make one anyways, damn all the rumors. 
I turned to a trusted source, America's Test Kitchen, for my recipe and away I went!



Happy news...this cake batter is really easy to make and comes out really moist {don't overbake it}. It stayed moist for days, which was delightful.
And the caramel icing? It was also very approachable and there is no candy thermometer required. Woo hoo! Sometimes caramel icings can set very quickly, making it a race to get the cake iced. Not this one. It was smooth, didn't set right away, and tastes.....ah, wonderfully deep and rich. And sweet.



Here's the recipe. Thank you America's Test Kitchen. Perfectly easy and divinely good.
If you like recipes that are sure to turn out right.....a subscription to ATK is well-worth it.

Easy Caramel Cake

from America's Test Kitchen

Cake:
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened

Frosting:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, c
ut into 12 pieces and softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1. For the cake layers: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in large measuring cup. With electric mixer on low speed, mix flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined. Beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, until only pea-sized pieces remain. Pour in half of buttermilk mixture and beat over medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Slowly add remaining buttermilk mixture to bowl and beat until incorporated, about 15 seconds.

2. Scrape equal amounts of batter into prepared pans and bake until golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks. Cool completely, at least 1 hour.

3. For the frosting: Heat 8 tablespoons butter, brown sugar, and salt in large saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear around perimeter of pan  4 to 8 minutes. Whisk in cream and cook until ring of bubbles reappears, about 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in vanilla.

4. Transfer hot frosting mixture to bowl and, with electric mixer on low speed, gradually mix in confectioners’ sugar until incorporated. Increase speed to medium and beat until frosting is pale brown and just warm, about 5 minutes. Add remaining butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

5. To assemble: Place 1 cake round on serving platter. Spread ¾ cup frosting over cake, then top with second cake round. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. Serve. 


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Seoul of the South Tour - Food Treasures in Gwinnett!


Last week, I had the pleasure of joining a fantastic "Seoul of the South" food tour hosted by Explore Gwinnett. It was the perfect opportunity to explore some of the delicious Korean restaurants in Gwinnett County. I've only tried Korean food a few times, and having a Korean food guide {thank you 고맙습니다 Sarah....you are a shiny star!} to lead the way made it extra special.



First off, I've got to give props to the ladies of Explore Gwinnett... Sarah, Victoria, and Jessica {pictured above}. From the moment I arrived, they were the best. So welcoming and friendly, organized, and happy to answer any and all questions. They even gave each of us a swag bag with Korean treats and lots of information on the Gwinnett restaurant scene. 
I do hope they continue to offer these tours, so more people can meet them and experience their sweet, Southern hospitality.

With over 100,000 Koreans living in Georgia, it's no wonder we have a plethora of excellent restaurants featuring Korean cuisine.  On our tour, we visited four spots: 
  • Harue Food & Cafe {Korean Snacks and Meals} - Here we sampled items like Gim Bap {rice and other ingredients rolled in seaweed and served in bite size slices} and Tteokbokki {made with soft rice cake, fish cake, sweet red chili paste, gochujang}.
  • The Stone Grill - This is a relative newcomer with traditional BBQ. Really enjoyed the array of BBQ meats cooked right in the center of your table. The Jjim Man du steamed dumplings were tasty and the Spicy Baby Back ribs with cheese were especially good.
     
  • Tree Story{Korean bakery} - I'm visited several Korean bakeries around town and have sampled many treats, and this place is so cute! I went right for my favorite red bean bun. A nice surprise was the Yujacha, a Korean tea made from yuzu fruit - so refreshing. Their bakery case was filled with all sorts of mouth-watering treats.
  • Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill {Korean BBQ} - This is the most well-known spot, sleek and modern. Brisket, pork belly, pork ribs, chicken, bulgogi....take your pick.
Breakers Korean BBQ and Grill



Monday, March 21, 2016

Herbed Whole Grain Biscuits with First Fresh Chicken Sausage, Jalapeno Pimento Cheese, and Arugula


I love a good sausage biscuit, but lately I've been trying to eat a little lighter and a little leaner when it comes to meat. But hey, after trying the tasty chicken sausages from local company First Fresh Foods in Gainesville....I realized something. 
I don't miss the pork and don't have to sacrifice on flavor.
 

I made two dishes with my chicken sausage samples. For a quick dinner a few nights ago, I cooked off some of the Mild Italian sausage links, added some marinara, and tossed with rice pasta. 
Fast, easy, good. And the Italian sausage contains a whopping 78% less fat than traditional pork sausage. That's a huge plus!

As most sausages come in casings and I generally just don't like the texture of casings....I take them off. This sausage is easy to squeeze out of the casing and reshape however you like. 
Below is the Breakfast sausage that I used for my sausage biscuits. It cooks up beautifully, holds together well, and is moist and juicy. Very flavorful. This one has 58% less fat than pork sausage. Score again!
First Fresh chicken sausages are also gluten-free, contain no MSG, and no meat by-products. You can read more about the First Fresh company and their practice at their website. Also be sure to peruse the wide array of recipes on the site and get coupons there.


I didn't expect to enjoy this chicken sausage as much as I did. It really did win me over. While I was noshing on my chicken sausage biscuit, I confessed to my husband Jay that I could bypass pork sausage any day for this one. So so good.
So if you want to whip up something special for your weekend breakfast, you gotta try my recipe for these biscuits. 
They are kinda fancy. And don't be scared to make biscuits...they really aren't so hard or time-consuming and the pay off is well worth it. Let me know how yours come out!



Herbed Whole Grain Biscuits with First Fresh Chicken Sausage, Jalapeno Pimento Cheese, and Arugula
Makes 8 large biscuits

Biscuits {biscuit recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen}:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour 
1 teaspoon mixed herbs {I used Penzey's Bavarian seasoning}
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
 
1 cup full fat, chilled buttermilk {do use a good local buttermilk if you can, not that watery, tasteless stuff}

Preheat oven to 400 °F and cover baking sheet with parchment paper.  Whisk flours, herbs, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large, wide bowl. Using fingertips, rub cold butter into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, Add 3/4 cup buttermilk and stir until large clumps form and dough begins to come together. Add more buttermilk if needed if mixture is too dry. Reach hands into bowl and knead mixture briefly until it just holds together. Transfer dough to a lightly floured counter and pat out until 3/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch round cutter, press straight down into dough and transfer biscuits to prepared sheet, spacing two inches apart. You can re-pat together scraps once to get an extra biscuit or two. Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. 

4 links of First Fresh Breakfast chicken sausage, casings removed and shaped into 2 1/2 to 3-inch patties
2 teaspoons grape seed or coconut oil
Pimento Cheese {I used jalapeno variety and took it out early from the fridge so it was close to room temp}
Baby Arugula

Once patties are shaped, cook the sausage in a medium skillet over medium heat with oil. Once sausages are fully cooked and lightly browned, remove from pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Use a serrated knife to cut open biscuits in half. Place a tablespoon of pimento cheese on bottom half of biscuit and top with warm sausage patty. You can add a little more pimento if you like. 
I like.
Top with a small bunch of arugula. Place other biscuit half on top and dive in.


Disclaimer: Although I received product for this post from First Fresh Foods, all opinions expressed and the recipe/recipe photos are uniquely mine.



*For more great recipes using First Fresh chicken sausages, see some of my fellow AFBS bloggers posts:


http://www.thesophisticatedcaveman.com/chicken-sausage-fen…/
http://thefrontporchgourmet.com/2016/03/21/breakfast-with-first-fresh-chicken-sausage/


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Inn on Church - Beauty, Charm, and Great Eats near the Blue Ridge Mountains


By now, you know that Jay and I love to get-away for short, little trips whenever we can. This past weekend, we ventured up to Western North Carolina {my college stomping grounds} to visit my grandmother in Brevard. We stayed our second night in a historic bed and breakfast in downtown Hendersonville, The Inn on Church.
Within a few minutes of arriving and stepping into the inn's lobby, 
I had a feeling we were in for a treat.



The owners, Joe and Stephanie Carlton bought the inn in 2011. Hailing from Nashville, TN, they were attracted to the home town feeling of downtown Hendersonville. The couple was gracious and friendly from the moment we arrived, helping us get settled in and even making restaurant recommendations for the perfect bite {more about that deliciousness later}. I've stayed in several bed and breakfasts where the owners weren't involved in the day to day running of the inn. Not here. The Carlton's actually live right next door and take a hands-on approach to ensure that guests are treated with genuine Southern hospitality. 



Ok, so let's talk about this place. There's history here! The inn was built in 1919 as a hotel. It was deemed a historic building in 1989. It has been described as having a Classic Revival Style that reminds you of the roaring 20's. Love.
Besides having a nifty cocktail bar in the lobby and space for wedding rehearsals and receptions, they have a romantic tea room and window-filled sun room. I really didn't realize how cool this place was, until Stephanie offered to show off some of the other rooms in an impromptu tour. The inn has 21 rooms and they each have a unique theme that is represented in the decor and furnishings. It is clear that the Carlton's have really had fun putting it all together, even incorporating vintage art, prints, quilts and linens from Stephanie's grandmother.
Stephanie has an eye for the shabby chic {she might be my soul-sister} and it was lovely to see her spring decorations with bunnies, nests, bird houses, flowers, and such.



Jay and I stayed in the "Gatsby" room. It was lovely with a huge and elegant bathroom, hardwood floors, and pretty linens. On our tour, we got to see a bunch of other rooms and I have to say I fell in love with  quite a few of them. Stephanie shared that they have a lot of guests who have "their" favorite room and always want to stay in the same one when they come back to stay. I totally get that now.
Here are a few of my favorites:




The Giuliani Room


The Rebecca Suite


The Lucille Room


The Lucille Room Bathroom

Having someone prepare a fabulous breakfast for me is one of my life's simple pleasures. Jay and I loved the one we had at The Inn on Church. The coffee was ever-flowing and the homemade muffins were a special touch. Jay enjoyed a ham and cheese omelet and I treated myself to the cinnamon roll french toast which was filled with creamy, sweetened cheese. Divine.


The Sun Room
The Tea Room

More important things to know about The Inn on Church and some Happily Edible After tips for visiting the area:
  • It is within walking distance of all the shops and restaurants of downtown Hendersonville.
  • There is a wrap-around porch which is a fantastic place to sit and rest a while, sip a glass of afternoon wine, or enjoy your delicious, gourmet breakfast.
  • If you are into a memory foam mattresses {you know who you are}, then pick the "Lucille" room. Or if you just have a spirit for fun. This was my favorite!
  • If you want a fancy-pants jacuzzi bath and are inspired by an Asian motif, then pick the "Tokonoma Suite".
  • If you are a man or just like a masculine room, pick the "Go for Gin" room. Dark, earthy colors and an equestrian theme. My husband's eyes lit up when we toured this one.
  • Need some dinner plans? Go for Umi Japanese Fine Dining {thank you big time to Stephanie and Joe for recommending it}. Simply amazing. Pics coming up below.
  • Sierra Nevada Brewery in nearby Mills River. If you like any of the following, it's a must: beer, beer tours, good food, corn hole, chilling on a huge patio with music. I've got more to share with you about this brewery and will be back soon to the blog with more info on it.

 THE PLACE TO EAT IF YOU LIKE SUSHI: UMI



One word for this gem of a restaurant in Hendersonville.....heaven.
This is some of the best sushi I've ever had anywhere. I'm kinda of sad that it isn't in Atlanta - it would be my go to for some unbelievable rolls. I simply couldn't get enough of the roll shown below, the Sunset Roll - Tempura shrimp, crab, avocado, mango wrapped in sweet & sour daikon radish. Super refreshing.







So, all in all, a wonderful trip to Western North Carolina. Thank you to Joe and Stephanie for all the hard work you put into The Inn on Church. It really shines through and is such a restful and relaxing place to be. We can't wait to come back and visit again with you both.
Cheers,
Shannon


Inn on Church 
Boutique Hotel-Event Center-Cocktail Bar 
201 Third Avenue West, Hendersonville NC 28739  
(828) 696-2001

Umi Sushi
633 N Main St Hendersonville NC 28792
(828) 698-8048 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Cacao, Avocado, Hemp Smoothie with Mint {Dairy-Free}


This month is like "eat-every-piece-of-freakin-chocolate-I-see" month. I don't know about you, but with all the chocolate love around Valentine's Day, this whole month has turned into a chocolate fest, with me reaching for chocolate goodies whenever they are nearby.
This smoothie is my humble little effort to satisfy my cravings for chocolate and something sweet with a healthier choice. 
Breakfast smoothie? Yes! Mid afternoon snack? Yes! Dessert? Yes, yes, yes!
It's like a delicious, satisfying chocolate mint milkshake, but better. Low sugar, dairy-free, with good fats, protein, and antioxidants....it's all in there.

Cacao, Avocado, and Hemp Smoothie with Mint
Make 2 large or 4 small smoothies

1 avocado, ripe
1 1/3 cups unsweetened plain almond milk, plus extra as needed
2-3 Tablespoons raw cacao powder
3 Tablespoons hemp seeds, plus extra for the top - I like Manitoba brand
1 1/2 frozen bananas
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves {or to taste}
1 small packet stevia

Place all the ingredients into a high powered blender {love my Vitamix ♥ } Blend until smooth, adding more almond milk as needed. Pour into glasses, garnish with a sprinkle of extra hemp seeds and mint.
Enjoy.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Perfect Valentine's Dessert - Pavlova


Want to impress your sweetie this Valentine's Day? How about trying your hand at this beautiful pavlova? It's easy to make, infinitely adaptable with a variety of fruits and flavors, and the perfect combo of creamy, crunchy, and fruity.

My inspiration for this post has been brewing since New's Year Eve. I went out with my husband and relatives to ring in the New Year at Ten Bistro in Peachtree Corners.  I had to pinch myself when I saw "pavlova" listed on their dessert menu. I don't think I've ever seen it on a restaurant menu and I was super excited! And it was so good, I almost hated to share it. The rest of the meal was delicious too....we'll definitely be heading back there again soon.
Consequently, I've been day-dreaming about that pavlova and wanting to make one at home. Pavlova just feels special and Valentine's weekend is the perfect time of year for baking up this delight.

Pavlova was said to be named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, during her tours to New Zealand and Australia in the 1920's. It is simply a baked meringue that is crispy on the outside and light on the inside. Generally it is topped with cream and fresh fruit, often berries, mango, kiwi. You often see it served on holidays and during the summer, but it is part of the culture of New Zealand and Australia and often eaten in homes year-round {sounds good to me!}.


Meringue is not hard to make, although I think some folks find it scary. Here are a few simple tips that will help you whip it up properly.
  • Use an electric mixer and make sure the bowl and the whip is very clean.
  • When you separate your eggs, be sure not to get any yolk in the whites. Sometimes you can scoop out a little yolk with your egg shell, but if you have a lot of yolk in there, it's best to start over.
  • Don't add your sugar too soon, wait until the whites reach a soft peak.
  • Whip until the meringue is stiff, but don't overwhip, or the mixture will be grainy.

Ok, are you ready to get started? Really, you have to try a pavlova at least once in your life. It is amazing! 
My pavlova is topped with a rosewater and mascarpone whipped cream, berries, and chopped pistachio. Rose pairs really well with raspberries and pistachio. If you aren't a fan of rose flavor in your food {and not everyone is}, you can simply omit the rosewater and use the vanilla flavoring. 


Pavlova with Rosewater and Mascarpone Cream, Berries, and Pistachio
Serves 8
{Makes one 9-inch or two 4 1/2-inch pavlovas}

Meringue:
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar {this is superfine sugar and preferred over regular granulated sugar}
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar {I used white wine vinegar}
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream:
1/2 -3/4 cup mascarpone 
3 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon rosewater {optional}
1 2/3 cups heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 

Mixed fruit: berries, mango, kiwi, etc.
Chopped pistachios

Preheat oven to 275F. Set your oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Place a piece of parchment on a half sheet pan. Using a pencil, draw out either one 9-inch circle or two 4 1/2-inch circles. Flip over parchment, so pencil is on the bottom, but can still be seen.

Make meringue:
Set up a stand mixer and make sure bowl and whip is spotlessly clean. Place the egg whites in the bowl and begin to mix on medium speed, just until you reach soft peaks. Soft peaks mean that when you lift the whip out  and turn it upside down, the peaks are still soft and barely hold their shape.

Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch together with the sugar in small bowl and mix the vinegar and vanilla together in a separate bowl.

Once whites have reach a soft peak, begin to add the sugar/cornstarch mixture, a few tablespoons at a time. As you add more sugar, begin to turn up the speed a bit at a time. As you are adding the last portion of sugar, you should end up on highest speed. Continue to whip until you reach stiff peaks.
Stiff peaks mean that when you pull out the whip and turn it upside down, the mixture is thick, stiff, and holds the peak firmly. It should look glossy.

Turn off the mixer, remove the bowl and whip, and then sprinkle in the vinegar/vanilla mixture, gently folding in with a rubber spatula.

Place the meringue in the center of the circle{s} on the parchment. Spread out from the center to the edges of the circle. Put the meringue in the oven and shut the door. Immediately turn the heat down to 250F. Bake for one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. Do not open the door of the oven during baking time. The meringue will be lightly tan, dry on the outside, and hollow sounding when tapped. It may have some cracks, which is ok. 
Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly open and let the pavlova sit in the oven till completely cooled.

Make the cream:
Set up a stand mixer with the whip. In a small bowl, stir together the mascarpone, confectioners' sugar, and rosewater. Place the heavy cream in the mixer bowl and add the mascarpone mixture. Whip on medium low, just until blended. Add the vanilla bean paste and then whip on medium until the cream is soft and spreadable. Be careful not to overmix the cream or it will become stiff and grainy. Set the cream in the refrigerator till you are ready to use.

Assemble:
Place the cooled meringue onto a large plate or platter. Spread the cream on top, leaving a 2-inch border around the edge. Toss on berries/fruit and sprinkle with nuts. Slice into wedges to serve.

{Happily Edible After note}
Get creative with your pavlova. For example, you could make or buy lemon curd and mix it into your cream to make a lemon cream. You could use coffee flavoring in your cream and do berries with shaved dark chocolate on top {maybe even put some espresso powder in your meringue}. You could get all tropical and do a coconut-flavored cream with tropical fruits and toasted coconut. Lots of possibilities!