Category Archives: Events

The Tao of Richard Blais: Part II

Schnitzel and pork ribs and ice cream…oh my!

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The Tao of Richard Blais: Part I

Richard Blais is a truly nice guy and an amazing chef. He also plays one on TV.

And although part of me wishes his last name was “Blaze” and he secretly fought crime with a combination of modern gastronomical techniques and hair product, that’s just not him. The guy is a beast in the kitchen, but one of the most cordial, approachable of the new rank of “food celebrities.”

How do I know this? I actually got a chance to meet the winner of Top Chef All-Stars last week at the National Pork Board’s pop-up Pork Inspiration Cafe.

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Breakfast in Bed (Except Not in Bed and Not Breakfast)

But that was the name of the class we attended at ICE: The Institute of Culinary Education way back in October.

Actually, the full name was “Couples: Gourmet Breakfast in Bed” and we had been meaning to go for almost two years. It was a Christmas gift, you see, and a good one at that. My wife gave it to me for Christmas 2007, back when we were in Philadelphia. Two location changes later and we were running out of time, so here we were.

James Briscione

Our instructors were the husband-and-wife team of James Briscione (a professional chef who some may recognize from his appearances on Chopped) and  Brooke Parkhurst (an author). Overall, the class was loose, fun and informative.

Our group consisted of the instructors and five other couples, whose experience ran the gamut from novice to fairly good. We split into three groups to tackle the six dishes on the menu.

The wife and I (and our partners) were responsible for two of the more basic dishes: blueberry pancakes and breakfast burritos. After James taught us some knife skills (including a killer move for chopping sweet peppers), we were basically left alone to go at it. Some interesting things I learned along the way:

  • Breakfast burritos are a favorite meal of many chefs. James was not the first who’s told me that it’s his go-to comfort food.
  • You don’t have to cover rice to cook it. You can make it “pasta style” by adding the rice to salted water and draining the results.
  • If you want the blueberries to stay in the middle of a pancake, do not mix them into the batter. Instead, add a handful into each pancake right before you flip it.

In addition to the above two dishes, each person was given the chance to make a perfect lump crabmeat omelet. If you do it right (like James), it takes only a few minutes to cook. He taught us the French folding technique, which makes these omelets look more like crepes than what you see in a typical diner. Mine turned out pretty well, although it was slightly overcooked on the bottom. (Though compared to some of my fellow classmates’ attempts, my omelet was a masterpiece.)

After assembling the burritos and making a ton of pancakes, we were ready to assemble all of the dishes for a breakfast feast. Of course, it was a Friday night, which is kind of weird time to have a breakfast feast.

Here’s a final rundown of the dishes. See if you can identify them all in the images.

1. Sherry Shrimp and Grits

2. Blueberry Pancakes

3. Buttermilk Raspberry Muffins

4. Baked Apples with Creme Fraiche

5. Savory Sweet Potato Tart with Garlic Custard

6. Lump Crabmeat Omelet

7. Breakfast Burritos

For the most part, everything turned out nicely. Some of the muffins were a bit undercooked, but the tart was amazing! Not only was the experience worth the time and money, but we got to take home the recipes. Writing this may be the inspiration I need to finally whip up some burritos.

To the kitchen, mi amigos!

The Great Chili Cook-Off

chili-overall

While I learned about this event too late to enter, I thoroughly enjoyed being a judge.

Of course, everybody who walked through the door was technically a judge. But I think I took my responsibilities a little more seriously than others.

There were 15 chilis, six of which were vegetarian. As you can see from the picture, it was a blind tasting, with each platter marked only by a letter.

chili-cook-off1I proceeded through the chilis in alphabetical order, tasting each one and writing down a few notes. Out of the nine meat ones, there were only two I couldn’t stomach (one was extremely sweet), and only two I thought were really up to snuff. Quite a few were bland-tasting, which surprised me.

Two other things caught me off-guard:

  1. Shredded meat made an appearance twice. Now, I love shredded meat, whether pork, beef or what-have-you. But this seemed like a strange choice for chili. And while the meat in both were tender, there wasn’t much flavor in either. Quite a disappointment.
  2. The vegetarian chilis were better than the traditional ones. There was only one of the six vegie ones that I strongly disliked. The others were all as good as the one I picked as the winner of the meat division, or better. They had more spice, were more flavorful and, in the case of the winner, put a truly unique twist on chili. (Hint:  it involved potatoes and curry.)

Somehow, I managed to pick the winner of both the meat and vegetarian divisions, although I wasn’t as lucky with the runners-up.

A good time was had by all. But more importantly, nobody got indigestion! It was truly a Chili Cook-Off miracle.

An amalgam of chili samples

An amalgam of chili samples

An Electrolux Evening

ovens

And so it came to pass that yours truly took part in a truly unique cooking event set in the basement of art studio in Soho.

Kinda random, huh?

The event was sponsored by Electrolux, maker of fine kitchen appliances, and featured Executive Chef of Brooklyn’s River Cafe, Brad Steelman, preparing three dishes and (and several passed hors d’oeuvres) using Electrolux products.

Let’s get to it…

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Second Thanksgiving

second-thanksgiving

When your wife is a veterinarian (especially one going through an internship), holidays often don’t fall on the day they’re supposed to. Take, for instance, this year’s Thanksgiving.

On the Thursday in question, my wife was working an emergency shift at the animal hospital. While I was able to stuff myself silly at my aunt and uncle’s annual celebration, the little lady was not so lucky. She was stuck suturing wounds, taking X-rays and, most tragic of all, putting her fair share of people’s beloved animals to sleep.

turkeyBummer.

Knowing in advance that this was to be her fate this year, my mom and I put a plan B into motion. We would have a Second Thanksgiving the Sunday after the real event. We even rounded up a couple cousins and a sister and a nephew to join in the deja vu turkey day.

The food was cooked exclusively by me and mi madre. Here’s the breakdown:

MOM

  • Succulent roast turkey (at right)
  • Gravy and walnut glaze
  • Zucchini bread
  • Apple-cranberry crisp

in-the-oven-stuffME

  • Cornbread
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Pumpkin chiffon pie
  • Chocolate pie

This was my first time making all of these dishes and it showed. The cornbread was extremely flat, probably due to baking it in too big of a pan. It was also fairly bland, although I’m not sure why. I think I might stick to out-of-the-box alternatives in the future.

The sweet potato casserole turned out fine (the wife was a big fan), but the marshmallows crisped up instead of melting and getting gooey. That was a bit of a disappointment.

As for the pies, they turned out just okay. I think I prefer regular pumpkin pie to the souffle-like chiffon. It was a little too light and airy for me.

The chocolate, on the other hand, was ridiculously dense. If you weren’t holding the knife tightly when cutting through, you’d easily lose it in the chocolate.

The addition of whipped cream to both pies was a saving grace.

two-pies Although it was a lot of fun to do, I think I’ll leave Thanksgiving to the professionals for a few more years. My wife’s schedule should allow for ample practice time before hosting our first gathering.

And that’s something to be thankful for!

Halloween Spider Cookie

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I know it must seem as if my posts are regressing, but I found this pic in the archives and had to put it out for public consumption.

Similar to the creative  wedding cookies I’ve previously shown, this 3D spider was from the Halloween party we attended. If I remember correctly, this is the anatomy:

  • Body – chocolate-covered Rice Krispy treat
  • Legs – chocolate-covered pretzel sticks
  • Hair – chocolate sprinkles
  • Eyes – two dots of yellow frosting

Pretty creative, if you ask me.

Applewood Orchards & Winery

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Obviously, this post is insanely late. I think we made this visit in early October and you’ve already seen some of the fruits of our labor. (I’m a little rusty with the writing, so please forgive the puns.)

close-up-appleAnyway, Applewood Orchards & Winery was absolutely packed the Saturday we went way back when. It took us close to three hours to get there, thanks to some competition to take advantage of a beautiful day and the back-up caused by the nearby Sugarloaf Fall Festival (which looked like a ton of fun but just wasn’t in the cards for us).

Before setting out into the orchard, we binged on some freshly made doughnuts and apple cider for a late lunch. We also partook (is that a word?) of the fine array of wines available at the on-premise winery. With our bellies satiated and a good buzz on, we took to the trees, opting to skip the hayride express to the pumpkin patch.

pumpkinOur bag was almost half full with McIntoshes, before we realized that there were other varieties down near the pumpkins. While the wife sleuthed for our jack ‘o lantern-to-be, I hit more apple trees, attempting to add some diversity to our homogeneous bag. I grabbed some Courtlands, a few Macouns, Empires and Honey Crisps, and even a handful of Red and Golden Delicious (although these were small and probably could have used a few more days on the trees).

Meanwhile, my spouse picked a hell of a pumpkin.

Our arms full, and our legs tired, we proceeded to the check out. The whole deal cost $20, which was an absolute steal for a wonderful afternoon outside and some truly excellent produce.

And if you want to see what happened next with this pumpkin, turn the page …

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Wacky Wedding Cookies

Although everything was beautiful, the highlight of a recent wedding I attended was the endless amount of cookies. I can count at least 12 varieties in this picture alone, but there had to be more than 20 kinds continuously replenished at the dessert table all night.

It was truly a legendary feat by the mother and aunt of the bride, who must have been baking cookies for nearly a month. The only problem: sickness induced by washing down too many of these treats with open-bar alcohol. Ughhhhhhh.

A couple of my favorites were:

The Mouse

  • Hershey’s Kiss face
  • Almond ears
  • Oreo base
  • Chocolate-covered cherry body and tail

The Hamburger

  • Shortbread bun with real sesame seeds
  • Frosting condiments
  • Mint chocolate cookie burger patty

A Shining Rae

Unlike the night before, I had made reservations for graduation dinner months in advance. The location: Rae, a chic, contemporary new restaurant in the chic, contemporary new Cira Centre.

Occupying about a third of the ground floor of this busy skyscraper, Rae seems to be designed for the hip, rich after-work crowd.

Though not exactly a parental utopia in terms of atmosphere, our group was more than pleasantly surprised by Rae’s quality of food. In short, dinner was spectacular.

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