I Love Your Love The Most

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It’s been a year.  Hard to believe this year passed so quickly.  This time last year, I was neck-high in moving boxes and old memories.  A year later, I am thankful for all of your love and support even if at times it may seem that I left you behind.  I really have not, I have become overwhelmed with a new city, a new job and a new adventure.  Despite all the things new, you haven’t forgotten me. I am reminded of this by my trip this past week home to DC.  The 3 hours at dinner with Messieurs David Dale, Andrew Mills and Matt Norman set me straight.  Old friends have a way of making your current worries seem trivial.  4 year old nieces have a special way of making you feel small again.  I am reminded that I love your love the most. 

That is why I need your help. I am going to start using this blog as a way to keep you updated.  I am so far behind on sharing that I need a jump start.   I think this blog needs some spice and I have a few recipes to share with you.  But where to start?  So if you receive this via email, or if you see this on facebook, please vote on one the following recipes for me to post.  Since I am a believer that food is the ingredient of love, I am going to keep at this blog as a way to stay connected and motivated to try culinary exploits.  Ideally, I would love for y’all to be eating this food with me (so start looking at plane tickets!)

So what would you like to me to post?  BBQ Ribs with Mexican style street corn with truffle and parmesean; the best queso with spicy chorizo; the deconstructed almond joy dessert; Buttermilk and habanero fried-chicken with cornbread; shrimp and polenta? 

 

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Seafood Habanero Gumbo with Duck Fat Roux

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Howdy, it’s been awhile.  I put off my blogging for the last few months because I was insanely busy.  But I vow to get back into this, and in advance of silly New Year resolutions, food blogging is something I am committed to doing.  Like old friends, I think I can catch you up like we never left each other.   I renovated a house, I moved into the house, I entered into a reality food show and made it through several rounds and I am discovering a brand new city.  There, see you didn’t miss anything at all.  You are all caught up.

I will share that I have been waking up with this urge to challenge myself every day.  For instance there was the gumbo contest I entered into on a chance encounter with two strangers from Louisiana I met at a bar. It was a Thursday night and everybody is so friendly.  My only problem was the contest was in three days and I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually made gumbo.  I have eaten it a bunch of times and even traveled to New Orleans a few times so I think I know the flavor profile.  Never fearing a chance to win a contest (or fail in a spectacular manner), I charged ahead…gumbo flavor profiles dancing in my head.

So there I was,  I entered a den of people (turns out they were all from Louisiana and know good gumbo) and I only brought two friends to ensure I got at least 2 votes.  Talk about a bunch of gumbo-fanatics.  I thought this was going to be a disaster and my friends even questioned my sanity.  But being good people, they followed me (and the promise of free beer).  So it didn’t go horribly wrong, of the 12 gumbos in the contest, I took 3rd place.  Not bad considering I didn’t have home field advantage of having the friend vote.

So I am posting my seafood gumbo recipe for those cold days of winter that call for the ultimate comfort food.   This is an adaptation from Chef John Besh, of New Orleans fame.

Serves 6-8.  Total time 6 hours.

  • 1 cup rendered duck fat (if you aren’t hardcore you can use bacon fat)
  • 1 cup A/P flour
  • 2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lb crab meat (please don’t use imitation)
  • 1 lb of smoked sausage of your choice
  • Holy trinity consisting of:
  •       2 large white onions, diced
  •       4 stalks celery, diced
  •       2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 quarts seafood stock
  • 8 oz jar of clam juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups sliced frozen okra chopped small
  • 3 habaneros diced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cajun spices consisting of:
  •       2 tablespoons celery salt
  •       1 tablespoon smoked Hungarian paprika
  •       1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  •       1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  •       1 tablespoon garlic powder
  •       1 tablespoon onion powder
  •       2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  •       1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Directions:

  1. Prepare the holy trinity of diced onions, peppers and celery.  Set aside.
  2. Prepare all meats and set aside
  3. (Most important step) Over medium heat, make the roux by rendering duck fat and slowly adding flour until the color is deep dark brown.  Adjust heat accordingly so you do not burn the roux.
  4. Add the seafood stock slowly while whisking the roux.
  5. Add the smoked sausage, garlic and the holy trinity.
  6. Add the Cajun spice mix and diced habaneros
  7. Add the clam juice and bay leaves.    All this point the only thing you should have left is the seafood.
  8. I like to cook my gumbo for 6 hours and add seafood 1 hour before serving.  That way it, the shrimp and crab does not get rubbery.

Serve this over rice with scallions on top.  Enjoy.

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NFS8 Audition Tape

Well I thought I would share my NFS8 audition video with everybody.  As you know, 2 weeks ago, I participated in the call-back round of NFS and one of the homework assignments was to make a 3 minute video.  However, I have a unique problem that most people don’t have….I am homeless.   How homeless you ask?  Well, my house is being renovated and as you can see in the first part, its been ripped down to the studs.  Another problem?  I traveled for the last two weeks going from Austin – Tucson – Westminster Maryland – NYC and just now arrived back to DC.  So finding a kitchen was pretty hard to do.

Fortunately, I have a friend, Vila who owns V Fine Dining in Tucson.  She graciously allowed me to cook in her restaurant kitchen.  I then went to my co-worker Clark’s house in Maryland and cooked again.  Thus the various transitions.

Fortunately, the instructions from NFS read : Get Out of the kitchen as well! (Check)  Show us a part of your life other than cooking. (Traveling…Check)  Introduce us to your garden (Nope), your family (I am single…so big nope), your restaurant (How about somebody else’s restaurant?  Half-Check), you hobbies (Cooking…Check), your home (Check)…we want some insight on your life!

So go ahead and watch.  Give me your feedback.  Try not to be too hard on me.  Special thanks to Clark for being the camera guy, Vila and Chef Redman for allowing me to use their restaurant, Carrie and Nolin for being the editors of this movie.

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So You Think You Want To Be A Food Network Star?

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A month ago, I filled out an application to be on Next Food Network Star (NFS).  I went to the try-outs and was given my “call-back notice.”  I think I survived the first round because compared to all the clowns, I may have looked the most normal.  So I get the email with the call-back instructions.  It says, “Bring in a dish that personifies you” and “Teach us a food technique in 3 minutes without any heat.  You will have to bring all your ingredients and supplies.”  Show up at the Austin Hyatt at 3:15.  Whoa!  Talk about panic.  Like somebody other than my mom thinks I can cook.

Over the last month, in addition to working my 9-5 job and renovating a house, I was preparing for NFS.  After much facebook debate and a few personal emails exchanges with people I trust, I decided that the dish that personifies me the best was the inside-out mozzarella meatball encrusted in chorizo, served with a San Marzano and basil sauce over Buccatini pasta.  Try saying that 3 times quickly.  Then, I decided that I was going to teach people how to roll the perfect Vietnamese Summer roll.

So I arrive at my host house in Austin (remember that my house is still be renovated and I have no kitchen).  The Moore family are the most gracious hosts and I am so grateful!  Between Friday and Sunday, we cooked every day, and we literally needed every moment to put this meal together.  So on went the finishing touches, and I had recruited my friend Dan to help, and we careful drove downtown to the Hyatt.

Arriving 30 minutes early, I sat outside the room and reviewed my script for the hundredth time.  I heard a lot of laughter going on in the room, and I was thinking, “oh man, I am in trouble.”  The clock ticked down and the door opened.  First I have to caveat this by saying the following 3 points about the judges.  A. They were the three most beautiful girls I have ever seen.  B. They were also very flirty thereby making it very hard to concentrate C. Well crap thinking about them right now made me forget the third point.  But you get what I am working with here.

After getting mic’d up, came some headshots, full body shots (got mad props for the cowboy boots). They asked me to dance on camera.  Yes…dance on camera.  No music…just dance.  I did the most ridiculous combination of sprinkler head, scuba diver-grocery cart moves in my life.  Then they wanted to film me reacting to a joke.  “What did the egg say to the hot water?  How do you expect me to get hard, I just got laid.”  Okay well see previous note about hot girls and now tell jokes.

Then came a chair interview…I felt like I was sitting on Oprah’s couch.  I liked that they were not stock questions that they asked everybody.  Their questions tended to follow-up on what you just said.  What is your culinary style?  (Gourmet Comfort) What is your point of view? (Cooking for Dating People) When did you start cooking? (3rd grade) Why would you be a good contestant on NFS? (I used the 211 degree analogy) Do you worry that you are competing against Executive Chefs? (No because I am the common person and not everybody in America is an Executive Chef) What is your favorite dish?  (Salsa, but the it came out that it is nicknamed get laid salsa) If you were the dating chef, what would you make me if I came over other than the salsa? (I MEAN REALLY?!?!  THIS GIRL IS EFFING WITH ME)  Throughout the process we laughed and one of them snorted.

Then I presented the my meatballs.  One of the girls said, “Forget the salsa, this would do it!”  I then did the summer rolls and then we were complete.

So, they gave me a quiz after the show on culinary knowledge.  I won’t share any of the questions otherwise I may give the competition an unfair advantage.  And I have a bit of stuff I have to submit to them like original recipes, another film session etc.  I then wait until October to see if I make the next round.

I am really proud of myself for going through the process.  Even if I don’t make it much further, I have learned a lot.  I challenged myself with something I am uncomfortable doing.  And I love that about this process.

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Got Hope?

As many of you know, I started this blog about a year ago to help myself get over a serious relationship.  In my own words, I was sharing my life through the lens of food.  It was from this blog, that my friends started encouraging me to sign up for a cooking reality show on TV.  Well, I made it through several rounds of auditions for Next Food Network and yesterday was my live taping.

Thinking I needed to clear my mind before the audition, I decided to go to Church in the morning.  Arriving early, I sat down and reflected on how far I came in a year.  And almost on cue, SHE (the aforementioned past relationship) walking into Church.  This was the first time I saw her.  She looked the same. My stomach turned into knots and my heart felt sad.   But you know what?  That sick feeling quickly dissolved and I felt a feeling of hope.    I reflected on how far I have come to reinvent myself.  Since that relationship, I have sold my house, moved to a new town, started a food blog, became wildly successful in business and met new friends.

So if you are ever down on yourself, it’s okay.  What is not okay is to let yourself linger in your own pity.  Do what you must to get over a relationship, but know that we are all stronger in the end.  Different but stronger.  Don’t waste your today away, find the hope of today.  But don’t stop there!  DON’T JUST HOPE…JUST DO.   I started a food blog, and I thank all of you for following.  That is what I did.

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Where There Is Pineapple There Must Be Fire

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Its summer time, which means plenty of people standing around a grill staring at meat cooking.  I will admit that in the past I went with traditional stuff on the grill.  Chicken, steak, fish even….but this earlier this summer at the farmer’s market I walked by the pineapple stand and got inspired to grill fruit.

In full disclosure, I hate (I mean I used to hate) pineapple. It was too tart and frankly intimidating to cut the rind.  But forward I went and bought two pineapples, not exactly knowing how they would taste or what to even make with pineapple.  Let me tell you I had doubts all along…

The first time I made the pineapple, I put them on kabobs with kielbasa.  Delicious!  The pineapple was juicy and sweet and complimented the flavor profile of the kielbasa!  What else can you add pineapple to?  Well, this past weekend on a guy’s trip, I added the grilled pineapple to jerk chicken and spicy salsa.  The salsa was a bit hot (who knew that jalapenos at Ocean City were so freaking hot!) and the pineapple cut the heat just fine.

So how do you do it?  Putting the pineapple on a flat surface, cut off the top, slice the bottom to make it even and easier to slice.  Then using a sharp knife, I carved the rind around the pineapple.  I then sliced the pineapple into 1 inch thick slices.  Grill them on until you have nice grill marks.  Remove and then the juices settle.  Thank me later.

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I’m going All-In on happiness

I feel a bit overwhelmed by emotion.  I thought I would write to share what is practically my last night in my house.  I lived here for 7 years.  I have not lived anywhere for 7 years since my childhood home.  And I leave to chase a dream.  I am leaving to find something that I lack, happiness.  You see, I have been fielding questions from friends and strangers about why I am leaving.  Most people with commonsense leave a city because of work, or college or any number of reasonable and practical things.  I choose to leave for happiness.  Am I fooling myself?
 
Packing the boxes after 7 years is like strolling down memory lane.  My real estate agent (same one that I used to buy my place) reminded me this morning, that when I bought this place at age 28, I said there was no way I would live there for 7 years.  I would probably be married by then (like most people in their mid-30s).  Now I find myself furthest from that statement.  It’s been a great 7 years here on ol’ Terrapin Place.  Love found; love lost, jobs worked; jobs left.  But I wouldn’t trade my life with anybody over the past 7 years. 
 
But it isn’t about the last 7 years.  Its about the next 7.  I refuse to follow the rat-race of life.  I refuse to not accept the challenge of moving to a new town and meeting new people.  I refuse to seek happiness everyday of the next 7 years.  I refuse to continue to dream anymore…I want to grasp it and live it.  Some people dream about what they want and look back with regret.   When I am old and grasping for the last few breaths, I want to be able to say that, “I tried my best, I gave it my all.  I never settled.”  Nobody is going to ask me during that moment if I wish I worked more…they are going to ask me how I lived my life.  I know how I am going to answer that question.
 
So yes, this is scary.  I may fail.   Any number of things can make this leap of faith a failure.   But if you came from where I came from, you would realize that I am playing with house money now.  And right now I am going all-in for happiness.  Happiness isn’t any particular place on earth, but for me, its Austin, Texas and that’s where I am going to call home.
 
You want to know what is amazing?  All the adults ask the same question about my move and don’t quite understand.  My niece Lauren asked me why I was leaving, and my reply was to find happiness.  She said “oh okay.”  Perhaps only children are the only ones that still understand happiness…well before they understand the ridiculousness of the rat-race.  If that is true, that is sad.
 
So farewell to “reasonable and practical.”  Hello happiness. 
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