Saturday, September 13, 2014

JBF's Taste America® All-Star Chef Barbara Lynch Brings Butter Soup to Atlanta

Saturdays usually provide an opportunity to sleep a little later and linger over coffee and the newspaper, yet this morning I was up and out early so as not to lose my reserved seat at The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America® cooking demonstrations at the Sur La Table store located in North Point Mall.

Taste America® “Local Flavor from Coast To Coast” is a national epicurean tour celebrating America’s culinary diversity. From September 12 through October 25, 2014, the program will stop in ten cities over five weekends, including Atlanta, Phoenix, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. and will feature in-store celebrity chef appearances, cooking demonstrations, book signings, tastings and more at Sur La Table stores around the country.

Taste America® All-Star Chef Barbara Lynch, winner of the 2014 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restaurateur award, was the featured chef for the morning’s program activities. As we were lead into the demonstration kitchen, we could see chef Lynch’s mise en place of fresh clams and what looked like a large mixing bowl of canary yellow frosting which aroused everyone’s curiosity.

The mystery was solved when Chef explained that she would be making her signature “Butter Soup” to be served with shellfish and a honey milk foam. What we had mistaken for frosting was fresh artisanal butter from Diane St. Clair’s Animal Farm in Orwell, Vermont. “This is the most amazing butter you will ever taste. I even know the name of the cow it came from; her name is ‘Hopi’!” Chef started the soup base by melting butter with water in the style of a traditional Buerre Monté sauce. Solid butter is an emulsification of butterfat, water, and milk solids. Beurre monté preparation is a way to manipulate the emulsification into a liquid form by adding a small amount of water to chunks of butter and whisking over moderate heat, the melted butter remains emulsified.

While the seafood was gently steamed and the beurre monte warmed, Chef Lynch made a honey milk foam by warming milk in a saucepan with honey until the honey is dissolved. The honey milk is added to a mixing bowl with an egg yolk and pulse with an immersion blender until foamy. If you do not have an immersion blender a regular blender or even a whisk will work just fine.

1 pound unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
One 1½-pound lobster
8 littleneck clams
8 mussels
4 ounces crabmeat
1 cup milk
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon local honey
1 ounce black caviar
1 tablespoon chopped chives (optional)
Kosher salt

To prepare the shellfish, remove tail and claws from the lobster body (save the body for another use). Steam the tail for 5 minutes and the claws and knuckles for 6 minutes and immediately place in an ice water bath to shock. Once cool enough to handle, remove the meat and chop into bite-sized pieces, set aside, and discard shell.

Steam the mussels and clams in a covered pot with ¼ cup boiling water until just open. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow the shellfish to cool just until you are able to handle them. Remove the meat from the shells, set aside, and discard the shells.

In a medium sauce pot, bring 5 tablespoons water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in the chilled butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until emulsified. Add the lemon juice to the butter mixture and salt to taste. Hold over low heat. Do not allow the butter mixture to come to a boil or it will separate. If the soup 'breaks," whisk in more warm water and stir until re-incorporated. Add the crabmeat, lobster, mussels, and clams to the warm butter mixture and heat gently all the way through.

To make the honey milk foam, pour honey into 1 cup warmed milk and stir to combine. Whisk in an egg yolk and using an immersion blender, blitz mixture until foamy.

Using a slotted spoon, divide the shellfish equally among 4 small warmed soup bowls. Pour butter soup over the shellfish to cover (approximately 3 tablespoons for each serving; there will be some leftover which can be refrigerated and gently reheated for future use.

Garnish the soup with 1 teaspoon honey "foam," a small scoop of black caviar, and sprinkling of chopped chives (if using) and serve immediately. You may wish to have extra napkins on hand for those who simply cannot resist the urge to lick the bowl to get every last droplet!

And as if Chef Lynch’s Butter Soup was not decadent enough, High Road Craft Ice Cream was on site dispensing corn meal spoon bread and tomato marmalade with scoops of their sinful Vanilla Fleur de Sel ice cream as part of the Taste America® mission to showcase local artisanal flavors.

To learn more about the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America® tour please visit jbftasteamerica.org. The full Taste America® program calendar is as follows:

September 12-13:        Atlanta: All-Star Barbara Lynch*/Phoenix: All-Star Sherry Yard*
September 26-27:        Dallas: All-Star Patrick O’Connell*/Seattle: All-Star Marc Murphy*
October 10-11:            Los Angeles: All-Star Aarón Sánchez*/NYC: All-Star Daniel Boulud*
October 17-18:            Chicago: All-Star Grant Achatz*/Washington, D.C.: All-Star Charles Phan*
October 24-25:            Boston: All-Star Ludo Lefebvre /San Francisco: All-Star Paul Qui*

*Notes James Beard Award Winner

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Atlanta Improv: The Food Is Nothing To Laugh At

Two things we really enjoy are a good laugh and a good meal; the combination of both makes for a perfect evening! We were very excited when we were invited to the Atlanta Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theatre with the other members of the AFBS to experience their ambitious menu.

Photo credit: Eskimo Advertising
With Buckhead traffic, we arrived in what we thought would be plenty of time, but the actual theater can be a bit tricky to locate as it is nestled deep in the bowels of the Andrews Entertainment District. Once found, we were guided to our table by a charming hostess. The 6-seat tables are not spacious (a vast understatement,) perhaps tiny would be a better descriptor with adorable little beaded lamps for just a touch of light. Servers immediately brought menus and began taking orders.

To save time and because I was curious, I had reviewed the Improv menu online before we attended. It became clear that Stout Irish Pub (right next door) provides many of the dishes on the Improv menu. Before the lights went down, we ordered the Headliner appetizer platter which calamari, fried green tomatoes and BBQ eggrolls as well as some hot chicken wings for the table, a classic burger for Dom and the grilled lamb “Pops” for me.

The calamari was good but was a bit cool, the fried green tomatoes with goat cheese were excellent and the BBQ eggrolls served with a sweet raspberry chipotle sauce were exceptional. The wings were exactly what you would expect – wings in hot sauce – nothing remarkable, but good just the same! Dom who is very picky about his burgers, found his to be good, but not extraordinary. I, on the other hand, ordered the best item on the menu! The lamb chops were cooked a perfect medium rare served with a drizzle of a balsamic vinegar reduction. They were plated atop a creamy wild mushroom risotto and served with sautéed green beans on the side. Truly delicious.

We were also impressed with the servers. Dressed in black they quietly and seamlessly moved through the tight room to deliver food and drinks. Just before last call, we put in an order of the dessert trio for the table. More rapid than an eagle, our server swooped in with a plate with Krispy Kreme Doughnut Bread Pudding with white Valrhona chocolate and Maker’s Mark caramel sauce; Coconut Cream Pie made with coconut cream cheese filled pastry, fresh whipped cream, and toasted coconut; and, Flourless Italian Chocolate Cake concocted of four imported Italian chocolates with raspberry coulis and topped with whipped cream.


Oh and in case you forgot, it is a comedy club. The comedian on stage for the evening was none other than Andy Sandford of Adult Swim fame and formerly Creative Loafing Magazine’s “Best Atlanta Comedian.” His dry humor and deadpan delivery were an excellent accompaniment to the food as well as the atmosphere.

Overall, this was a wonderful evening of entertainment and food. As a food blogger, food is typically the primary focus of our dining encounters. It was nice to step outside of that emphasis for a change and enjoy a meal in tandem with a theater experience. However, as with any theatric event, courtesy comes first. While we nodded and used hand gestures to communicate our impressions of the food, we all tried very hard to be respectful of the artists and the theater rules by not using flash photography, thus we have very few pictures and those we do have are quite dark. Thus we ask your forgiveness for the lack of quality pictures of our evening.

While most people do not go to a comedy club for the food, we would recommend that you make an exception in this case and head over to The Atlanta Improv for a show AND a great meal.

Disclosure: While the menu items we sampled were complimentary, the opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited. 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rush Hour Refuge at Sweet Auburn Barbecue

On a rainy evening after navigating Atlanta rush hour traffic, I found respite at new location of Sweet Auburn Barbecue in the former home of the once popular Pura Vida. I sat down and joined follow members of the Atlanta Food Bloggers' Society to decompress and enjoy some drinks and munchies. The drink menu is impressive and inventive with an interesting twist; the drinks are listed in order of their strength! I went with the middle-of-the-road “Collin S Curve” made with barrel-aged gin, Death’s Door gin, Bonal Gentiane Quina, Bigallet 'China-China' and Lemon Bitters.

We were all wowed by the tableside performance as one member of our party order a “Don’t Burn Down The House” which involved the charring of a plank of hickory with a torch and then placing a glass upside down over the smoldering wood to capture the smoke. Once fully infused, a mixture of Bulleit Bourbon, Maple Syrup, Black Walnut & Creole Bitters was poured into the still smoking glass and garnished with a twist of orange peel.

As we sipped and chatted several plates arrived at the table starting with a Sweet Auburn country picnic plate with shaved Benton’s country ham, homemade pickles, homemade pimento cheese, candied bacon, crostini and lavash. The house made pickles and the candied bacon were the standouts of this menu item. Smoked chicken wings, tossed in “Wu Tang” sauce were bursting with flavor. The meaty wings with just the right amount of heat in the sticky sweet soy sauce and crazy crispy! These disappeared before I could even think about snagging a second one.

Next came a tray of signature Pimento Cheese Wontons which were served blazing hot. Waiting just long enough for them to cool ever-so slightly so as not to completely burn our mouths, we bit into the super crispy bites to the find cheese mixed with housemade bacon marmalade for a rich, creamy and salty flavor. A dip in the sweet Thai chili sauce brings the sweetness making for the perfect combination of sweet and salty. It came as no surprise when the Chef informed us that they make about a 1,000 a day. (Yes, that's three zeros.)

The adorable Chef Tiny could be seen sheepishly peeking through the kitchen doorway gauging our reactions to his creations. We invited him to the table and he chatted about making pickles and his secret Asian fusion sauces. He was very intent on making sure we enjoyed every morsel and eagerly sought our recommendations for improvement, of which we had none.

With ample parking available across the street, this Poncey-Highland spot is the perfect retreat for cocktails and nibbles after a hard day of work. We cannot wait for the chance to come back one afternoon to try some of Chef Tiny’s brisket and other barbequed specialities.



Disclosure: While the menu items we sampled were complimentary, the opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.  





Saturday, August 2, 2014

NYC's Baker and Co. Hits the Spot

On a recent trip to New York City with my son, I found myself tired, thirsty and hungry as we ambled into Greenwich Village. First of all, if you haven’t been to that area in recent years it is much different than years gone. The neighborhood is much gentrified with a more vibrant business environment lacking the more colorful population I recall in the early 80’s.

Wandering down Bleecker, we happened upon the newly opened Baker and Co. Briefly this place is a gem.  Given the ramblings of this blog, I am sure you know that I (Dom) can be a bit picky…

The attractive, homey space with its original mosaic flooring beckons for a leisurely lunch lingering over a bottle of wine from the restaurant's all-Italian list. The railroad depot-style restaurant reaches its terminus in a small patio in the back, surrounded by the unpopulated backs of old neighborhood buildings.

The food doesn't adhere to a strict Northern Italian approach, with offerings like a riff on one of Rome's most famous dishes - Baker's Mac and Cheese "Cacio e Pepe." Owners Elena Fabiani and Markus Dorfmann have once again tapped Chef Ricardo Buitoni to execute their culinary vision, which includes a seasonal menu of (non-traditional) Italian comfort food.

The selection of wine and beer is quite impressive and the food is terrific.  I was particularly happy with the pasta, sausage and rabe; a dish we make often but they do better, (got to be honest with yourself).  Even though I am not a big fan of croquettes, these were great! Made with risotto and crushed truffle, these are not your typical rice fritters! All of this at a reasonable price; twenty bucks for a big plate of pasta and a draft Moretti lager. Given the environs, THAT is saying something.

So if you find yourself in on Bleecker Street in NYC, stop in and tell General Manager CJ Marsi that we say, “hello.” He is wonderful to chat with. And be sure to ask him about their specialty “spiritless” cocktails!

You can see an annotated version of this post out on Genius.com.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Buttermilk Poached Flounder & Farro with Kale Pesto

It has been quite a while since we have done a recipe challenge, so when the awesome folks at Garnish & Gather tasked us to develop a healthy, easy meal on a budget using seasonal ingredients available in September.

As the days of summer are waning, more leafy seasonal greens are hitting the farmer’s market tables. The days are still warm enough to have us yearning for some healthy fish options like flounder which is available year-round, while the cooler evenings leave us craving heartier grains like quinoa or barley. This menu features a combination of these ingredients to result in the perfect late summer/early autumn meal.

This meal sounds so elegant and sophisticated, but in reality is very easy, forgiving and full of wonderful flavors with zesty lemon pulling the whole meal together. Best of all it is super nutritious! This recipe feeds two people generously or can be doubled to feed a family of four. The addition of fresh vegetables such as chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with basil or a fruit salad would make a fabulous accompaniment as well.

For the Salad: Rather than including a heavy portion of rice or potatoes, this farro salad is made lighter with the generous addition of kale. The kale does double duty by becoming part of the dressing as well as part of the salad.

1 cup farro
1 1/2 cups (about 4 ounces) fresh kale, trimmed with stems removed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Kosher salt

In a medium saucepan, cook the farro in salted boiling water until al dente, this should take about 30 minutes.

While the farro is cooking, pulse 1 cup of the kale with the lemon juice until roughly diced in a food processor. With the machine on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until smooth. Don’t have a food processor? Mince the cup of the kale and mix with lemon in a mixing bowl and stir aggressively. Drizzle the olive into the mixing bowl as you continue to stir aggressively.

When the farro is cooked, drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Let cool slightly. Then scrape the kale pesto into the farro. Add the lemon zest, if using, and the remaining kale leaves that have been roughly chopped. Season to taste with salt and toss well. This salad can be made ahead and refrigerated as time allows.

For the Fish: Poaching is just a fancy term for simmering proteins in liquid. Buttermilk does an amazing job of cutting the “fishiness” that some people associate with flaky white fish while providing the perfect poaching liquid. Creamy and tick, buttermilk just tastes rich while in reality it is low fat and provides a tangy base for the addition of lemon and coriander for the finished sauce. We chose wild caught flounder because it is available year-round and is usually inexpensive. You could use any flaky white fish for this recipe including halibut, pollock, haddock or perch.

1 1/2 cup buttermilk (see substitution note below)
1 1/2 lbs. flounder fillets
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)

To cook the flounder, pour the buttermilk into a large pan or skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Gingerly slip the fish into the skillet, cover, and poach for 3 to 4 minutes, until fish is nearly cooked.

Using a spatula, carefully remove fish from the pan. Add lemon juice, flour, salt, coriander and pepper to the buttermilk in the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the buttermilk is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

When the buttermilk is reduced, turn the heat to low and return the fish to the pan. Simmer for about 1 to 2 minutes longer until the fish is opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Serve the farro with kale pesto and gently lay the flounder fillet alongside. Spoon some of the lemon buttermilk sauce over the fish and garnish with parsley (or even some finely chopped kale.)

Substitution Note:
No buttermilk? No worries, there are several quick and comparable substitutes for buttermilk made from ingredients that you most likely have right in your refrigerator or cabinet. The most important thing to consider when preparing a substitute for buttermilk is the acid. The lactic acid in buttermilk is responsible for its characteristic flavor, texture and leavening power:
  • 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice - Let stand for five minutes prior to use.
  • 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon vinegar – Let stand for five minutes prior to use.
  • 1/4 cup milk + 3/4 cup plain yogurt - Whisk together until no lumps remain.
  • 1/4 cup milk + 3/4 cup sour cream - Whisk together until no lumps remain.
  • 1 cup milk + 1/2 tablespoon cream of tartar - Mix well to dissolve the cream of tartar

We received no compensation for the development of this meal which was 
designed exclusively for the Garnish and Gather Recipe Challenge.


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