Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dani Dishes!

Happy first birthday, Dani Dishes.

Cheers to a great year...

Bethany, Amanda, Caroline

...and to all my good friends who've supported me along the way.

me , Cindy, Carlie

Here's to another year of inspiration, creativity, and happiness!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

U Cook with Chef Bob

As soon as I finished my long summer semester in school, I took a week off work to help out with Chef Bob Waggoner's cooking show, U Cook with Chef Bob.  We filmed all 12 episodes of the second season during that week.  The days were really long and tedious, but it was enjoyable work, and I especially enjoyed learning about the filming and media side of the project.

The set.

Each episode is divided into two parts.  First, Chef Bob cooks a first course and serves it to his panel of 3 "foodies", who are sitting to his right in the above photo. The foodies could be anyone from food writers to wine importers to fellow chefs to personal friends. 

 Can I please mention these bad ass, personalized butcherblock cutting boards Chef Bob had made? Eventually, they'll be available for sale through Charleston Chops. I am drooling over the dark cherry octagon one in the top right.

Okay then, for the second part of the show, Chef would invite someone out of the audience to cook a main course (hence the "U Cook").  While Chef was on screen with his guest chef, his former sous chef and good friend, Jason Houser, would be behind the scenes preparing the dish for the audience. The audience was generally around 25 people or so.

The "kitchen".

So keep in mind, we were in a production studio, not a professional kitchen.  This is the set up the cooks worked off of for the week.  Yes, that is a four-burner electric stove Houser is working off of. It was certainly an interesting and challenging feat.

Jason seasoning Waygu ribeyes. Yum.

I feel like now is an appropriate time to share some of the dinners I got to enjoy, with special thanks to Jason for making sure I was properly fed the whole time. :)

 Beef tenderloin with salsify, morels, shallots, white wine reduction, and shaved black truffle.

A freakin' slab of foie gras with blueberry gastrique, hazelnuts, and roasted figs.

So, you wonder, what the hell did you do besides eat, Dani?  I actually did do some work, guys.  I was pretty much in charge of the front-of-house stuff.  Aka setting the tables, taking care of wine and water, etc.  Which was no small feat considering there was only one faucet in the place, halfway across the warehouse, to fill up my only water pitcher.  Also considering that some of these shows took some time, what with technical difficulties and all, so these people were drinking.  

 Tons of wine.

 My little station.

Let's not forget the production crew. Here is Jose, the sound tech, in front, with Tim, the director, behind him, and Chad in the background.

I felt like even though the filming only lasted a week, I really got to know everyone and made a lot of good friends.  It was certainly a great experience.  Seasons 1 and 2 are supposed to be airing on PBS in the late fall, make sure to look out for it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer Semester in a Nutshell

Over the summer, I took two classes at CIC: Hospitality 102, which was pretty much like proteins class, and Garde Manger, which is the pantry/cold side of the kitchen.  Each class was twice a week, from 7:30 a.m. to either 12 or 2:30.  It was exhausting, but I really enjoyed both classes and felt like I learned a lot.  I was happy to be cooking so intensely every day.


In 102, we focused on cooking a different kind of protein every week.  Here are a few of the dishes I cooked over the course of the semester:

Pan Seared Veal Sweetbreads with Green Apple Gastrique

Bison and Red Bean Chili

Slider Trio: Salsa and Avocado, Mushroom and Fontina, Bacon and Egg

Lamb Stew with Rosemary Polenta

For our final exam in 102, we had to randomly draw the name of a protein out of a bowl and cook it with a starch and a veg.  Somehow, we had to incorporate a classical knife cut into the dish.  I randomly drew a sirloin steak.  I served it with fennel roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus, and caramelized onion gravy.

It turned out really well and I was happy with the results.  The potatoes are one of my mom's recipes, which have been a family favorite since I was a kid.


In Garde Manger, we covered everything from preserving techniques to sushi to charcuterie.  The first day of class, we brined and cured beef tongue.

Here is Chef Mitchell, trying not to laugh because we were cracking jokes about the beef tongue.  Love him.

And myself, with previously mentioned tongue.

This class was a production class, so everything we cooked was served buffet-style on Wednesdays.  We cooked with the same group of 3 to 4 people all semester long and set up our buffet tables by group. 

My group: Erik, Venus, and me.  Love them too.

Like I said, we served a lot of really diverse food over the course of the semester.  Our group later ended up shaving that beef tongue and serving it warm, tossed with spicy BBQ sauce on slider buns.   It was a hit!

One group did this Cobb salad, which I thought they did a really nice job with.

One week, we had an Asian-influenced theme.  Here were my sushi rolls.  This was the first time I ever rolled sushi, and I had a lot of fun with it.

Not-so-great photo of me with my rolls.

For our final project in this class, our group had to design our own buffet, making sure to incorporate specific techniques that we learned over the course of the semester.  Erik made some badass sliders with homemade breakfast sausage, tomato sauce, peppers and onions.  Venus made a chilled cantaloupe rum soup.  I made 2 different types of hors d'oeurves:

Pita with Chicken Liver Mousse, Spicy Orange Marmalade, and Candied Orange Peel


Deviled Eggs 2 Ways: Curry with Caper Creme Fraiche, and Pimento Cheese with Smoky Bacon

Our group's dishes got a ton of compliments on the comment cards, and I think we were all proud of each other.


Hopefully this post helps to justify my break from the blog.  School and work has kept me intensely busy this summer;  I love the blog, but staying sane without any sacrifice has proven impossible, and I've regretfully had to let Dani Dishes go by somewhat by the wayside.  Even though I'm at the start of a new semester, I hope now I'll be able to make more time for this little project in my life.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Daring Cooks' July Challenge: Nut Butters

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.


So. I know. I haven't posted in a month.  Moving, school, work, life, blah blah blah, I know, no excuse.  Please don't be mad at me, friendsI am going to do my best not to let this happen again. 

Speaking of moving, here's a photo of my new kitchen:


I moved in with my friends Cindy and Blake about two weeks ago, and I'm absolutely loving the new place.  Even though I haven't been posting that much, I've been having a lot of fun cooking in our little kitchen.We've been doing a lot of late night, post-work dinner parties. Kind of ridiculous, really.


Back to the Daring Cooks. We had to make a homemade nut butter and use it in a recipe.  I chose to make almond butter and banana pancakes. 

My chef at work said I should steep the almonds in milk to get them kind of soft, which I did.

When the almonds were a little softer to bite, I strained them.

 After the almonds were strained, I put them in the food processor (Finally! A food processor! Yay for Blake!) and slowly added the reserved milk as needed.

I actually ended up using all the milk, plus a little oil.  Finish to taste with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

 For the pancakes, I used my favorite recipe from Joy of Cooking.  My blueberry pancake post lists the recipe, if you want it. This time around, I chopped up a few bananas and added them to the batter, along with some cinnamon.

 I spread a little of the almond butter on each pancake, and drizzled them with some local honey.

 Served with some sausage and a little fresh banana.  Delicious and easy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Trip to Chapel Hill

Last week, I went on another fun trip to the triangle area.  The main reason for going to was to take the intro level sommelier exam in Raleigh through the Court of Master Sommeliers.  My friend, Morgan, who works at McCrady's, also took the test.  It involved a pretty intensive two-day seminar prior to the exam, and I was happy to have a friend there with me.  There was a lot of information to absorb, and I think I might have felt a bit more overwhelmed had I gone by myself.

Morgan and I just before taking the exam

I couldn't help but to be a little nervous about the exam, even though I was overall fairly confident about it. Much to our relief, however, we both passed!

So that was pretty exciting. I've been pretty stressed out about the whole thing, and I'm glad to have one less thing looming over my head right now.


The other purpose of the trip was to celebrate my birthday!  Tuesday was my actual birthday, but I didn't want to party too hard because the wine exam was the next day.  But, you better believe, on Wednesday after I found out I passed, it was on

We finally had dinner at Lantern, after having drinks there my last two visits.  My sister and I asked the bartender to just pick dinner for us because, truly, I would have been happy with any single item on the menu.  He happily obliged us, and I loved every bite.

To start, I got Chaat, which is kind of like a warm salad with roasted chickpeas and cauliflower, crispy potatoes, pickled red onion and a nice, refreshing herbed/minty chutney.  I absolutely adore both chickpeas and cauliflower, and I thought this dish was delicious and certainly unique, with lots of fun texture.

For dinner, I had the steamed wild striped bass, which was served with lots of herbs, crispy ginger, a fermented black bean-type broth, baby bok choy, and rice.  This was excellent as well, along with Margaret's lacquered pork tenderloin lettuce wraps, and Sam's crispy duck noodle soup.  Gotta say, though, I did enjoy mine the best.

The dessert was rave-worthy.  Roasted banana ice-cream with peanut brittle, caramel, and whipped cream. To.die.for.  And I'm really not even the kind of person who just raves over dessert.

Here's one of the sis and me at Lantern.  Sissy bought me the dress for my birthday :)

And one of the sis and her hunky boyfriend, Sam, whom I got to officially meet.


So that's about all I have to share with you, except for a couple gem photos from our hungover trip to the Maple View Dairy Ice Cream Store in Carrboro the next day.


Don't be jealous of the fact that I ate really delicious ice cream two days in a row.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Rare Visit from the Parents and the Resulting Foodie Weekend

 At McCrady's Saturday for Dad's bday celebration

So, the parents came in town this past weekend for my dad's big 6-0, and we all enjoyed a tightly scheduled food-and-drink oriented weekend in honor of the occasion.  The last time they managed to escape to Chucktown from our quiet little hometown of Morganton, NC  was for their 30th anniversary, over a year and a half ago, so we (rightfully) made a big occasion out of it.


The first night they were in town, I buckled to my mother's gentle but persistent urgings to cook for them, and went with a fun, regionally-inspired theme.

To start, I made fried green tomatoes with a ginger-peach relish.  For the relish, I simmered some skinless, chopped peaches with ginger, sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, red onion, and jalapenos.  I let that bubble for about an hour, until it reduced a good bit, then let it chill in the refrigerator.

For the green tomatoes, I sliced them up and breaded them with flour, egg wash, and a mixture of panko and breadcrumbs.

 Heated some oil in a skillet and pan-seared them until they were nice and brown.

 Topped them off with the peach relish and some sliced green onions.  They turned out remarkably well! I was really pleased with the flavor of the peach relish against the slightly tart green tomatoes.

For the shrimp & grits, I started by making a shrimp stock with the fish fume I made a couple weeks ago.  By using the fume instead of tap water in the stock, I was really able to build a nice flavor base.  I've been freezing shrimp and crab shells, so I tossed them in, along with some onions, tomatoes, celery, parsley, and a couple bay leaves.  I let that simmer for a bit, then strained it a few times.

The stock turned out nice and rich, with a mildly sweet flavor from the shrimp.  Next, I gathered the ingredients for the saute.  I used the stock, leeks, garlic, concassed tomatoes, andouille sausage, and local shrimp.

While I was getting my chopping done, I put the grits on to start cooking.  I like to start with 1 part grits, 2 parts water, and 1 part chicken stock. Once it gets boiling, I add more chicken stock and cream alternately, much like a risotto.  This can cook for a long time, like an hour, at a low simmer.  Just let them get all lovely and creamy.

After the grits were on, I browned the andouille sausage.

For the saute, start by cooking the leeks and garlic in a little oil until they are soft and translucent.

Then, add the shrimp stock, the tomatoes, and a splash of white wine to taste.  Let simmer until slightly reduced.

When the sauce is reduced to your liking, add the shrimp, sausage, and a touch of cream.

Cook the shrimp until it is no longer translucent.  Serve the whole mixture over a bowl of grits, and top with scallions.


I was really happy with the way this dish turned out!  Nice and rich and full of flavor.  After dinner, we headed out to see a Brazilian jazz show at the Cistern, and really enjoyed it.


Saturday, we hit up the farmer's market, the beach, and finished it all off with a decadent meal at McCrady's. We had an amazing time and were all collectively blown away by Chef Brock's tasting menu.

Before the parents left town, we hit up High Cotton.  The boys in the kitchen really outdid themselves, and we were stuffed before we even ordered.

Overall, all three of us had an amazing weekend.  The only thing that could have made it any better was if my sister, Margaret, could have made it down. She stays pretty busy, though. Next week, I'll be traveling up to Chapel Hill to visit her and to take my first level sommelier test.  Kinda nervous about that. I'll keep you posted.