Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Happy 2nd Birthday, Dani Dishes!

It's hard to believe it's been a year since Dani Dishes's first birthday.  Last year, I was drinking bubbles in the little Cooper Street kitchen in Charleston, surrounded by my girlfriends.  This year, I found myself at my parents' house in NC for a much quieter, but nonetheless enjoyable celebration.

I know I've gotten off track with the blog this past year. I've been trying to get through culinary school, working all the time, and honestly just haven't felt like writing. 

But, I've spent a lot of time trying to get my head straight, and I've decided that it's time for a change. As much as Charleston has meant to me, I'm looking forward to seeing some new places and making some new memories. So, next week, I'll be packing my car and moving to Denver, CO! It's a little daunting, and I know it's gonna be a cold winter for this Carolina girl, but I'm ready to do this thing.

I've got a couple posts up my sleeve, so stay tuned. Cheers to another year, Dani Dishes!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Post: Sam in Morocco

My sister's boyfriend, Sam Albetta, just spent the past six months in Morocco and Egypt.  While he was there, obviously, he enjoyed a totally different cuisine than anything he was used to eating here in the States. So, when I asked if he would be interested in posting about some of his food experiences, he kindly obliged. Thanks, Sam, and I hope you guys enjoy this post as much as I did!

Hey everyone, I'm Sam.  

 My recent time in Morocco was quite a new culinary experience, not just because of the subtleties of Moroccan food, but also because it made me more aware of the intricacies of how food is obtained, prepared, and enjoyed in another part of the world.  There are a lot of things that just work differently in Fez, which is where I spent most of my time.  Hopefully I can convey some sense of that in this post.
The first thing you should know about eating in Morocco is that it really helps to be adventurous.  In addition to there being some food items to which Westerners aren’t accustomed, there is also often no semblance of a health code.  You should use common sense, but if you are overly-cautious you probably won’t have as much fun. 
There are many different types of restaurants found in the Medina (older part of the city.)  Some are larger, more tourist-oriented restaurants that are clustered around the main entrance.  These can often be best described as “rip offs.”  The food is comparatively expensive and often isn’t as good or authentic as what one can find a little further in to the city.  At some point, one needs to decide if they want to be served tourist-safe food by a guy wearing boisterously exaggerated garb in a prop-laden restaurant, or food that Moroccans actually eat, prepared by a guy in jeans standing behind a bloody meat counter with a flat-top.  If you think you might prefer the former, the rest of this post may not interest you.
flat top at a meat counter

It was just this kind of meat counter restaurant that ended up being one of my favorites.  This type of operation is really more of a stall than a restaurant, but they do cook up some great food.  There are fresh whole animals being broken down, hung, sometimes ground, and displayed, often including cuts of chicken, beef, lamb, liver, pancreas, and other various offerings of offal.   

meat counter proteins

Walking up and choosing an ingredient is your first move.  My favorites ended up being chicken, liver, and a large, reddish piece of charcuterie the locals called “pasterma” (like I said, be adventurous.)  Your counter man will then take that item and throw it on the flat-top with some onions, chopped olives, seasoning (chili and turmeric plus some others) and lots of oil.  You can also get a fried egg thrown into the mix (highly recommended.)  It’s then served in a piece of bread that’s pretty similar to pita.  The result can be had for a mere 15 dirham (a little less than $2) and you won’t be hungry afterward.  


 Another type of restaurant in the Medina is the soup-kitchen type.  Here you’ll find huge boiling pots of either harira, or a white bean soup called “bisura” or “baysr.”  These are often accompanied by fried eggs, a salsa-like sauce, and these delicious little potato fritters that are constantly being fried.  The spread at one of these places will only cost around 10 dirham ($1.25.)  

 soup counter

 While both of the types of restaurants mentioned above serve great food, it certainly isn’t the food for which Morocco is best known.  The tagine is undoubtedly the most recognizable dish from the Moroccan milieu, and while it tends to be a little more expensive than the aforementioned bargains, it is definitely something that travelers shouldn’t miss.  While acceptable tagines can be obtained in many restaurants, the best tagine is the one made at home, preferably the home of a Moroccan whom you have befriended.  


Tagine is actually the name of the vessel in which the meal is cooked; it is a heavy stoneware dish that has a flat bottom and a tall conical lid.  This heavy stone basin is usually brought to the table, ensuring that the communal serving stays hot throughout the meal.  A couple of times we were brought tagines that were still at an active boil even after they had been brought out because of how much heat the vessel retained.  Varieties of tagines might include any combination of potatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, tomatoes, beef, chicken, lamb, liver, or eggs.  Ingredients are sautéed and then simmered together with a little broth or water while the heavy lid holds pressure inside.  The result is a rich and tender meal that will heat the diner well after the food is gone.  Forks are lunged across the table and rips of bread mop up steaming broth.  Alcohol is rare to come by in Morocco, so a meal like this will often be preceded by tea, or “shai,” which in Morocco is usually just mint leaves, boiling water, and a staggering amount of sugar.

Lastly, I’m including a recipe for a dish that I made for guests in my home while I was in Fez.  This dish was the result of my own interpretation of some of the Moroccan flavors and ingredients that I encountered while I was there.  If you can’t make it to Morocco anytime soon, maybe you can bring a little bit of Morocco to your own kitchen.  Have fun!   
Moroccan Braise

4-5 pound cut of beef
fennel seed
garlic cloves     
2 large fennel bulbs, quartered
2 onions, quartered  
5-6 sweet tangerines or other citrus, zest reserved

Thoroughly rub the beef with the spices.  Embed some cloves of garlic in the meat, cutting small slits if necessary.  If desired, let the beef sit with the rub overnight.

Brown the meat on all sides and transfer to a large lidded pot.  Add the onions and fennel bulb to the pot.  For the braising liquid, peel the tangerines and crush them in your hand over the pot.  Fit the lid on the pot and put it in the oven.  The temperature and timing of the braise can vary depending on the size and thickness of the meat.  For a larger, thicker piece, 3 - 4 hours at around 185 degrees should be about right.  For a thinner piece, 2 - 2.5 hours at around 200 should do it.  an expedited preparation of this dish can also be done in a pressure cooker in about half the time.  When using a pressure cooker, set the pot over a low to medium burner and maintain a low simmer.

 After cooking, plate the meat with the fennel and onions on a large platter and spoon some braising liquid over the top.  For a garnish, make a quick gremolata combining the saved tangerine zest, some chopped garlic, and parsley.  Sprinkle on top.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Charleston Wine & Food Festival: Opening Night Party

Last weekend was the sixth annual Charleston Wine & Food Festival.  I was really excited to get to help out at the opening night gala.  It took place in Marion Square, and much like last week's Chef's Feast, about twenty local restaurants had tables set up with small plates for the partygoers to dine on while they drank and mingled.

Blake, John, me, and Chef Ramon 

We had time to snap some photos before the crazy influx of people happened.  There were over 1,000 attendees there, which made for a busy night, to say the least.

John and me
Blake and me

Chef Frank Lee and his Chef de Cuisine, Russ Moore

our dish

I was happy that, unlike at the Chef's Feast, our plate was cold rather than hot. There were so many people, we were busy enough as it was without having to actually cook or heat the food to order.

gorgeous tuna, fennel and radish salad, blood orange puree, 
crispy beet chip, olive oil powder, and micro greens

The crudo tasted really great, too. All the flavors together made for a very refreshing, light couple of bites. I think it was a nice contrast to some of the other heavier (but still delicious) charcuterie-oriented dishes I saw.

 I tried to get a crowd shot to show how many people were there

After the crowd started to die down, we enjoyed tasting some of the other restaurants' dishes.  Chef Bacon from Oak was doing a gorgeous homemade (oxtail? not quite remembering...) ravioli, while Chef Brock from Husk was putting out pig's ear sliders which were pretty much amazing.  Overall, it was a lot of fun, and I've enjoyed getting to go to so many exciting events in the past few weeks.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chef's Feast

Last night, I was able to help out at the 12th annual Chef's Feast, organized by Peninsula Grill's Chef Bob Carter.  The event raises charity money for the Lowcountry Food Bank.  Around 1,000 people attended, wearing tuxes and cocktail dresses, and over 25 chefs were there to represent their restaurants.

Each chef had a little station where his team could put out a small plate, and the guests came up to the stations as they wanted.  There were tables all over the auditorium for the guests to sit and dine.

Blake, Chef Ramon, myself, and Chef Lee

The four of us, plus Jeff, a cook from SNOB, represented High Cotton and Maverick Southern Kitchens.

What we cooked.

Needless to say, with that many guests attending, we stayed very busy, especially for the first hour.

Our plate. 

I thought our plate turned out nicely. It tasted good, and lots of guests came back for more.

Ramon and David Marconi, one of MSK's owners.

We saw lots of friends and familiar faces all night long.  Blake and I ran into tons of students and teachers from our respective culinary schools (she goes to Art Institute, I go to C.I.C.).  Of course, there were lots of industry people there who we knew just from working in food and beverage in Charleston.

Me and Chef Stefanelli from school. Love him.

While we didn't taste every dish, it was definitely fun to taste what the different restaurants were putting out. Chef Stef's braised oxtail and polenta was delicious, and I also really liked the sauteed calamari in tomato sauce from the Wild Olive, the restaurant we were stationed next to.  A couple cold beers at the end of the night (of course) helped wash it all down. Overall, it was a blast, and I was happy to step outside of my usual realm to participate in something so big and exciting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cooking Competition at C.I.C.

me, Josh, Rene

A couple weeks ago, my friend Josh, who I know from culinary school, asked me to help him out with a cooking competition he was going to be involved in.  The challenge was a fundraiser, purchased at last year's Vintner's dinner.  Three students were chosen by the school to prepare a three-course meal for about twenty people, and the winner was to receive a cash prize.

Each competitor was allowed to have a couple of sous chefs to help him or her out.  Of course, this sounded like a blast to me, so when Josh asked me to help I quickly agreed.  Our friend, Rene, also volunteered to help out. 

He was go compete against two other girls, Ulfet and Talicia.  Each student was to use a tilefish for the first course, a whole beef tenderloin for the second course, and had free range to create any dessert course he or she wanted.

 Josh plating his first course: tilefish with roasted tomato, bok choy, and quinoa risotto, 
buerre blanc, and basil oil

Ulfet's tilefish course

We prepped all day and had a blast. By the time we actually started serving, everyone was ready and in good spirits.

As the entrees were going out.

Josh's second course: whole roasted beef tenderloin, green bean saute, truffled parsnip puree, 
balsamic red wine reduction foam

For dessert, our team played around with the idea of deconstructing a classic s'more.  It was challenging to try to pull off, but it tasted good and we enjoyed playing around with it.

Rene and Josh finishing the plates

Chef Frank Lee was the judge.  I've worked in his company for a long time, so we had fun and chatted over a glass of wine when it was all over.

Chef and me

In the end, our team didn't win, but we accepted our defeat without too much wounded pride.  

Everyone who participated.
Back row: Jamie, Ulfet, Josh, Talicia
Front row: Rene, Bev, me, Arlene

All in all, I had a lot of fun being able to participate in this competition.  I met some new friends, hung out with some old ones, and was able to mix up the daily routine a bit.  I'll be looking forward to the next time I'm invited to be a part of something like this.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I've Been Doing

So.  I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to say here.  I realize that I have pretty much neglected the blog for an entire semester.  Even worse is that my last post was a birthday celebration for the damn blog itself. Months ago. Awk-ward.

I admit that there is no excuse for this neglect. I have been formulating this very "I'm Sorry" post in my mind for ages now.  Repeatedly, I have been shocked upon being asked, "So, whatever happened with the blog?" or, "Are you okay? I haven't noticed any posts in a while." It's gotta be a feeling akin to leaving a box of puppies on the side of the road somewhere. Except that I would never do that.

I've been somehow justifying my silence in repeating to myself what an ancient piece of crap the computer I've been working on is, and how I Just Don't Have Time to wait around for photos to upload and whatnot. Which is certainly true. Ultimately, though, I'm kidding myself. I've simply allowed myself to get caught up. I finally made the switch to back-of-house at work, have kept super-busy with school, and most importantly (and least tangibly), I've been enjoying the company of my amazing circle (family) of friends that I've become so amazingly close with along the way.

So, as a peace offering, here are some photos that recap my life the past few months:

Of course, there are my boys <3

 Nick, Cam, Kristen and Andrew

 I thought it was badass when they broke down the turkeys for Thanksgiving:

Ben, Brendan, Abbott, and Pat
More badass still was when they broke down the 800 pound local steer we got in:

Um, yeah, he took up the whole walk-in.

Andrew and Kristen got married on November 13th, 2010.  They were cute enough to bring the whole wedding party to Moe's.

Before Face ditched the bottle for a pitcher. Wish I had a photo of Kristen, too. She was gorgeous.

  Cam turned 21. We ate at SNOB before, of course, heading to Moe's:

 Cam and Ben

Korey and me

Let's not forget the beautiful ladies in my life:

Amanda and Cindy (Sunday Funday?)
me, Blake, and Kristine (same day)

 Caroline and I the night of the eclipse

Don't let me fool you, I actually did do a little cooking the past few months:

Final Presentation for my A la Carte I class:
Crab Cakes with Sauteed Squash & Zucchini, Creole Remoulade, and Fried Preserved Meyer Lemons

 Christmas was a blast. Blake and I hosted a feast for the boys:

big, fat, 15 pound standing rib roast.

Tim, Seth, Cam, Ben, Brian, John, John

final plate: rib roast with shaved Sriracha Brussels sprouts, roasted winter veggies, and horseradish cream

I finally got to HUSK with Brady:


 Managed to see my best friend's kids the few moments I spent in Morganton:

Gracie, me, Henry

A couple times.

 Love you, Brenna.

Lastly, I finally bought a new computer. My first Mac.

No more excuses.