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A Taste from Chef Allen Susser

Instead of posting a recipe inspired by a previous Taste of the Nation chef this week, I decided to post about the chef who made the South Florida Taste of the Nation events what they are today…Chef Allen Susser.

Picture courtesy of www.jannorris.com

Recently I had the opportunity to go try out a new Delray Beach restaurant called Taste Gastropub. James Beard Award recipient, Chef Allen Susser, owner of the acclaimed Chef Allen’s Seafood Grill in Aventura, is the consulting chef for the new restaurant, which opened on April 12, 2010.

The new hot spot has somewhat of a retro feel, with the food having an emphasis on products sourced from small farmers and local fishermen. The menu ranges from bar snacks to hearty entrees. All of the plates are on the smaller side, somewhat similar to a tapas. There is even an adorable mini candy bar they will bring right to your table, with gummies and m&m’s, just to name a few. There is indoor seating, as well as outdoor seating on the front patio or in the fabulous outdoor courtyard area.

Our experience was quite nice. We sat in the outdoor courtyard and had a waiter full of personality. We sipped on some of their signature cocktails and enjoyed a number of their small dishes. Our table started out with some of the smaller snack size choices, which included Hot Potato Chips with Onion, Garlic and Chive Dip, as well as their Triple Cooked French Fries. I personally loved the potato chips and dip.

We then moved on to somewhat larger dishes which included, Laughing Bird Shrimp Ceviche with grapefruit, gin and corn nuts; Niman Ranch Skirt Steak with Roquefort Butter and Garlic Herb Frites; Peeky Toe Crabcake “Po’ Boy”; and the Korean Style Spare Ribs. I personally tasted the Ceviche, which was fabulous. The shrimp were so tender, and the grapefruit was an excellent addition. I also sampled the Crabcakes and the Skirt Steak, which were nice choices as well.

They have a fun filled selection of desserts to finish off your meal, including homemade Almond Joy bars and Kit-Kats. I had the Pecan Pie with Praline Pecan Ice Cream; I have to admit that it was my favorite part of the meal. My husband and one of our friends both had the Key Lime Pie, which is quite tasty as well. We also had the opportunity to sample the mini candy bar, complete with baby scoops to help yourself to the selection of nostalgic treats.

It was a great night out and a very enjoyable experience. If you are in the area you should definitely give Taste Gastropub a try.

Don’t forget, if you are going to be in South Florida on May 13th you should get your tickets to Taste of the Nation Fort Lauderdale. Just visit www.strengthsouthflorida.org to purchase your tickets. As one of my readers you can enjoy 10% off the ticket rate by entering discount code*: WEBFTL.

*Discount code only good for the Fort Lauderdale  event.
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Death by Brownie…and a special cause.

I would like to start off by saying that I have been given the amazing opportunity to team up with Share Our Strength South Florida! I am extremely excited to work with such an amazing organization and have the opportunity to join my passion with a very important cause. Not only that, but my readers can look forward to some fun features and opportunities in the coming weeks.

If you haven’t seen the PSAs usually shown on the Food Network, and you aren’t familiar with Share Our Strength, let me fill you in a bit. Share Our Strength® is the leading national organization working to end childhood hunger in America. They weave together a net of community groups, activists and food programs to catch every at-risk child and make sure no kid in America grows up hungry.

One of the many events that Share Our Strength hosts in order to raise funds for the nationwide program is Taste of the Nation. Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation® is the nation’s premier culinary benefit dedicated to making sure no kid in America grows up hungry. Each spring, the nation’s hottest chefs and mixologists donate their time, talent and passion at more than 40 Taste of the Nation events across the United States and Canada, with one goal in mind: to raise the critical funds needed to end childhood hunger.

I am lucky enough to have one of the events hosted in my local area, Fort Lauderdale, on May 13th. I am excited to have the opportunity to attend the event and can’t wait to share the experience with all of you.

If you live in South Florida (or want to pay a visit) and would rather experience this amazing event on your own, you can visit www.strengthsouthflorida.org to purchase tickets. Not only that, but I am offering my readers 10% off the ticket rate. Just enter discount code*: WEBFTL.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with the blog you ask?? Well, in honor of the Fort Lauderdale Taste of the Nation, I am going to be doing a series of posts dedicated to the food served at past Taste of the Nation events, and the chefs who created it. So look for my weekly Taste of the Nation posts to see what dishes of the past have inspired me to make a version of my own.

To kick this series off, I was inspired by Chef Christine Najac, from Really Good Cookies in Boca Raton, FL.  What did she make??  Chocolate Fudge Brownies!  It’s a classic comfort food that most people can’t resist, especially kids.  We are doing this for the kids, right?

Since I don’t have Chef Christine’s personal recipe, I had to venture out to find a recipe of my own.  Thanks to the blog, The Piggly Wiggly, I didn’t have to venture too far.  She introduced me to a  brownie recipe that has been awarded best brownie honors from America’s Test Kitchen, The Today Show, and Oprah’s O Magazine.  I mean come on…Oprah wouldn’t lie!!  I must say that this was one incredible brownie.  If you have a chocolate craving, this will DEFINITELY fulfill it.  Richness….that would be the perfect word to describe it.

Okay, enough talking already!  You go check out Share Our Strength South Florida and Taste of the Nation, and I will get on with giving you this incredible recipe!

On second thought, jot down the recipe first and then go check out the sites while you wait for the brownies to bake in the oven.

*Discount code only good for the Fort Lauderdale  event.

Fudgy Brownies

courtesy of Baked: New Frontiers In Baking (Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito), via The Piggly Wiggly

1-1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon dark cocoa powder
11-oz quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely (I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips)
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (I used instant coffee powder)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan. I prefer to line my pan with parchment paper for easy release.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.

Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined.

Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both the granulated and brown sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Be sure NOT to over-mix! Add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk until just combined, but don’t over mix.

Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK), fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.

Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula.

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

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Finding Balance and a CSA

We reside in a society that generally struggles with the balancing act of busy careers, home lives, making good food choices, and making good choices for the environment, all while trying to make everyone happy. Yes, you do have the group of people who are willing to change their whole lifestyle to live perfectly green while producing their own healthful foods, staying organic and keeping waste at an extreme bare minimum. Unfortunately you also have the group at the other end of the spectrum that doesn’t want to take the time to think twice about what they are putting into their bodies and who also don’t care about waste or don’t want to believe that our environment will go down in shambles if we don’t take better care of if. Then there is the huge group of us average people caught in the middle. The people who want to eat well and be mindful of the environment, but can’t exactly manage or afford to stop their career and live on a farm while residing in a completely green home. Not only that but the price of eating healthy and organic comes with a cost that the average American can’t afford; especially for an entire family. So, what can we “in the middle” people do to make sure we are making the best choices for our bodies and for our environment? Well, first you must remember that you don’t have to change your whole life overnight; it’s the little things that can actually add up and make a difference.

I do think that people in general are becoming more mindful of these matters. I am sure you go to the stores and notice more and more people bringing their own reusable bags with them. I was recently surprised to hear that many people are starting to use cloth napkins at meals instead of purchasing paper napkins. Not only are you saving paper, you are also saving money. Most are becoming more aware of water bottles as well and are starting to carry reusable containers for their beverages. I know I personally try to think about everything I need out of the refrigerator when I am cooking and try to only make one or two trips in, rather than reopening it every time I need something. So, these are small things that many are starting to do, which as a whole can make a huge difference on the environment and save people money in the end.

While we are managing to find simple ways to reduce waste, I think many of us still struggle on the eating healthful part. We want to eat things that are good for us, but it can be expensive and many don’t think they have the time to cook or prepare meals. Well, I may have a solution for many of these people. Not only a solution for eating healthful and nutritious foods, but doing so at a reasonable cost and while helping the environment. It’s called a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. This is something that I recently learned of and became a part of in my community. This is a way for people to buy locally grown seasonal produce direct from the farmer at an incredibly reasonable price. Not only are you supporting a local business while getting fresh from the farm produce, but you are reducing the pollution caused by produce being trucked all over the country and even sometimes shipped across the world as well as on packaging. You may think, well isn’t all produce fresh from the farm? Technically, yes, but it could be days and even weeks before that produce actually makes it to your local grocery store after being picked. With a CSA you are in most cases getting produce that was harvested within 24 hours of you receiving it. Not only that, but many CSA’s also run strictly organic. You usually pick up or have a delivery every one or two weeks, depending on your subscription. Your box will contain whatever is seasonal and ready for harvesting at that time. This is also a great way to experiment with new produce that you may have never tried before. This type of resource will generally motivate people to take more time to cook because they are interested in using this abundance of fresh food at their fingertips. They will also find it easy to throw quick dishes together without a lot of effort.  Not only that but for those of you with children, it generally gets them motivated and excited to eat more veggies because they can feel involved in picking up the goodies straight from “their” farm.

There are many benefits to joining a CSA and it is a small choice that can make a positive impact on the environment, your local community, your health and your bank account. If you would like to find out more about CSA’s and whether there are any available in your area, please visit www.LocalHarvest.org. Below I have also shared some pictures and information regarding our first box from our local CSA, Green Cay Produce (Farming Systems Research, Inc.). Stay tuned for many recipes to come using our wonderful local produce!

veggies

veggies 2

Our first box, which is a full share that will last us two weeks, included summer squash, zucchini, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, arugula and mustard greens.

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My Farewell to Summer

September has landed, which starts to bring on the thoughts of fall. Unfortunately, living in south Florida I am not lucky enough to have that hint of crispness in the air like my friends in the north. I must say that I am still thrilled that fall is upon us because it is my favorite time of the year. The thought of fall and winter just gives me the warm fuzzies inside.  It must be the northerner in me, even though I’m a native to Florida (my roots are from the north though).

The only problem with the coming of fall is my love/hate relationship with the food. I love to cook heartier comfort foods during this time of year, BUT I also miss the fruits and veggies of summer. I will admit that I am lucky to live in Florida though because the passing of the brutal summer temperatures will bring in our fresh local produce, which our northern friends are saying farewell to. Unfortunately our local winter produce doesn’t include the fresh berries of the summer though. Oh how I love fresh summer berries. I know that I can resort to the frozen variety, but it doesn’t come close the fresh ones. After my last couple of visits to the grocery store I have realized that the end of the berries has come for this year. With that said, I leave you with one last glimpse of fresh summer fruit and what has become one of my favorite breakfast choices.

Waffle

In case you are interested for next season, my nutritious breakfast treat consists of:

Honey Oat Kashi Waffle
Fresh Strawberries
Fresh Blueberries
Fresh Raspberries
A drizzle of Crystal’s Own Maine Wild Blueberry Honey

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I’m Back!

I have once again fallen off of the blog train. I love to cook and I love sharing the recipes I find and my experiences, but for some reason I can’t get into a routine of actually posting about them. I take the pictures and write down recipe changes, but then I procrastinate and get insanely behind on my posts. My poor blog is over a year old and I feel like it is extremely lacking in content. My wonderful husband has also spent a lot of time helping me create a blog that I really love and tweaking every little problem out of it. So this lack of posting is something that I really want to work on. I know that being out of work for the past 8 months has really had me focusing on a lot of other things, but I need to remember what I am passionate about and not let my job frustrations get in the way. I need to use this as a way to focus on other things. I am setting myself a goal to try and post at least once a week, if not more. I always find so much inspiration from other food blogs, so I want to be sure to contribute back too.

If any of you notice me slacking again, feel free to post or email me and tell me to get my butt back in gear!

Okay, so I am not going to just leave you with that. I mean that would be a pretty boring post. I have to at least leave you with a picture or two. Back at the beginning of the summer I decided to take a Wilton cake decorating class. I took course 1 and had a good time with it. I am not sure if I will take any more because I honestly prefer to make cakes that taste delicious rather than always having to slather them in a thick coating of butter cream. It was fun though and I learned some great techniques. So, with that I will leave you with a photo of my final cake from course 1. Oh, and in case you wondering, it was no special cake in terms of a recipe. I don’t even remember what I used because it was made more for decorating purposes rather than for eating purposes.  Stay tuned though b/c I do have a delicious cake recipe that I will be adding soon!

cake 3

cake

cake 2

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I neglected it again.

Okay, so I said I wouldn’t neglect my blog after I revamped it, and look what has happened. I haven’t posted anything since February! I apologize for my laziness. I have been cooking though, so I do have quite a few new recipes to share. Hopefully I will learn to get better at recording them as I go instead of waiting until they pile up.

With that said, you will be seeing quite a few more healthful recipes in the near future. It’s not that I have really ever cooked very unhealthy, but I am lightening up even more now. I have begun cooking a lot more as well as working out 5-6 days a week. I am determined to get back in shape and get Greg and I back to a more healthful lifestyle.

I am also determined to find and create delicious and satisfying meals. You have to find that medium of healthy but delicious food. That way everyone can enjoy it, not just the ones watching their waistlines.

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Christmas Cookies

My mom, sister and I have a tradition of always making Christmas cookies together.  It started when we were little girls and would make them with our grandmother and godmother.  Unfortunately the two of them are no longer with us, so my mom has carried on the tradition with her two girls. Well, this past Christmas we weren’t able to spend together, so I was on my own with the cookies.

I visit the What’s Cooking board on The Nest quite often.  We usually do a gift exchange for every season.  Well, my secret exchange person (tiff0803) just happened to send me a box of sugar cookie mix from King Arthur (along with sprinkles, cookie cutters and a cookie scoop) as my gift.  I was thrilled to receive the box of goodies!  I normally make homemade sugar cookies for the cutouts, but since my schedule was crazy and I had this box mix, I decided to go in that direction instead this year.

Since I was on my own, Greg decided to join in on the fun of decorating.  He is Jewish, so Christmas cookie making is not one of his past times, lol.  It was quite humorous because I think he reverted back to a 5 year old while decorating.  We both enjoyed ourselves so much!  This will definitely be something I do together with him again and one day with our children.

Here are our masterpieces, lol.

dscn0096

dscn0095

dscn0097

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NYC = Yummy Eats

Back in November Greg and I made a trip to NYC. Although I spent a lot of time in upstate NY, since that is where my mom is from, I had never been to the city. I was so excited to say the least!

The reason we were there was for Greg’s best childhood friend’s wedding. The rehearsal dinner was hosted at Friend of a Farmer, which was delicious. The wedding took place at the Ritz Carlton Battery Park, weren’t we lucky?! They had a HUGE cocktail hour (which I think was more like 1 1/2 hours). I think they had every food imaginable just during that time; we were full before we even went into the reception. Needless to say, the dinner course was amazing as well. I wish I had pictures but I forgot to bring the camera while rushing to the wedding. Greg had to be at the venue in the afternoon for pictures and such. No, unfortunately we did not stay at the Ritz with a nightly rate starting at around $600. This meant I had to get myself to the venue on my own. I have to admit that I was quite impressed with myself after hailing a cab by myself (in a cocktail dress) and getting to the venue on time. Anyway, the wedding was amazing as you can probably imagine.

We decided to make a vacation out of our stay there since I had never been and Greg hadn’t been since a child. We also wanted to visit friends in Long Island while we were there so we didn’t get to see quite as much of the city as we hoped to, but we did manage a visit to Chelsea Market of course. There were some great little shops, an incredible fish market, cute restaurants and a few adorable bakeries. We definitely want to make another trip back so we can experience more of the city, especially the culinary treats!

Here are a few pictures:

Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market

Adorable treats at one of the bakeries.

Adorable treats at one of the bakeries.

Super cute cupcakes at another bakery in Chelsea Market.

Super cute cupcakes at another bakery in Chelsea Market.

I am pretty sure this is Emeril and Rachael Ray.

I am pretty sure this is Emeril and Rachael Ray.

Central Park

Central Park

View of city from Central Park & Trump's skating rink.

View of city from Central Park & Trump's skating rink.

Skyline from the Top of the Rock.

Skyline from the Top of the Rock.

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Our New Kitchen!

My husband and I just relocated to Fort Lauderdale which means we are also renting a new home. We found this beautiful new townhouse which is perfect for us and the best part about it is….the kitchen! So, I thought I would introduce you to the new place that my dishes and recipes will be coming from.

In the past I have had small kitchens that I hated to cook in because there was just no room. Not to mention the amount of space I had to store all of my dishes, appliances, etc. Now I have this nice spacious kitchen with an island and lots of cabinet space. I am such a happy little cook.

The island is my new best friend.  It makes prep work so much easier and less messy.  I am still in amazement that I actually have counter space.

The island is my new best friend. It makes prep work so much easier and less messy. I am still in amazement that I actually have counter space.

I even have a little area over there in the corner to keep all of my cookbooks and cooking magazines.  I used to have to keep them in our office.

I even have a little area over there in the corner to keep all of my cookbooks and cooking magazines. I used to have to keep them in our office.

The one downfall is that we had to go back to an electric stove.  :o(  I miss my gas stove so much.  I have to admit that this is a pretty decent flat top but it still takes so much longer for things to heat up and it is impossible to regulate the temperature.  I guess I can't have everything though.

The one downfall is that we had to go back to an electric stove. :o( I miss my gas stove so much. I have to admit that this is a pretty decent flat top but it still takes so much longer for things to heat up and it is impossible to regulate the temperature. I guess I can't have everything though.

I actually have cabinet space.  There is a nice organized spot for everything.  I can actually use all of my dishes, pots/pans, utensils and appliances without having to dig for them.  I actually know what I have now.

I actually have cabinet space. There is a nice organized spot for everything. I can actually use all of my dishes, pots/pans, utensils and appliances without having to dig for them. I actually know what I have now.

I told my husband that now when we go to buy a house next year there is NO downsizing with the kitchen. There is no way I could go back to something smaller now. :o)

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