Sunday, March 21, 2010

Food Network Star Among Knoxville...

So you may be dying to know which one of my idols in the foodie world I met today...well good news. This post will soon reveal that tid-bit of information. I will not bore you with every detail of the day, but if I don't go into great explanation of something, feel free to ask any questions! 

The 16th annual Women Today expo, held this weekend and sponsored by the News Sentinel and Food City, enabled me to go to two cooking school demonstrations today. Many clamored to eat free food from Food City and get coupons, but I was just interested in watching some chefs show me their tips. 

The first demonstration was by Bruce Bogartz,owner and chef at RouXbarb, who gave an enthralling speech about his new restaurant: RouXbarbeque

Chef Bogartz announced that the anticipated opening of his new restaurant will be in 5 weeks. Here is the test plate of what RouXbarbeque will offer (some of these sides are currently served on the menu at RouXbarb but have had a high success rate): 

Starting from the top and working clockwise, we have a sweet potato delight flavored with lemon juice. In all my times of baking sweet potatoes, lemons were not a main ingredient, but after tasting this I will reconsider. 
Next, a country small-town favorite, cabbage. Chef Bogartz says many people ask how he makes it so heavenly, but his secret is simply butter. The real stuff. And lots of it. See, what many people don't realize is that cooking with salt and butter (even if you're baking with chocolate, salt is a must) brings out the pungent natural flavors to really make a dish shine how it should. 
Bogartz presented the next dish as a bit of a puzzle. I'll let you guys have some fun guessing too. Okay--they look and taste like grandma's baked apples, but they're not. And they're red. Yeulp...let the guessing begin.
Finally, we have possibly my favorite of the test plate. I have been known to be a cheese fiend in my family, so they will not be surprised to hear it was my favorite when I say there are 7 different cheeses in this pasta. 7 delectable cheeses. Yes. Also, Benton's bacon is another all-star of this pasta. If you go to ANY restaurant in America with any class at all, they will have Allan Benton's ham products. And many publications support my claim, as Esquire Magazine named Benton's bacon the best in the country in a story they did on breakfast joints. So on a side note, while I'm on this soapbox, support Allan Benton. Especially if you are a local reader, because his farm is located in Madisonville, Tenn. 

So I went to the Women Today weekend with curiosities of which regional stores Scripps would bring in for the Women Today weekend and intentions on networking with media company gurus. However, the next cooking school demonstration ALONE ended up being the highlight for me of the whole affair. 
The season five winner of The Next Food Network Star, Melissa d'Arabian, prepared 6 recipes for the weekend. First, I must say that I came equipped with the April issue of the Food Network Magazine in hopes of getting Melissa to sign it since she is a featured chef on the cover this issue. And I was quite determined to make this happen. (I kind of have a knack for meeting and getting my picture taken with people, etc.) 
Yes, that's me on the stage with Melissa and two other lucky souls. I should have bought a lottery ticket today...But I'm not greedy. To have Melissa interact with me and cook for me was pretty neat. Everyone that came to the demonstration received a paper with the recipes Melissa was going to do. Mine had a silver star on the top. I didn't really know what it meant at the time I received it, but hoped it was distinctive in some way? And it was! Before they announced her to the stage, they asked for us to look to see if we had a star or smiley face. The smiley face girl got a $25 gift card to Food City. Personally, I think the silver star people won out :)

The first recipe is very versatile. Herbed Pecans provide a recipe that you can interchange an herb and a spice to make a completely different tasting snack. Melissa's recipe she shared today was our appetizer, and the full recipe is as follows:

Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 5 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 4
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup raw pecan halves
2 teaspoons dried herbes de provence 
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small saute pan over medium heat, add the butter and sugar and stir until the butter is melted. Add the pecans and toss until the pecans begin to brown. Sir in the herbs, cayenne, and cinnamon, and stir just a few seconds to release the aroma. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve the pecans as an appetizer with drinks, or as a salty accompaniment to dessert. 

One woman on stage with me couldn't handle them--I guess the cayenne pepper? But I found them to be delicious. Other herb-spice options that Melissa mentioned were cilantro and coriander, rosemary and cumin or even nutmeg and cinnamon. Personally, if you do the nutmeg and cinnamon, a dash of clove would be an interesting flair to have. 
The next recipe Melissa shared with us was Sausage and Roasted Vegetable Penne. I ate EVERY bit of this super fast. This is a really flavorful pasta, and if you use whole-grain penne, you get so much protein and omega 3s, you don't have to add the sausage as a protein component. Melissa mentioned that the sausage was specifically a flavor component, that can also be interchanged with spicy Italian sausage if you'd like. The recipe is as follows:

Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 35 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 4
1 sweet onion, cut into wedges
1 medium zucchini, slived in 1/2 lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, cheeks removed
1/2 pound button mushrooms, stemmed
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, washed and dried
2 sweet or hot Italian sausages, thinly sliced or casings removed 
1/4 cup white wine
12 ounces whole-grain penne, cooked according to package instructions, 1/2 cup pasta water reserved 
Freshly grated Parmesan, for garnish 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
In a bowl, toss all the vegetables, except the tomatoes, with a 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Arrange on a baking sheet and roast, until caramelized (about 30 minutes), turning vegetables halfway through the cooking time. In a small bowl, add the tomatoes and the remaining olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and add to the baking sheet, at the halfway point of cooking, to caramelize. 
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, add the sausage and saute until cooked through. Turn up the heat and deglaze with the white wine. Once the vegetables are cooked, cool slightly, then coarsely shop. Add the vegetables and any pan juices to the sausage in the skillet. Toss in the cooked penne, adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to moisten. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and serve in bowls topped with Parmesan. 

Something about this recipe demonstration that Melissa did I noted: she reserved water from the pot she cooked the pasta. I have never done that, and added it to my final dish. But it makes sense. With this pasta dish, where there is no marinara or such sauce, a tee-niny bit of water is a nice way to make the vegetables and pasta cohesive. Some tips Melissa shared: when slicing an onion, put the root side of the onion in your palm to cut off the top. "Hair in your hand," was the catch-phrase she used. (Melissa has TONS of catch-phrases to simplify cooking methods. I'll share some more in other posts I have picked up from her challenges on NFNS and on her current show.) 

And for dessert--Chocolate Pain Perdu (French Toast). If you don't know much about Melissa, she spent several years in France, so many of her recipes are French influenced. Fun fact: she met her husband and was married in France. And at the demonstration, she told us a story of how she was hushed at her own wedding. Funny, long story. (She is a TALKER and a half.) But the Chocolate Pain Perdu was so velvety--and *spoiler alert* I liked it so much, I am cooking it this week. The recipe is as follows:

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 2 hr 30 min (or overnight)
Cook Time: 30 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 4
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate 
2 eggs
6 slices white bread, crusts removed and cut into triangles
Special equipment: 9 by 5-inch baking dish
In a small pot over low heat, add 1/4 cup cream, milk, sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, vanilla, and salt and bring to a simmer. (BUT: add vanilla very, very last--after it's to a simmer.) Put the chocolate into a medium bowl and pour the in the cream mixture. Let sit until the chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and mix until well combined. Grease the baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of butter, and line it with the bread slices, overlapping slightly. Pour the chocolate mixture over the bread, making sure to cover the tips. Push the bread down with your fingers to coat the bread completely. refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake until the custard sets and the bread turns golden at teh edges, about 30 minutes. Add the remaining cream to a chilled bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Serve the French toast on individual plates with a dollop of cream. 

Sounds absolutely delish, right? It was. Melissa said that you can adjust the cream to milk ratio in an attempt to cut down on fat content. The recipe she actually demonstrated today was 3/4 milk and 1/4 heavy cream. 

Like all recipes, ingredients are "optional" and no one is checking up on you in your kitchen to make sure you follow them true. ;)
Overall, you can say that I had fun today. An absolute blast. Talking with Melissa after the show was so surreal. Not in a star-stuck, omg I can't talk sort of way. I was relieved that I kept my composure and didn't make a fool of myself. I had an intelligent and informed conversation about what's she's been through in an attempt to help my current situation. 
I idolize her because a year ago, she was a stay-at-home mother of 4 children and a wife of a husband in Texas. She risked proximity and convenience to her life to follow a dream and passion. Within a month of commuting from Texas to New York City to film her show, 10 Dollar Dinners, her husband got a job in Seattle and she had to put her house on the market and move. Today, she said she loves the Washington lifestyle, but it was a change. She gave me some encouraging words and strategy as far as breaking into food writing too, which was unnecessarily nice. This cover is going in a frame, allong with a picture of us, to serve as a reminder for myself to stop at nothing in holding onto my passions and achieving my dreams.


Cookie baker Lynn said...

Congrats on receiving the silver star! It sounds like it was an amazing time.

Melissa Brinley said...

Thank you! Yes, my mom and I enjoyed it. She still jokes/laughs at my luck. :)