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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

call it RICH-sotto

I've been on a major risotto kick lately. You may even call it a bender. No doubt about it, I have risotto on the brain these days...

The more I ponder the wonders of this classic Italian dish, the easier it becomes to understand why one could so quickly become addicted to it on a number of levels... but I can only speak for myself:

  1. Risotto is authentic. Dig into your grandmother's grandmother's cook books, and you'd find at least one recipe for the stuff. It's multigenerational, Old World cooking.

  2. Risotto is adaptable. The base of your risotto should always remain constant: shallots/onions, arborio rice, white wine, stock/broth of your choosing, cheese (preferably, parm). But the rest is blissfully left to your wildest imagination. Lobster, mushrooms, corn, bacon, butternut squash... just about any ingredient within reason can find a home in risotto. It's the Ellis Island of Italian eating.

  3. Risotto is... wait for it... easy. Wait a minute -- did I just write that? Don't you have to pore over your stove top, plodding, coaxing, conjuring the ingredients to get the desired effect just right?? In a word: NO. I am no expert, but any risotto dish I've made takes no more than 30 minutes... AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO CONSTANTLY STIR!!! All risotto needs is a little love and attention. Don't let it soak up the liquid completely; give it the ol' wooden spoon swirl now and then, and your dish will come to life before your very eyes.

  4. And maybe the best of all: Risotto makes you feel like a chef. Yes, while the components and the execution are not death-defying, I still always get that satisfaction of knowing that this could be as close to restaurant-quality fare as I'll ever get in my home kitchen. There's a truth I find in making risotto; a balance of pride and humility. This is good, honest cooking.

For my money (and taste), I rarely measure out ingredients, but it usually goes something like this for the risotto itself:

  • 2 diced shallots in olive oil in a large saute pan.

  • When softened, add 1c arborio rice, and mixing until coated.

  • Add 1c white wine (Chard, Sauv Blanc, even Pinot will do)

  • Once most of the liquid is absorbed add 1/2c doses of broth (I default to chicken), adding more each time the liquid is absorbed. Continue for approx. 20:00.

  • Add extra ingredients of your choice.

  • Stir in 1/2-1c grated Parmesan cheese.

Try these few samplings of add-ons. I've recently made them all, with great fanfare...

  • Baby Bella
  • Corn and Bacon

  • Zucchini and Roasted Sweet Peppers
  • Butternut Squash and Wild Mushrooms

At it's best, it's creamy and comforting; rich and rewarding; savory and simple. It's...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Finally... HUSK

It's been more than a month since I've feverishly opined on my favorite eats on this site. For that, I am a bit embarrassed, ashamed, and, quite honestly, frustrated with myself. I could summon a litany of excuses for this delinquency (travel; work; family), but none would be sufficient, especially in light of the singular posting I have failed to deliver... yet now return to do so.

This one entry serves as a documentation of one of the finest meals I have had in recent memory, if ever. If that sounds a bit hyperbolic... then you must -- and I mean MUST -- get yourself to Charleston, South Carolina for a meal at Husk.

Poised ever-so-close to the Charleston culinary institution that is Poogan's Porch (see a previous post on this site) on Queen Street, Husk, in such a short time (having only opened its doors in November, 2010), has set the new standard for Southern cooking.
Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard award-winner, has infused a welcomed sense of contemporary with the classics that exist in Charleston, and the South in general. This carefully skilled balancing act between honoring the roots of Southern cuisine, and blazing a bold, technical and philosophical trail with the food is exceedingly high on the "genius" scale, in my humble estimation. You can call it a "re-imagining" of Southern food, but that would an injustice to the old guard, and the new.

There is so much comfort in this cuisine... but what strikes me first is what is printed on top of the lunch menu: the date. You see, every day -- every day! -- Brock institutes a new menu for both lunch and dinner. The staff usually doesn't know what they'll be serving until that morning. What goes hand in hand with this high wire act is the fact that Brock is an impassioned leader in the locavore movement.

"If it doesn't come from the South, it's not coming through my door," Brock is quoted on Husk's web site. And to that end, almost every dish on the ever-evolving (and re-volving) menu gives provenance to the main ingredients. Plus, so much of he puts on the plate is produce in house; from charcuterie to ketchup to pickles.
As for myself, I started with Roasted Sweet Potato Soup with Crispy Duck Confit and Brown Butter Crumble. Absolutely incredible. The silky smooth base complimented perfectly in taste and texture by the confit and the crumbles. It's a dish that warms your soul. There's an adage about the ability to make great soup being one of the tell-tale signs of an accomplished chef. If that is the case, then Mr. Brock is in elite company.
With so many appetizing options on the menu, I thin-sliced and went with my initial hunch: South Carolina Shrimp and Grits, with Stewed Tomatoes and Peppers, and Benton's Bacon. (Apparently, Allan Benton, the eponymous owner of said bacon company, is still the High Priest of Pork. Google the name and you'll see just how revered this Tennessee-based brand is.) Mind you, I am not a huge fan of shrimp and grits, but I recognize it's sanctity in Southern fare, so I figured it would be a worthy barometer. Well, that barometer is pegged... the dish is off-the-charts good. Truthfully, in looking back, it may not have been the grits per se that make it so memorable. It's the combination of fresh ingredients, the melding of the sweet shrimp, smoky bacon, and spicy peppers, that really makes it a standout.

Just itching to tempt fate, I couldn't resist ordering desert, especially when my knoweldgable and friendly waiter suggested the Coffee and Donuts. Think Thomas Keller meets Krispy Kreme. It was a coffee flavored donut cake, topped with Krispy Kreme-flavored ice cream. This was almost too much to take. I was saved by the fact that the portion was modest, because I could have easily devoured three more at least. This desert is a microcosm of Husk's food: understated in presentation, yet expert in execution and creativity.
Never has one meal made me fall in love with the city it calls home. But I am now a devtoee of Charleston, in no small part due to the fact that I am a head over heels for HUSK.