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orgpudcake

At this time of year, grocery store produce aisles are stocked with mounds of bright orange navel oranges and tangerines. The citrusy fruit inspired this take on a soufflé, which is delicately cakey and firm on top and creamy and custard-like on the bottom. The flavor is incredibly light, with a hint of sweetness and citrus from orange and lemon juices and zest.

This is not a difficult preparation, but it does take about 45 minutes to bake in a hot water bath. If you’re not familiar with that technique, the water keeps the heat gentle and oven moisture level high, preventing cracking in the soufflé.  You simply put your filled pan in a larger pan and add enough water to reach halfway up the side of the smaller pan. (Recipe: Gourmet, Dec. 2008)

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I have mentioned before that I have a bit of an obsession with crepes, and I believe I even posted about the time when I got on my crepe kick — making crepes for breakfast in the morning and dessert in the evening for several days in a row. It was a problem! And yet it did not lessen my love for crepes in the least.

Which is why, when I moved to Charleston, I was thrilled when sister-in-law Maggie told me we MUST visit the Charleston Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings downtown to experience the best crepes she’s ever had. We finally got around to it and BOY was it worth it! The Charleston Crepe Company‘s tent was actually two tents full of busy, friendly crepe-making experts. We were also presented with an excellent menu showing me just exactly how many ways a crepe can be had. Sweet, savory and exotic — Charleston Crepe Company has them all!

Charleston Crepe Company at downtown Charleston Farmer's Market

Charleston Crepe Company at downtown Charleston Farmer's Market (Click any photos for larger view)

The line is well worth whatever wait it may be, but let me tell you, it stacked up longer and longer as the morning rolled on, so I recommend enjoying your crepes earlier in the morning.

The Inner Workings of Crepe Genius

The Inner Workings of Crepe Genius

I knowwwwwwww you’re anxious to see the treats we snatched up, so I won’t blab much longer. We settled on a nice assortment of crepes so that we could properly get acquainted with Charleston Crepe Company. I got a bacon egg and cheese crepe and Devin got Nutella, bananas and nuts. We also got a slice of their famous Crepe Cake — as described on their website, “25 layers of delicate, buttery crepes filled with your choice of amazingly light vanilla or chocolate cream.” I know, I know . . . HEAVEN!!!!

Let’s see . . . a quick rundown. CLEARLY, no issues with taste on any of our yummy treats. The bacon egg and cheese made as delightful a Southern breakfast as you could possibly dream, salty and gooey and eggy, oh my! (I’m a freak for anything bacon egg and cheese, so throw a crepe in there and I’m sold) The Nutella/banana combination was an expert rendition of a classic crepe favorite, perfect to the end. And the Crepe Cake, oh myyyyyy, I had heard of such things but never experienced. It was delightful, of course, rich and fluffy without being too sweet or heavy. Amazing. Hopefully the following pictures will spur you to visit the Charleston Crepe Company yourself!

Bacon Egg and Cheese

Bacon Egg and Cheese

Wickedly good.

Wickedly good.

Nutella Chocolate, Bananas and Nuts

Nutella Chocolate, Bananas and Nuts

More of the chocolate delight.

More of the chocolate delight.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least, the Crepe Cake.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least, the Crepe Cake.

Clearly, we had no issue finishing off any of our food . . .

Yum.

Yum.

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A Lowcountry Birthday

Yesterday was Devin’s birthday and per his request I put on my chef hat rather than racing around to overpriced fancy restaurants (which, let’s face it, are also fun).

Devin wished to have Lowcountry Shrimp & Grits followed by Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (his favorite dessert growing up). Now, I have never made Shrimp & Grits nor have I made Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (although I have made a similar crisp once, it was ehh/blah).

I set out on an online journey to find the finest recipes around and ended up with these two from Epicurious: Creamy Shrimp Grits with Prosciutto and Lattice-Topped Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. No changes to the shrimp grits recipe. With the pie, per the birthday boy’s request, I used my mother’s pie crust recipe, which we have decided is unbeatable.

I am proud to say that the dinner turned out fabulously and that Devin said both the entree and the dessert were the best things I had ever cooked for him in 2+ years.

(Click on any of these photos for a larger image)

The wine (2005 Sur de los Andes Malbec Grand Reserve) and sunflowers are courtesy of my generous brother/sister-in-law duo John and Maggie. The Big Green Salad is a delightfully simple Epicurious recipe to balance out the rich entree. Asiago baguette on the side to sop up leftover shrimp grits.

So let’s start with the shrimp grits. You have to go to a specialty store like Whole Foods to get the required corn grits/polenta but ohhhhhhh are they worth it. I highly recommend trying them out. Of course, they are cooked in butter/garlic/chicken stock/whipping cream. How can you really go wrong with that?

On the other side of the stove I had shallots and garlic in butter, to which I added two pounds of shrimp to saute for a brisk two minutes. I removed the shrimp with a slotted spoon and reserved them in a nearby bowl. Then I deglazed my flavorful pan with white wine for a few minutes before adding diced tomatoes and fresh-sliced prosciutto. I let that simmer and mesh together for a few minutes before adding back in the shrimp and tossing everything with fresh chives and parsley. Then I ladled some creamy grits into a shallow dish and topped with the shrimp mixture. Voila!

Creamy grits with shrimp/prosciutto/tomato/parsley/chive mix

Creamy grits with shrimp/prosciutto/tomato/parsley/chive mix

The other big winner last night was the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. I recently made my first homemade pie crust and was so delighted we decided to use it for this recipe. I made the dough, let it chill in the fridge for a half hour or so, and then diced my rhubarb from Whole Foods and hulled/halved my strawberries. Then I mixed the fruit with brown sugar, regular sugar, corn starch (to hold it together), salt and cinnamon.

Then I took the dough back out, rolled it very thin, popped it into a pie plate, added in the fruit mixture, and got to work on my lattice-top.

Once I finished the lattice I brushed the top with an egg/water mixture so that it would turn nice and golden and then I placed the pie on a cookie sheet, since fruit is known to misbehave and spill over in the oven.

I then baked it at 400 for 20 minutes and 350 for an hour and 25 minutes. And it was done right on time!

I whipped up some homemade whipped cream to top the finished pie with, and the taste was perfect. According to Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Expert Devin, the pie was “not too sweet, not too tart, not too runny and not too dry.” Considering how much we both enjoyed it, I would reckon this pie is going to last . . . not too long!

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It’s Tuesday and dinner is my turn. And yes, I DID end up with Rachael, but I didn’t leap to her immediately.

My Mom had emailed to tell me she saw local Watershed chef Scott Peacock on TV with Martha Stewart making chicken and dumplings. She said it looked delicious and was planning to try it, and I found myself greatly in the mood for chicken and dumplings the more I thought about it. I quickly found Scott’s recipe online and, while it made my mouth water like crazy, it was a little more involved (time-wise) than I prefer to tackle on a weeknight.

Unfortunately my appetite was now roaring for chicken and dumplings, so I headed on over to Food Network to find a good substitute. A quick “chicken and dumplings” recipe search found two top results by Emeril Lagasse. I skipped those because I routinely discount any Emeril recipe as worthless — he always calls for exotic ingredients and lots of my time, so I don’t even read through his recipes anymore. Plus his show is really annoying. BAM! However, the next chef with a 5-star chicken and dumpling rating was Miss Rachael. I checked it and it instantly looked like a winner, plus it was full of vegetables and carried no cream or milk or anything heavy! Now don’t get me wrong. I adore heavy. I looooooove heavy and rich meals. However, I’ve found that on weeknights I prefer to eat healthily…otherwise I find it harder to sleep. So recipes like this one really appeal to me.

This was a pretty easy meal with lots of fresh and fun things in it that was actually fun to prepare. CHEF’S TIP: I find the cooking process so much more enjoyable if I do all my chopping and prepping before cooking a single thing. If I chop and prep as I cook I end up a frazzled, exhausted mess, trying to keep everything going without burning anything, etc. However, if I take a few minutes, or several minutes, before starting the actual cooking process to do ALL of my chopping and prepping I find the actual cooking far less rushed and far more enjoyable. Then I can just enjoy an adult beverage while I leisurely toss pre-prepped ingredients together!

This recipe called for potatoes, carrots and celery in with the chicken and dumplings, which I loved. Devin and I both adore celery so I doubled the amount of celery the recipe called for. Otherwise I really didn’t touch a thing, although I did have to add a little bit of chicken stock prematurely to keep the veggies from burning/sticking to the bottom of the pan. Oh, and I actually did not put in any salt or pepper because our poultry seasoning includes salt and pepper and we found the dish entirely satisfactory with just that.

I was skeptical about the dumplings, which were made from biscuit mix (I chose Martha White’s Extra Rich Buttermilk, but then mixed it with water instead of milk) and fresh chopped flat leaf parsley. The recipe calls for them to steam in the pot with all the other ingredients on medium-low heat for 8 minutes or so. I was afraid it would be gooey and yucky but the dumplings turned out great!

I served the final dish with some simple fresh steamed broccoli.

While it is difficult to photograph a dish like this without making it look like goop, trust me when I say it turned out quite nicely, and was bursting with fresh veggies, tender chicken and tasty dumplings! It’s the type of dish that you can eat far too much of without even realizing it, because it’s that light and delicious.

Highly recommended.

– Nate

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We just got back from a fantastic trip to Chicago to see Devin’s brother graduate. I had never been to the Windy City before and was nearly overwhelmed (in a good way) by everything we got to see and do. We had unbelievable food, stayed in an amazing hotel, went on an INCREDIBLE architectural boat tour and enjoyed wonderful company all weekend long. Mixed in with high-brow attractions like the Hancock Signature Lounge and Art Institute of Chicago I was fortunate enough to sample Chicago’s infamous hot dogs.

I was floored.

For those poor souls who do not know what a Chicago dog is, let me please fill you in. Poppy seed bun. Steamed or boiled all-beef hot dog. Mustard. NO ketchup. Onion. Freakishly green pickle relish. Dill pickle spear. Tomato. Sport peppers. Celery salt.

Amazing.

Chicago Dog

This photo was taken at our favorite Chicago dog stop….Downtown Dogs near the Magnificent Mile, 804 N Rush St at E Chicago Ave, Chicago 60611, 312-951-514.

Downtown Dogs

We did our research and asked everyone from Chicago where the best dogs were. Downtown Dogs was Devin’s brother’s favorite, and boy was it a good recommendation! The combination of tastes was just unbelievable. Oh, and before I go and look like a fool to true Chicago folks, I will admit that the hot dog pictured above is technically NOT a Chicago dog but in fact a “char dog” because the dog is grilled, only difference. We got the traditional Chicago dogs as well.

The “restaurant” itself was very interesting. It was about the size of our kitchen and had maybe six or eight barstools available for eating. Also, it had a very strong “dog” motif used throughout, including dog wallpaper and dog photos taped to all the windows.

About to enjoy a Chicago Dog

The smile pictured above is one of polite restraint, as I was quite ready to lay into my second Chicago dog after being introduced to the sheer perfection of the first. I highly recommend making a trip to the Windy City to try these excellent dogs. And if you’ve been to Chicago and had a Chicago dog, you should try Downtown Dogs next time you’re in town.

– Nate

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