Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An Inspired Word

Inspiration.  It's not a simple word.  It invokes, at times, feelings of awe, and often feelings of determination.  It's not a simple action- both to inspire and to be inspired, but when it is achieved, beauty rides it's coattails.  It isn't something that you can plan for- it is something that just happens, like a flash of lightening that doesn't alert you to when it will strike.  

However, as hard as inspiration is to achieve, it takes only seconds to lose.  Negativity, doubt, monotony...all can take an eraser to the pencil of inspiration and wipe it away.  And then that ugly word drudgery takes over.  This is visible every day unfortunately- routines take over, and the bright colors that inspiration lends dull out into gray, and here is where "average" resides.

The world of food and wine is one of the easiest places to see this.  People often refer to me as a food snob based on the restaurants I gravitate to, I instead see myself as a seeker of inspiration.  Food writers are famous for saying that the food in certain establishments is "inspired".  They don't often go on to explain that however.  What we mean, if I can take the liberty to define it for all, is that the chef isn't following the trend.  The chef has lived an experience, seen something majestic, be it a sunset, or an incredible dance routine, or witnessed an act of love and has transferred whatever that was to the plate in front of his diner.  It means that laurels haven't been rested on, that true flavor hasn't been substituted for butter and salt.  It means that what that chef is serving to you, next to that piece of chicken or seared scallops, is heart and soul.  It's creativity, courage, imagination and yes, inspiration.  It is meant to tell the diner a story and, with any luck, pass on inspiration.

Each week when I have the opportunity to teach people the fundamentals of wine, I spend a portion of this time talking about wine as a piece of art.  What is art, really?  The expression of a person's love, right?  Art is something, sound or sight, that represents what is in a person's heart.  Wine, and food, are forms of this.  When wine is created by a vintner with pride and with love, it shows.  Just as a chef finds ways to season his food without crutches or easy ways, a vintner does the same.  They look to the earth, to the weather, to their topography, and ensure that what they bottle is a representation to what the year gave them.  They don't doctor it with chemicals, instead they work with what they are given to offer their customers something beautiful; something inspired by the year they were given.

Inspiration is around every corner, it is in every meal or in every glass of wine when prepared with love.  I was reminded this weekend of what this really looks like, and now I challenge us all to seek inspiration.  I challenge us all to find real love, the love that pushes us to be the best version of ourselves, to take risks, to break the monotony, to buck the norm.  Put the schedule on hold, turn your face to the sun, and breathe- inspiration will find you.  

And find a really good glass of wine...         


Friday, January 15, 2016

Stephanie Cmar Re Imagines McDonald's Ingredients

My parents had a real affinity for making us kids get up early for activities when I was little.  I remember early wake up calls in the summer for beach days, and even earlier ones in the winter for skiing.  We'd pile into car, lunches packed so we could concentrate as much time to the slopes as possible, and set off for the mountains.  It was tradition however, to stop at McDonald's for breakfast.  I'd always get a sausage egg and cheese, and I'd remove the sausage to save it to eat last.  I've always been a big proponent of saving the best for last apparently.  

Over the years however, I stopped eating at McDonald's.  I believed the negative hype, I turned my attention more to my own cooking, and worked towards eating as healthy as possible.  So when I was invited to a dinner with menu made completely of McDonald's ingredients and cooked by the incredible Stephanie Cmar- I was intrigued.  I am beyond impressed Chef Cmar.  Her work on Top Chef, and her ventures since have all been fantastic.  She takes great pride in her work and it shows with everything she makes.  I knew all of this when I accepted the dinner at Farmstead Kitchen, where Chef is currently stationed as Executive Chef.  

I cant lie- I was intrigued.  I hadn't dined in a McDonald's in decades.  I hadn't even considered them an option, yet here, one of the most respected chefs in Boston had partnered up with them.  She had created a full meal based on their ingredients.  I couldn't wait to hear her describe her thoughts on her collaboration.  I smartly captured a video of her speaking about it, I stupidly forgot to put on my flash.  Please listen and ignore the terrible lighting.

So here we had it.  McDonald's ingredients, investigated and proven to be full of
REAL food.  Single ingredients.  Ingredients that are easy to pronounce.  OK- I'm in.  Let's eat.

The meal that Chef Cmar treated us to was exemplary.  Chicken nuggets were re imagined to croquettes dressed with a cucumber and peanut salad and wilted Romaine puree, topped with cilantro lime sauce.  Those french fries that we all crave after a long night, chef somehow made them even more decadent.  Pureed from their fry shape, she transformed them to tender gnocchi tossed with a sausage and beef bolognaise.  The mind of Chef Cmar apparently knows no bounds.  Her talent is just as limitless.   The gnocchi were as light and fluffy as any could be that were made from potatoes destined for gnocchi as opposed to french fries.  
The bolognaise, topped with fried spinach leaves, was robust with gentle acidity, and fresh flavors throughout.

She ended her meal, as no one else can with a big, puffy glazed donut, with a cranberry and salted caramel glaze.  I promised myself I wouldn't eat the whole thing, but Ill be honest- I ate that donut so fast it basically flew off the plate.  

McDonald's.  A fast food chain sourcing real, true, tested ingredients.  Ingredients that our best chefs are proud to use.  Ingredients that we all know and are comfortable with.  Ingredients that can be served in the best restaurants and charged a premium dollar for.  This is the truth.  

Now I am not going to dispute the evidence out there- eating high amounts of fried foods, consuming a diet that isn't diverse in nutrients, and filling up on sugars and bad fats isn't doing anyone any favors.  But blaming McDonald's, who offers multiple options for those looking for a better meal, also isn't the answer.  Fueling our bodies should be about finding the best options to give us energy, to carry us from one task to the next.  But it should also be about satisfying our cravings and our souls.  Its about flavor, and memory.  It's about love, and nostalgia.  It's about finding the right mix of naughty and nice.  Find your own balance.      

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pepperidge Farms Holiday Favorites

Sure, Christmas is the time for spending time with  family and friends and giving...but let's be honest it's also the time for cookies.  There is no debating it- a good cookie is worth its weight in gold, but let's face it- between the parties, the shopping, the gift wrapping and everything else going on during this time, baking the perfect cookie isn't exactly on the top of everyone's list.  Here's the secret though- the fact that Pepperidge Farms exists means that you don't have to make the perfect cookie- they do it for you!

Now, I enjoy a good baking session every so often, but for my money, the Pepperidge Farm varieties are so perfectly done that they always satisfy my craving- and this holiday they have introduced so gloriously festive types.  Take their peppermint Milanos.  Imagine the crispy, buttery milano, filled with not only rich dark chocolate, but also a perfect hint of peppermint to incorporate that classic pairing.  

During the holiday season they also sell boxes stuffed full of all different types of their cookies, from Milanos to chessmen and everything in between.  These are the perfect assortments to put out at any holiday party- or to snack on during those amazing Christmas movie marathons they run!

I gotta say though- my favorite this year were their gingerbread men.  Sweet and Spicy, crisp and delicious- these guys were perfect on their own, but I decided to jazz them up a bit. I swapped them into Martha Stewart's Cookie Pie Crust and then used the crust as the base for my Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie.  The flavor of these cookies made that pie irresistible, so much more fun than your average pie crust.  

In my mind, Pepperidge Farms does very little poorly- if at all.  Their holiday selections of cookies are perfectly delicious and the most wonderful way to honor your friends and family.            
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