Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Travel is the best way to draw inspiration in life. For me traveling means exploring the food of the city I am visiting. I spend hours of research mapping out my food journey to ensure I eat only the best the city has to offer. Oftentimes the result is overindulgence over a short period of hours.

Two weekends ago I found myself in New Orleans. One of my favorite southern cities of all time. I am lucky to have family in Louisiana which gives me more than enough legitimate reasons to explore the land of endless sugar cane fields. If you have never visited, I strongly urge you to add NOLA to your short list of destinations. Wrought with history and culture, the French influenced city has no shortage of things to see and do. Live music in every bar, towering historical buildings, and more voodoo shops that you can stand. I have been many times yet I have never seen the same thing twice.

Louisiana a state that is know for the origin of Cajun cuisine which is heavily influenced by Creole cooking with French technique. Technically, Cajun food did not start in Louisiana, but through immigrants who eventually settled in the state. And yes, there is a large difference in the Cajun and Creole, which I plan on breaching in a later post.

For now I would like to spend a little bit of time focusing on the Creole and French side of the state. The city folk, those in New Orleans, cook Creole food, unlike the country folk who cook Cajun. Since I spent time in the city, everything I ate could be considered Cajun—even the non-Cajun food—and here is why:

If you have ever visited New Orleans it is easy to see that the town is a culmination cultures created through the settlement of immigrants, which is still occurring today. There are more restaurants that a visitor could reasonably conquer, all of which are a different—even if only slightly. Restauranteurs present patrons with their interpretation of local food, adding in their own influences and ideas. This is a practice that has been occurring in NOLA since before my time. The food of our ancestors is not the food of our towns as we now know them.

A world-wide known dessert is the perfect example of the evolution of the food in NOLA. Bananas foster was created in New Orleans at famous New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s by Chef Paul Blange. Today you can still visit Brennan’s and try the food that has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards. The recipe was created in 1951 and even published by the New York Times in 1957. The concept is simple: smother ripe bananas in butter, sugar, and liquor then set it aflame.

Although widely considered a traditional southern dish, by no means it is so in the literal sense of the word. The recipe was not contemplated until the mid 20th century. When comparing so many dishes that are said to be traditionally southern, bananas fosters is much younger than say hoppin’ john, which can be dated back to the 19th century.

This dish epitomizes both Southern and Louisiana cuisine, ever progressing into new fare that features a nod to the past. So why not draw inspiration from a City and State that has drawn culinary inspiration from it’s inhabitants, landscape, and visitors, and create something totally new from already known and loved recipe (also my husband begged me to make monkey bread, so the idea was streamline).

Many recipes call for canned biscuit dough. I believe that fresh is best, so my recipe makes the dough from scratch.

If you draw any inspiration from this post or recipe, I hope you take the idea of bananas foster and add it into a something to create a brand new dessert…or savory dish. I would love to hear about what you come up with!

The finished loaf turned out from the pan

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

The baked bread cooling in the pan

Ingredients

  • For the Dough:
  • ⅔ Cup of Warm Whole Milk, no higher than 110°F
  • 1 Tablespoon of Sugar
  • 1 0.25 Ounce Package Dry Yeast
  • 3¼ Cups of Flour, divided
  • ¼ Cup of Butter, melted
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Teaspoon of Salt
  • For the coating:
  • 1 Cup of Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon of Cinnamon
  • For the Bananas Foster:
  • 4 Very Ripe Bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 4 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Cup of Firmly Packed Light Brown Sugar
  • ½ Cup of Heavy Whipping Cream, room temperature
  • 3 Tablespoons of Bourbon
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 4 ripe bananas, sliced

Instructions

  1. Start by making the dough.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour in the milk then sprinkle over the yeast and sugar. Let sit for at least 10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly.
  3. With the dough hook attached, turn the speed to low. Pour in 1 cup of flour, mixing until combine. Next the melted butter, and finish 1 cup of flour.
  4. Mix in the eggs, then finish with the remaining flour and salt.
  5. Once dough is fully combined turn the speed to medium and kneed for 3-5 minutes. A soft dough should form and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  6. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, coat with spray, and allow to rise, covered, in a draft free place for one hour or until double in size.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the topping sugar and cinnamon. Mix until combined then set aside for later.
  8. Prepare your bananas fosters. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add brown sugar and butter. Cook for approximately 3-5 minutes until mixture is an amber color.
  9. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, salt, and bananas. Stir to fully coat bananas. Set aside and allow to cool.
  10. Prepare a bundt pan by coating it in cooking spray.
  11. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Once dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently shape dough into a ball.
  13. Pinch off one inch pieces, roll them into a ball, then dunk them into the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  14. Start assembling by placing a small amount of bananas fosters mix into the bottom of the pan.
  15. Create a layer of dough balls in the bottom of the pan, then coat in your bananas fosters. Continuing layering dough and sauce until the pan is full.
  16. Bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes.
  17. Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before turning it out.
  18. Eat!
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Savannah’s Oldest Bakery,Gottlieb’s, Starts Dinner Service

Savannah’s Oldest Bakery,Gottlieb’s, Starts Dinner Service

THERE ARE certain restaurants that could be designated cornerstones of Savannah’s food scene. For a BLT salad you go to the Olde Pink House, for ice cream it’s Leopold’s, and for decadent oversized baked goods, specifically for me the caramel roll, Gottlieb’s Bakery is the choice.

At least that was the way until a few weeks ago, when Gottlieb’s decided to expand their repertoire to include brunch on Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

The second I heard, I zoomed over to check it out. I visited on a Friday evening, and sat down to chat baked goods with Laurence Gottlieb while his brother Michael Gottlieb cooked dinner in the back.

The rest of the patrons filled the side of the shop where Laurence bakes, sitting at the actual tables where he rolls out his dough on every early morning. Eating at this table provides an experience that allows you to daydream of kneading, twisting, and filling pastries while you eat.

In the back sits a modest kitchen in which Michael impressively cranks out dish after dish for the influx of patrons that fill the family shop.

The fourth generation Gottlieb brothers re-opened the more than 100 year-old bakery and brought their own experience and tastes to the table.

“We are slowly incorporating old school bakery products into the mix as well as having fun creating new bakery items based on inspiration from old family recipes,” Michael elaborates.

The two work together like peas and carrots—Laurence the baker and Michael the cook. With their powers combined, the resulting food is well thought out and prepared exquisitely.

Most locals know and love the institution that has been Gottlieb’s Bakery, so speaking to the quality of their food didn’t require many questions on my end; the reputation speaks for itself. I was, however, curious to learn why the family bakers decided to expand to dinner service.

Michael explains, “Dinner was brought on by our desire to showcase our passion for food influenced by bakery products and ingredients found around us. Baking is our second calling (well first really as we grew up in the bakery), working in kitchens serving fun foods is where Laurence and I both started in our careers.”

Just as surprised as I was to learn about the ever growing and changing bakery, I was surprised to find a well rounded menu. You’ll find anything from fluffy gnocchi coated in pesto to an earthy roasted mushroom burger.

Up close of the mushroom burger

Michael educated me on how bakers with a lifetime of experience go about creating a savory dinner menu:

“Laurence and I talk about weekly bakery production and see what items, doughs or desserts will be floating around and then the menu is created based on those influences. We also look at seasonal products that are coming into play and showcase those based on our menu writing experience,” he says.

To create each recipe, old or new, the process is simple according to Michael:

“The dinner and brunch items are based on our love of food, travel and past work experiences. We enjoy a free flowing menu that incorporates foods from all over. Currently we are having fun creating and paying homage to our favorites and the challenge of recreating a dish that would normally cost $30 plus in a more formal setting but figuring out how to serve the same quality at a $15 – $17 price point,” he says.

I started with a shareable dish, the Foie-nut. For this rich starter a warm sticky sweet donut is served with seared Hudson Valley foie gras. A hint of texture is added to the outside of the velvety delicacy.

The salty/sweet combination is finished with a sprinkling of nuts and a sticky sauce. Foie and doughnuts is what chicken and waffles wants to be.

It is the right time of year to find soft shell crab featured on the brand new menu. Gottlieb’s offers theirs spewing over its bun.

The bread—tender with a chewy outside—was the perfect vessel to deliver the meaty flash fried soft shell crab. As you bite into the sandwich, the expertly baked bread gives away just enough to let the crab shine. The finished sandwich had all the textures and flavors of a stellar deli sandwich but with a salty fare flare.

The Grilled Charleston Cheese Curd Sandwich was recommended to me, probably because it is one of the more unique items on the menu. Creamy curds are paired with a spicy sweet apricot horseradish and floral herbed olive oil. The dish comes together like an upscale sandwich version of that pepper jelly covered cream cheese party dish that so many locals make.

In lieu of staple Savannah shrimp and grits, the brothers serve red fish over creamy grits with basil and a corn cream. The fish is well seasoned, cooked delicately, and serves as the perfect counterpart to its base of custard like ground southern corn.

The mushroom burger will make you forget meat. A gigantic slice of mushroom is layered with charred onions and sharp melted cheddar between the same handmade bun that serves the crab.

The best part of my meal was how warm and welcoming the Gottlieb duo was. Their hospitality truly pays homage to the legacy that is the Gottlieb family.

The restaurant does not have a liquor license, so don’t forget your favorite bottle (or two) of wine to pair with your meal. You can replace the empty space in your bag with a take home box full of fritters, cookies, and danishes.

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Georgia Brunswick Stew

Georgia Brunswick Stew

Today marks the day that I institute some changes for my blog. Lately I have been very inspired to learn more about the history of Southern cuisine, which forms the basis of my food history and influence.

I cannot list one specific reason as to the inspiration, but a slew of events accumulated over the last few months that pushed me here. Getting an invite to the private screen of Netflix’s Chef’s Table episode on our local chef, Mashama Bailey, was the starting point.

Next came the discovery of the Southern Foodways Alliance (here is there website) which documents the history of southern cuisine. I quickly became a proud member.

Not long after I visited with my dad and my Uncle Dusty (who is Cajun) and naturally fell into conversations about food of each of their regions. It seems as though I always fall back on or lean towards making food that has roots in the south.

Finally, I have realized that as a food writer in Savannah, I should educated myself more on the food I am writing about as to bring my readers some knowledge of their region.

To implement this change, I am going to start with a dish that I ate all the time growing up. When you live in certain parts of Georgia, semi-rural, there are only so many restaurants available. Most are chain restaurants like Long Horns or McDonalds, so the legitimate food selection is scant at best.

Birthdays and certain holidays resulted in eating out at the ‘fancier’ restaurants or the local mom and pop restaurants that the entire family loved. On our short list of go-tos was Wallace Barbeque, a shack of a BBQ restaurant that serves pulled pork by the pound with a bowl of vinegar-based barbeque sauce on the side. It is loved so much by my family that anytime my Uncle Dusty visits Georgia from his home in Louisiana, Wallace Barbeque is his first stop.

Like any good Georgia barbeque restaurant, Brunswick stew is readily available on the menu. As a result I have eaten gallons and gallons of Brunswick stew in my lifetime.

Brunswick stew is a hunter’s stew which combines any meat that is available, sometimes even squirrel, with any vegetables that are locally available. The result is a bone sticking stock that is chock-full of sustenance.

It is also important to note that Brunswick stew recipes change by the region. Georgia’s versions is traditionally sweeter due to the use of a barbeque sauce poured in the stock. Virginia’s version just uses a tomato base.

A good point of reference for the difference in each region’s Brunswick stew is the Southern Floodway Alliance’s Community Cookbook. It lists a recipe for North Carolina Brunswick Stew. I could not find one for Georgia. Instead of using a sweet barbeque sauce like in my recipe below, the recipe calls for the combination of ketchup, vinegar, and sugar.

Regardless of the region, the modern Brunswick stew features two meats, pork and chicken. Gone are the days where most southerners used what they caught or what was readily available on the farm to cook. The surplus of local supermarkets has made placed cheap meat in every home.

The recipe below is merely a starting point. I based my recipe on the countless bowls of Brunswick stew I ate growing up. You can switch out the vegetables, lookup versions from other regions or just throw in anything that suits the moment.

A big pot of hearty brunswick stew and slices of bread

Georgia Brunswick Stew

On overhead view of the big pot of stew and bowls

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound of Smoked Pork Shoulder
  • 4 Boneless and Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • 1 16oz Bag of Frozen Lima Beans
  • 2 32oz Boxes of Chicken Stock
  • 1 Sweet Onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 14oz Cans of Stewed Tomatoes
  • 2 14oz Cans of Creamed Corn
  • 3 Medium Russet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 Cup of Sweet Barbeque Sauce, or more to taste
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste

Instructions

  1. I start this recipe by saying that everything is to taste. Add more barbeque sauce at the end if you preferer a sweeter more pungent barbeque flavor. As for the chicken stock, I start with one box then add more towards the end of the recipe to get the stock thickness I desire.
  2. Place a heavy bottom soup pot or a Dutch over over medium heat, and pour in one tablespoon of olive oil. Sautee the onion until caramelized and translucent.
  3. Place in your chicken thighs, then pour over enough chicken stock to cover the chicken.
  4. Bring the chicken stock up to a boil, then reduce the heat down to medium-low. Cover the pot with a lid and cook the chicken thighs for 30 minutes.
  5. After the chicken has cooked, pour in your remaining ingredients. Turn up the heat as long as necessary to bring the stew back up to a simmer. Once at a simmer you can reduce the heat back to medium-low.
  6. Add as much chicken stock as necessary to get the stew to your desired thickness.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste.
  8. I cook the stew for at least one hour to allow the potatoes to soften. The longer you allow it to cook the better it gets.
  9. Serve with sliced white bread or cornbread.
  10. *For an even easier version, combine all of the ingredients into a crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2019/04/11/georgia-brunswick-stew/

If you do not feel like making stew at home, here is my recommendation on a good local bbq spot.

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

HAVE YOU ever had famous cake pops? I have and I am never going back.

Unfortunately for me, I did not discover the professional (and television worthy) cake pops of Sweet Whimsy Shop until this year. I assure you, I have eaten my weight in cake balls to make up for lost time.

As a licensed cottage bakery, Sweet Whimsy Shop has been providing the Savannah area with unique and artful cake pops for some time and eventually made a star studded appearance on The Late Late Show. Impressively, Sweet Whimsy’s TV debut happened only three short years after opening shop doors.

Owner and master creator Becca Aronowitz quit her full time job as a middle school teacher in 2012 to begin her journey as a bakery owner. Her background in art has served her well.

“I’ve always loved creating, in any form, and I think I identify more as an artist or maker, than a baker specifically. I began taking after school art classes as a 7 year old. I have degrees in art education, and I was an art teacher for several years,” she explains.

The result is a bakery that focuses on ensuring each resulting product is a work of art. As far as cake pop art goes, she’s Andy Warhol.

Aronowitz takes the time to hand sculpt each and every cake popsicle before decorating them by hand. The attentive attention to detail is what sets her art on a stick aside from all other cake pop makers around the lowcountry. Each finished contoured, compact cake is worthy of the Louvre.

To create the luscious lollipops, Aronowitz mixes the perfect ratio of tender, moist cake with homemade frosting.

“I’ve always been committed to using scratch-baked cake & frosting for my cake pops. Many cake pop makers use boxed mixes and canned frosting, but I believe my creations should taste as good as they look, and if you’re going to make something as labor-intensive as a cake pop, shouldn’t it be worth consuming?” Aronowitz elaborates.

Using the correct amount of cake and frosting is extremely important. Too little frosting and the cake pop will be dry, crumbly, and difficult to shape; too much frosting and the resulting goodies will be overly sweet and taste only of icing.

Sweet Whimsy Shop has it down to a science. Every single lolli has a tender, slightly moist center that reveals itself upon chomping down on the crunchy outer shell of the treat. The cake itself melts in your mouth, allowing the flavoring of the pop to flood your palate.

After the cake and frosting is mixed, Aronowitz portions out each ball of cake. Then the cake ball is individually hand sculpted before being dipped into a chocolate shell.

I ask Aronowitz how she comes up with each inspired design, and she tells me, “Most of my ideas and designs are created in response to client requests. Sometimes a client will present a photo of a cake pop design she’d like reproduced. If that’s the case, and it’s not one of my designs, I try to customize it to avoid copying and I credit the original creator whenever they can be identified. Sometimes the client has a theme or general vision, and I try to create a cake pop collection that will coordinate with the theme, or realize the vision.”

For my set of cake pops, I asked that she make anything she felt like making. Aronowitz designed and delivered the cutest set of avocado, llama, taco, and cactus cake pops. The avocados are the newest addition to Sweet Whimsey’s portfolio.

Past designs have included anything from a thanksgiving turkey to taxi cab. I even found cake designed to look like a margarita glass on her website.
Inside each of my personal pops were the shop’s signature flavors, Yummy Vanilla Cake and Decadent Chocolate. Aronowitz told me that the vanilla and chocolate are the most popular flavors. The chocolate was my personal favorite.

Customers have the choice for a mix-in of sprinkles or candy into their design. Kiddie Party Mix is a vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles layered in and the Chocolate Rainbow Explosion features chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles.

Reese’s peanut butter cups fill the Vanilla Reese’s and the Double Chocolate Peanut Butter includes chocolate with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips. My next order will definitely test out one of the Reese’s inspired creations.

I ask Aronowitz if Sweet Whimsy offers any other special flavors. “I also offer seasonal flavors, like Green Velvet for St. Patrick’s Day. During September, October, and November, I offer Pumpkin Spice. It’s made with real pumpkin and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and it’s so good! Cozy Gingerbread was introduced this winter, after a test-taste vote during one of my pop-ups in November. I can also do custom flavors, like the Blonde Velvet I made for a friend’s wedding. It’s a red velvet recipe but made without the dye; I like it better that way!”

Sweet Whimsy Shop is constantly designing and creating, like any true committed artist. The success of the cottage shop has pushed Aronowitz to expand to other mediums.

“Cake pops are still the majority of what I make, but I am slowly expanding to include other small, very cute treats. The focus will always be on edible art that is whimsical, created with precision, and great-tasting. I have figured out how to do that very well with cake pops, but the vision extends further,” she says.
To be expected, just as much detail and finesse into all of her new treats and flavors.

If you take a peek at her instagram, @sweetwhimseyshop, you will find chocolate covered Oreos (with decorations of course), rice crispy pops, and many other brilliantly designed and decorated confections.

Original article is here.

Strawberry Cheesecake Rice Crispy Treats

Strawberry Cheesecake Rice Crispy Treats

Last week I posted a new recipe for homemade Cheesecake Marshmallows, and I wanted to share the recipe of how I used the mallows because the flavor is so unique.

The recipe for the cheesecake flavored marshmallows can be found here.

I created this recipe some time ago. I started with strawberry Rice Krispie treats that I created for my nieces and nephews. To make simple strawberry flavored Rice Krispie treats, all you have to do is use plain marshmallows in lieu of these cheesecake flavored ones.
The natural progression for strawberry cheesecake Rice Krispie treats came when I decided to attempt to make my very own homemade marshmallows.

Like most recipes, it is simple to make your own flavor or version by switching out some of the ingredients. You can create or use any flavor marshmallow you like, and the same goes for the freeze dried fruit. Make banana flavored Rice Krispie treats by using freeze dried bananas. Or even thrown in some vanilla wafers to make banana pudding Rice Krispie treats. Maybe that will be my next recipe to post.

The good news is that this recipe is extremely simple, so any level of cook can make it. It is also a really great recipe to make with your kids. I hope it inspires you to come up with your very own uniquely flavored Rice Krispie treats.

Three finished treats stacked high on a plate

Strawberry Cheesecake Rice Crispy Treats

A stack of pink rice crispy treats

Ingredients

  • 6 Cups of Rice Crispy Cereal
  • 2 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 10 Ounces of Cheesecake Flavored Marshmallows
  • 1/2 Ounce of Freeze Dried Strawberries

Instructions

  1. Prepare a 9x9 baking pan, or size of your choosing by spraying it with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Pulverize the freeze dried strawberries with a food processor. Once strawberries are a fine powder, place the powder in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Pour the cereal into the same mixing bowl, and mix together the strawberry powder and cereal. Set aside.
  4. In a small sauce pan, heat butter and marshmallows over medium heat. Stir with a rubber spatula until the butter and marshmallows are fully melted and combined.
  5. Pour marshmallow mixture over the cereal mixture and mix until fully combined.
  6. Pour the finished mixture into your prepared baking pan, spreading until even on top.
  7. Allow the treats to set up for at least one hour before slicing and serving.,
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https://epicuropedia.com/2019/04/03/strawberry-cheesecake-rice-crispy-treats/

JThomas Kitchen

JThomas Kitchen

DURING MY four year college tenure, my course load required completion of a marketing class.

One of the important principles of marketing is to never rely on word of mouth, instead opt for instituting a marketing plan. And while as a business owner that very well may be true, as a food writer nothing can be further than the truth.

Word of mouth is something that I follow and trust (especially in Savannah where most news worth hearing travels fastest that way). If you do not have the love of your town and locals are not talking about your food, then you shouldn’t be reading about it.

When I have multiple people go out of their way to tell me about a place that they love to frequent, I instantly add that restaurant to my list of places to share.

JThomas Kitchen is one of those stores that locals kept bringing up, so I decided to head down to the location myself and find out what all the fuss was about. Owner and Chef Joshua Thomas was kind enough to tell me his story and of how JThomas came to grace our Southern town.

His culinary journey began in Savannah, where he was born and raised, working with his dad at a local restaurant. He spent a lot of time in many Savannah restaurants before receiving his own classical training through culinary school.

Chef Thomas plating chicken and waffles

“I said this is what I want to do, so I went to Johnson & Wales and got a bachelors degree. I hopped around and worked for some really great chefs that have taught me alot,” Chef Thomas gladly told me.

When he returned to Savannah, Chef Thomas furthered his career and opened his highly successful catering business—JThomas Catering & Events. Eventually, as space become available, Chef Thomas decided to expand his business to include a lunch counter with soups, salads, and sandwiches.

It was no surprise that lunch service was a huge success, so Chef Thomas expanded again, and now his business includes a restaurant with dinner service.

So how does a Chef approach his dinner menu after running a successful catering business for so long? Chef Thomas explained it to me without hesitation:

“Our menu is kinda fun, what we have done is taken simple food and made it really good.”

Everything I ate during my visit was just that, extremely well executed dishes by an expert hand. Chef Thomas wasn’t wrong either—the menu is really fun.

Although Chef Thomas’ approach is simple, his menu has something for everyone. He elaborated, “You can come in for dinner and get anything from bolognese to a hamburger, but we are doing it the old school way by grinding the meat, seasoning it and patting it. We make the pasta, make the sauce, and using the classical french techniques that we were taught in school.”

chicken and waffles with cream

I insist that you go straight for the Chicken ‘In’ Waffles. Chef Thomas offers guests his take on classic Chicken and Waffles dish by putting the chicken inside of the waffle.

Brined and sous-vide chicken is flash fried in waffle batter then served floating on a cloud of whipped maple syrup that has the consistency of marshmallow fluff. To round out the flavor, the dish is finished with a smoked paprika oil.

You will be satisfied with any main course that you pick, so try one and come back another day to try something different.

The Braised Beef Shoulder is slow roasted for two full days before arriving at your table. You could look at the tender hunk of meat and it would fall apart.

The beef tastes of nostalgia from your mother’s slow cooker, yet is refined with a slathering of sticky sweet root beer syrup and foundation of silky whipped potatoes. Scattered about, your fork will find an array of roasted vegetables like green beans, carrots, and potatoes, just like you would find at the bottom of any home cooked roast.

Red Snapper was the Fresh Catch the day I stopped in for my meal. To ensure the filet of fresh fish is served with an extra crispy skin the kitchen removes its skin then hard sears the filet at a very high heat, which creates its crunchy outside.

Red Snapper ontop of a corn rissotto

Inside, the giant steak of red snapper remains juicy and delicate. The generous portion of fish is served resting on top of a hill of creamy risotto that is peppered with roasted corn. To finish the dish, a heaping pat of scampi butter is added to balance the lean fish on your palate with a little fat.

Chef Thomas recognized the desire of Savannah locals to find a good steak on the menu. He has include three essential cuts, a filet, new york strip, and a ribeye.

The USDA Prime Beef Filet is served steak house style, sizzling hot with just the right amount of butter resting on top. Unlike many steak houses, Chef Thomas takes the time to well season his steak which adds to the steak’s crust which is created through proper cooking techniques. My favorite part of the dish was his use of an extremely unique black cherry demi-glace that was deeply rich.

You get a choice of Chop House sides with each steak. Every single option includes the same finesse used for all of Chef Thomas’ creations including Gouda Mac and Cheese. Need I say more?

Dessert may be the hardest thing to choose. The rows of baked goods behind the store’s glass display cabinet that sits in the dining room is staggering. Cookies, cakes, and bars are just a fraction of the items you will find on JThomas Kitchen’s overflowing bakery counter.

Beyond the food, the most impressive aspect of my visit was watching Chef Thomas interact with the influx of patrons that called him by name, all while he was cooking in a busy kitchen.

Watching Chef Thomas greet so many patrons as if they are old friends confirmed that everything I had heard was true, and it screamed Southern hospitality. I promise my confirmation had nothing to do with the enormous amount of food I devoured.

Original article is here.

Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

THERE IS now a one stop shop for all things brewed: coffee, tea, kombucha, cider, and more importantly beer and wine.

In the thick of an up and coming part of town, the new restaurant and beer garden Brewed SAV sits right off Habersham near 34th.

The casual destination for locals is the creation of Douglas Galloway and Amy Livingood. The two came together through a mutual love of craft beer after meeting at the Savannah Climbing CoOp.

If you stop by the brick building on a breezy March Saturday afternoon, like I did last week, an ice cold frothy beer straight from the tap is a must.

Livingood is the expert on the offerings of Brewed Brews so I will let her explain what is available from their taps.

“We have 16 craft regional taps, but started our launch with all Georgia craft beer. Georgia was the last state to change brewery laws to allow breweries to sell directly out of their tap room,” she says.

That development is a game changer in that it allows breweries the revenue in house to experiment and grow.

“Georgia’s beer scene is a new frontier after the law changes, and we expect a lot of awesome new ones to open in the near future!” she says.

I am a fan of darker, more robust beers so I went for the Arches Brick & Maple, a nutty caramel brown ale. The list has something for everyone—IPAs, sours, stouts, lagers, and more.

For true Southerners, good iced cold tea is just as important on a hot afternoon as is having a cold one. Keeping with the brewed theme, and paying homage to our Southern town, Brewed Brews recognized that including the leafy steeped drink was a must. Just as much thought was put into the selection of teas, the same care was taken in selecting the keg behind each tap.

Livingood explained the selection to me.

“We met John Arnold from Hale Tea Company through James Spano after picking out our coffee roast. I wasn’t into tea until I moved to Savannah where I realized why everyone craves an ice cold tea on a hot afternoon,” she says.

“I trust James Spano’s taste and immediately found perfect loose leaf teas to create long process toddy teas, and it’s become one of the more surprising and creative parts of Brewed that we hope to continue to build on as summer approaches.”

Finally, the drink menu has a wide selection of coffee concoctions: The most important drink of the morning, especially when you have had too many libations.

The Hot Toddy is unique to Brewed SAV, and as told by Livingood, “I discovered concentrated iced toddy coffee in college when I was trying to maximize my ability to study and work at the same time.”

As for the coffee itself, the menu uses locally roasted Cup to Cup coffee, and the blend of coffee used by the store is dubbed Camp Coffee.

“When we started looking for a local roaster to partner with,” Livingood told me, “we fell in love with Cup to Cup’s earthy and chocolate note small batch roasts and I perfected our ‘camp coffee’ on one of our many 6+ hour road trips to climb in Chattanooga where I would wake everyone up the next day to a kick in the pants cold brew coffee to help us all hike as fast as possible and send all the routes and still have energy for a beer around the campfire after.”

If you sit too long throwing back drinks and watching soccer on their big screens, you will definitely want to order some snacks.

Go for the Obatzda Spread which is served with Auspicious Bakery pretzel crackers. Obatzda is a Bavarian dish made by combining multiple cheeses and spices. Brewed Brews makes theirs with brie and paprika (because paprika makes anything taste amazing). You will be tempted to shovel this dip into your mouth by the spoonful.

Do not expect to find just a few simple bar snacks. According to Livingood, “Our menu falls in line with German beer hall offerings. We have cheese spreads, cheese and meat boards, and are getting our pretzel crackers, country loafs, and focaccia from Auspicious Baking Company. A crowd favorite this first week has been our pimento cheese spread that we offer with pretzel crackers from Auspicious or as our ‘Hard Working Lunch’ special as a no crust sandwich paired with a Coors Banquet. The pimento recipe is a family recipe from the Matthews that Smith was kind enough to share with us.”

The Hard Working Lunch is a hand-cut, round white bread sandwich jammed with Southern pimento cheese and a vine ripe slice of red tomato. To wash it down, the tray of food is served with a tallboy Coors Banquet Beer.

Every baked item within the four walls is baked by Auspicious, which means you will find a large assortment of expertly baked pastries at all times in the pastry case.

I couldn’t resist taking home a Nutella filled Poptart home to have a treat for later.

Even if you don’t need an excuse to go sit at Savannah’s newest casual local beer house, at any time you can find a fun event or great game being hosted by the team at Brewed Brews.

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

Savannah’s First Farm to Truck Food Truck: Strangebird

AIRSTREAMS are super cool, but an Airstream that sells seasonally inspired food all around Savannah gives this one quite a leg up on the rest that I’ve seen.

The 26-foot 1967 Airstream Ambassador I refer to is the newest food truck to take our town by storm. Strangebird, the sister food truck to Bluffton, S.C., restaurant FARM Bluffton, has quickly become a grub mobile that I seek out anytime it comes over the bridge.

I think it’s fair to call Strangebird Savannah’s first farm-to-truck establishment.

Strangebird Chef and partner Brandon Carter told me the story of how the truck came about.

“We’re an extension of FARM Bluffton. We purchased the Airstream as a way to test out new concepts, do off-site catering and as a way to do community outreach events. Strange Bird is our new baby and we’re super excited about the possibilities,” Carter says.

How exciting is it for Savannah to get its own taste of one of Bluffton’s most popular food destinations?

The Strangebird truck is the first Airstream I have encountered in our port city, naturally making me curious as to why the team settled on a tin trailer.

“We bought one to fix up and then came across this one, which was already converted. We couldn’t pass up the offer. We wanted to have greater mobility so we could bring our experience to different venues. We like the airstream because of the aesthetic,” explains Chef Carter.

The foodies who seek out our new local restaurant on wheels can expect a constantly rotating menu that uses only the freshest farm ingredients.

According to Chef Carter, “We have an extensive network of farmers and artisan producers that we use at Farm. It made sense to continue supporting the people who support us with Strange Bird.”

A guest being served from the truck
Some of the purveyors include well known and loved local farms like Canewater Farm, Georgia Olive Farms, and Rainwater Mushrooms.

Because the ingredients used are locally sourced, the root of each menu always has a southern side. The use of butter beans in lieu of pinto beans as the base of their refried beans demonstrates just that.

A past menu even had a fried bologna sandwich, which is something I always relate to the truly Southern, and handmade tater tots.

Bringing on extreme nostalgia, the inner child in me almost cried upon discovering I had missed the fried bologna sandwich, a treat that is so often prepared for family by Southern grandmothers.

The ingredients themselves are not the only consideration put into the creation of each menu by Chef Carter.
As he puts it, “We create menus based on what’s growing and where we’re popping up.”

As more vibrant and readily available produce becomes available with the warmer months, it will be thrilling to see the new dishes that are created.

Another important question I wanted answered was how the title Strangebird came about.
The answer is simpler than you think.

“Our chef de cuisine Burns Sullivan has been experimenting with a marinade for our grilled chicken. It combines flavors from Sichuan Guaiwei seasoning [this translates to ‘strange taste’ so you can see the connection] and jerk. It is unbelievably good grilled on charcoal,” says Carter.

Past menus have included a Strange Chicken Taco, a Green Chorizo Taco, and a Cauliflower Macha Taco.

Their chicken taco is plated with cool cabbage, tender beans, punchy onions, and a creamy white barbecue sauce.

The spicy chorizo taco is cooled by the addition of pineapple and cotija, and finished with onion and avocado. And as for the cauliflower taco, peanuts are added for crunch along with cabbage, onion, and avocado.

One of the trucks latest pop ups was at Service Brewery for the brewery’s release party of their Old Guard beer. I was not lucky enough to taste their signature Strangbird chicken when I caught the truck at one of its latest stops, but everything I was able to try was stellar.

As I sat sipping my beer, I kept hearing other patrons rave about the Crispy Beet Taco that was available on their menu that night. Although I am a self-admitted beet basher, I figured it was worth a try.

A close up of the beet taco
I quickly jumped up and order some tacos. Because the price was so reasonable, two tacos for twelve bucks, I figured even if I did not love the beet version I would not be out much.

Well, it was a penny well spent. The vibrant purple beets that sat on top of the fresh corn tortilla were crunchy and roasted to the point of sweetness.

Sprinkled over the top were deep fried corn kernels, fennel, cilantro, and a smear of avocado. This was as balanced as a taco could ever be, crunchy, creamy, salty, and sweet.

My second taco choice was the Carnitas Taco, because I wanted to opt for a bit more tradition. Cotija and a sofrito adorned this little round treat. The non-traditional portion, the use of sliced rounds of carrots and a sauce that is dubbed “your mom sauce.”

For my side I was immediately drawn to Grilled Street Carrots, Strangebird’s take on street corn which is also known as Elote. Colorful rustic carrots are chargrilled until fork tender then served smothered in a white barbecue sauce and cotija cheese.

The overall effect is a treat that reminds you of an earthier version of the classically decadent dish.

I expect that a brand new menu will roll out at their next stop, which shouldn’t be too far into the future.

Original article can be found here

Authentic Upscale Italian hits Savannah: La Scala

Authentic Upscale Italian hits Savannah: La Scala

IF YOU’RE a local, you have probably noticed the magnificent pink Victorian that sits on East 36th Street by now. What looks like a grandiose home of Savannah’s elite is not that at all, instead housing Savannah’s newest upscale authentic Italian restaurant, La Scala Ristorante.

The bold duo behind the massive undertaking, Donald Lubowicki and Jeffrey Downey, have been a part of the food scene of Savannah for over a decade. So when the two located this particular empty home, the restoration of the historic space began.

What would prove to be quite a challenge was stalwartly conquered by the two who have now ran Circa 1875 for many years.

“Our love is food and libations. We were getting phone calls from people asking to take parties of 50, and we had no room there for that [at Circa 1875]. Right then and there, we outgrew the place. At that point we started looking for places around town and, three and a half years ago, this came on the market. We purchased it and the rest is history,” Lubowicki’s remembered on La Scala’s beginnings.

During my visit, I was given a tour of the immaculate three story Victorian, which emanates that Savannah feel from the very foundation. Lubowicki proudly guided me through each room, narrating the work that it years of research and preparation to accomplish.

I could have stayed for hours learning about all of the zeal that was placed in picking every single adornment by Lubowicki and Downey. Nothing was forgotten—even the powder rooms are orante.

When you walk in, the towering staircase, reminiscent of the old home’s vertebrae, strikes you. Each room has a speckling of dressed tables, antiques, imported European fixtures, and almost all have mantles. As you pass under each archway, you are transported to a different region in Europe. Even the downstairs bar, which I would consider the most important part of any restaurant, was made just for La Scala.

Besides the cool, cave-like wine cellar that sits below the grand space, the most breathtaking room of all is the chapel on the second floor—a vestige from the Catholic Diocese that once inhabited the home. The space is rentable and would make for an intimate wedding venue.

Executive Chef David Landrigan is from New York and has been working in kitchens since the age of thirteen. After gaining experience from various northern kitchens, Chef Landrigan completed culinary school at The Culinary Insitute of America. After moving to Savannah, Chef Landrigan worked with The Olde Pink House before joining the Circa 1875 family.

When the team behind Circa decided to open its second endeavor, Chef Landrigan’s right hand man and now La Scala’s Chef de Cuisine, Chef Stephen McLain, joined the team.

Chef McLain worked as the Executive Chef at Alligator Soul, a Sous Chef at Leoci’s, and many other local well-known Savannah kitchens. He was quick to inform me that he owes all of his culinary education to his grandmother, who owned several restaurants south of Nashville.

“We always try to do a seasonal menu. With the seasonal menu approach of this restaurant, we are trying to focus on regions of Italy. On the autumn, winter menu we have been focusing on the northern regions, coming into the spring we are going to focusing more on the central regions like Tuscany and Emelia-Romagna. Summertime will be a lot more Calabrian, Sicilian, Southern Italian.”

The ingredients are procured from local sources including Russo’s, Vertu Farms, Savannah River Farms, Joseph Field Farms, Ed Fields Coffee, Kachina Farms, and Canewater Farms. Lubowicki elaborated that their “pasta is also sourced locally, from Frali. We are really trying to tie into the community.”

A quick glance at the menu and you can see that every single locally procured ingredient was calculated in its application and expertly used.

Fettuccine Fruitti di Mare includes a beautiful, night-sky-black squid ink fettuccine pasta layered diver scallop, Georgia shrimps, Little Neck clams, and octopus. Each piece of seafood your fork finds is more tender than the last. The scallop is hard seared to create a crunchy shell, yet the inside is sweet and delicate. My favorite shrimp are our coastal shrimp because their meat is sweeter than most, and these did not disappoint.

The Branzino Arrostito is one of La Scala’s more popular dishes. A hearty roasted sea bass is served with artichoke, risotto peppered with fresh herbs, charred broccolini, and lemon.

Just as popular with loyal patrons is the Osso Bucco, a true Italian classic of roasted veal shank. The Chefs serve their version featuring roasted squash and cippolinis, a type of onions, risotto milanese, and gremolata.

Lubowicki was quick to tell me about the Pollo Mattone, saying “the roasted chicken will blow your mind.” Not only is the chicken extremely juicy but it is well balanced through all of its accompaniments. Sweet figs, briny olives, peppery arugula, and creamy polenta are paired with this superstar.

As for the preparation, Chef McLain explained that they “beer brine it overnight. The beer brine has oranges, coriander, bay leaf, and some cinnamon sticks. You get a lot of those spices’ notes inside of the chicken as well as all of the maltyness of the beer. The cooking technique is really simple—it is an old Tuscan cooking technique. We put it on the grill and put a brick on top of it. It flattens it out as it is grilling and gets the skin really crisp.”

The Chefs are even making their own desserts. Chef McLain gave me the rundown on the dessert menu.

He said, “Right now we are making all of our desserts in-house except for our sorbets. We make tiramisu, panacaot, a really nice Meyer lemon cheesecake, chocolate torts, and biscotti.”

The building may be the gorgeous Victorian architecture that you probably pass every day, but inside of La Scala, you are transported to a villa in the hills of the Italian countryside with a dish in front of you that would make any Nonna exclaim, “Bellisimo!”

Original article can be found here

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The Ultimate BLT

The Ultimate BLT

A bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is one of those dishes that instantly triggers nostalgia for me. A good BLT is one of my mom’s favorite foods, which means so often growing up she would throw together a BLT for our supper.

Her recipe did not require special ingredients or fancy techniques, just a bit more care. She would quickly pan fry some bacon, which she usually had on hand in the fridge, slice some tomatoes from the garden, and slather toasted white bread with mayo. After watching her prepare countless sandwiches I realized what made her homemade version my favorite version. Aside from the addition of love, my mom seasoned every layer of her sandwich with salt and pepper.

First the mayo is lacquered on the bread then hit with a sprinkling of seasoning, the next layer is added and seasoned, and so on. As you can imagine, building a sandwich with tomato that has a sprinkling of salt and pepper far exceeds a sandwich with plain tomato.

And although I feel that you can never go wrong with classic BLT, I wanted to push the limits on what a BLT can be. With that in mind, I did not want to change the backbones of the sandwich by adding or using a bunch of random things. In the south people love to throw a fried green tomato onto a BLT in an attempt to heighten the recipe–I was not about to do that.

My approach is to amplify the already existing ingredients of a BLT. Add some garlic to the mayo, use better tomatoes, etcetera.

I use this Balsamic Onion Jam recipe to make the jam I use on the sandwich.

A few notes:

  1. Garlic confit can make you very sick if you do not cook it and store it properly. I recommend using it immediately and if you want to save it, freeze it.
  2. I purchased a loaf of homemade bread from a local baker. I recommend opting for a better bread than normal sliced bread from the grocery store.
  3. The true secret to making any BLT so much better is to salt and pepper every layer, even your smear of mayo.
  4. Finally, bake your bacon. This is a trick I learned during my short time as a line cook. Most restaurants place bacon in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake it instead of pan frying it. It keeps the kitchen cleaner (bacon grease does not spatter everywhere) and you are able to tend to other things in the kitchen while the bacon bakes.

An Ultimate BLT

All of the prepared ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 Heirloom Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Pound of Thick Sliced Bacon
  • 8 Slices of Country White Bread
  • Balsamic Onion Jam, link to recipe can be found above
  • 1 Head of Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup of Olive Oil
  • 1 Cup of Mayonise
  • 1 Head of Romaine Lettuce
  • Salt & Pepper

Instructions

  1. First, bake your bacon. Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange your bacon in a single layer on a sheet pan, or two if needed. Bake for approximatley 45 minutes, or until bacon is the texture that you like.
  2. While the bacon cooks, make the garlic confit. Peel the garlic cloves. In a small saucepan, combine your olive oil and peeled garlic.
  3. Heat oil over medium low heat. Cook garlic until soft, approximate 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Once your bacon is cooked, remove it from the oven and let the bacon drain on paper towels.
  5. With your cooked garlic, make your garlic aioli. Finely chop 3 cloves of garlic. Combine the chopped garlic with the mayonnaise and a pinch of salt and pepper. Store the remaining cooked garlic for another use.
  6. Rinse off lettuce and tomatoes, then set aside to dry.
  7. Slice the Romain lettuce into bread size pieces. Slice the tomatoes.
  8. Toast your white bread.
  9. Smear each piece of toast with maynaoise, then salt and pepper the mayonnaise.
  10. Next place on your romaine, then a layer of bacon, and a layer of tomatoes. Salt and pepper your tomatoes.
  11. Spoon over your balsamic onion jam. Finish the sandwhich by topping it with a piece of bread with mayonnaise.
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