Amazing food in Rock Hill, SC? Yes, it’s true! Try Culina!

Greetings!While I may live in South Charlotte, with quick and easy access to many a great restaurant, my parents chose to live just over the border in South Carolina in the city of Rock Hill. It takes me a good 45 minutes to get there from my house. Just close enough and just far enough away!

Unfortunately, because it is away from town, the culinary choices close to home that are not a chain restaurant are very limited for them. So imagine how happy they were when they discovered Culina!

Culina, modern comfort food, is located at 295 Herlong Ave, #404. If you are familiar with the area at all, it’s in the same shopping center as McAllister’s or Talbot’s. It’s a neighborhood gem and the food is amazing!

Here is a link to their website.

http://www.restaurantculina.com/

This is a tale of two trips really, first my initial experience there and second the amazing supper club they have at the end of each month.

My first trip…

was with my parents and some new neighbors, who are also from California. I think my parents wanted to show them “see there is good food in your new neighborhood”.

It’s a small plates joint so we ordered a ton of stuff and shared. Here were some of my favorites!

First up is this amazing salad. It had amazing local tomatoes, with a wonderful and light vinaigrette, and obviously some shaved red onions. Their menu tends to be very seasonal and this was a summer salad that is no longer on the menu.

culinasalad

What is still on the menu is…THIS!

monicaimposter

If you read my New Orleans Jazz Fest post, you’d know about my love of Crawfish Monica, which is essentially a mac and cheese, with crawfish. At Culina, they serve a Smoked Crawfish Mac and Cheese, with pancetta, garlic and shallots and it is a very close cousin to Crawfish Monica. Upon eating it I told my server to tell the chef I loved my Crawfish Monica. When she came back, she asked if I was from NOLA, confirming indeed this was inspired by my Jazz Fest favorite.

Another amazing staple on the menu, the Tomato Pie.

tomato pie

This dish was really delicious and since there were five of us, we ordered two. It has tons of fontina cheese, they make the dough in house. Super yummy.

Another great dish for sharing was the Chicken Salad Lettuce Cups.

chickensaladwraps

These had a wonderful curry in them that delivered just enough spice. No mayo in here. Just delicious wonderful local flavors.

The Supper Club…

is a fun, intimate, limited seating dinner they do on the last Sunday of each month. It’s $75 a person (I think that’s what my Mom told me) and that includes your wine pairing with each dish. We attended Super Club #3 at the end of September.

The first dish was Ceviche. As a fan of Ceviche, which is raw fish w/ citrus (the acid cooks the fish) and veggies, I was pumped to see what they did after looking at the menu. It was described as day boat scallops, plantain chips, and olive oil powder.

This is what it looked like…

culinaapp

and no joke it was DELICIOUS. The olive oil powder was really light. The flavors were amazing.

Next up was North Carolina Amberjack, which is a white fish from local waters. It’s kind of like a Sea Bass. I had it at a restaurant recently and when I didn’t recognize it…I asked. Don’t be afraid to ask about something you aren’t familiar with on a menu.

This Amberjack was pan seared, with charred baby leek and squash blossom (yes you can eat the flower of the squash), red oak (a great local lettuce) and romesco.

fish

The romesco (the orange sauce) was so flavorful. What is a romesco?

Wikipedia says:

Romesco is a nut and red pepper-based sauce from Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain. It is typically made from any mixture of roasted or raw almonds, pine nuts, and/or hazelnuts, roasted garlic, olive or sunflower oil, bitxo peppers and/or nyora peppers

Also worth noting was that they served this with a Rose wine, which I normally don’t enjoy. However this one, a Badenhorst Secateurs Rose from South Africa, was lovely. It wasn’t as sweet as I expect a Rose to be and that is why I liked it and bought two bottles. Wine.com carries it…check it out for $17 bucks.

http://www.wine.com/v6/Badenhorst-Secateurs-Rose-2013/wine/124912/detail.aspx

While we are talking wine, I thought it was super smart of the owners to pair the food w/ such moderately priced wines. I am much more likely to buy them and so are the nice people of Rock Hill.

The next course was not my favorite. I wanted it to be but in all honesty it just fell short.

It was described as a root beer braised short rib with a rosemary grit cake, pumpkin pooridge with lobster butter. The chef told us how he had slaved over it and how it had braised for hours. It looked and smelled amazing…

shortrib

but at the end of the day…your short rib should be succulent and soft and you should NOT have to use a knife. This was tough. Everyone has an off night.

The wine for that course was a french wine called, Domaine La Casenove, “La Garrigue”. It was very much like a nice Cabernet, again I bought two bottles.

Dessert was an adventure!

It was titled “The Miracle Berry Experiment”. Everyone was poured a glass of the Simonet Blanc de Blancs Brut from France (a champers if you will) and then this was put in front of them.

dessert

Say what? Why did you just serve me a plate of lemon, lime and other citrus?

Well what you can barely see is a plate in front of my plate that contains a red miracle berry tablet. I’ll be honest we were all a little skeptical. However, the chef came out and said, they had tried to find miracle berry in another form but this was all they could find. He instructed us to sip our drink, and make note of the taste, which was not sweet. Then, he instructed us to put the tablet on our tongues and let it dissolve. He told us to get it all over our palate.

Then…try the drink again. This time…it was SWEET!

He said, now try the lemon or the lime…ALSO SWEET.

Such a fun way to make dessert interactive and fun!

Here is a link to the tablets if you want to try this at your next dinner party.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/ab3f/

All in all, they are doing some really creative food at Culina. It’s a local spot that needs your support! So please give it a try!

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Have you been to the New Orleans Jazz Fest? Make the answer… YES!

The Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, LA is my version of heaven on earth. Amazing music, amazing local food, and an amazing mix of all of the cultures that make New Orleans a fabulous city. For more on the city…see my earlier blog post about New Orleans from July.

When asked this year about how many Jazz Fests I had been to I had to think about it really hard…and I have no idea. I’ve been more than a few times, but not as many as some of my friends.

My first, was 2005, just a few short months before Hurricane Katrina. I went with two of my girlfriends and I instantly fell in love with the city and the Jazz Fest. My first day at the fest, was a Thursday of the second weekend and Jack Johnson played on the Acura Stage. It  wasn’t very crowded, the sun was shining, and it was a really fun day.

After watching that great city get hit so hard later that year, I knew I had to return the following festival in 2006. I actually, ended up going by myself that year. I had equally as much fun and ended up hanging with my then boss, Ramsey and his friends. I was proud that I had made it back and helped the economy in my own little way.

After that it becomes a bit hazy. I don’t think I went in 2007, because I had just moved bought a house. I think I went in 2009, 2010…and then again in 2011. I had totally forgotten about 2010 but knew there had to be another year because my friend Kelly went to the Pearl Jam year…which was 2010. So that makes 2013…my sixth time! My colleague Chuck just said to me “that’s a lot of times to go to the same place”, to which I replied “that’s how fun it is Chuck”.

In fact, here is a photo of me (not the best but I wanted to capture the relaxed look on my face) during Billy Joel’s set on the Acura Stage. It was a gorgeous New Orleans day, not too hot, a nice breeze, and I was a happy happy girl.

me

So a big fun factor about going to the fest is the FOOD! Both at the fairgrounds and in the city.

We started our trip at the Parkway Bakery, home of the best Po’ boy sandwiches. I had an Alligator Sausage Po’Boy with sweet potato fries w/ blue cheese. YUM!

po boy

With that in my belly…we headed to the Jazz Fest! I started the day on the Gentilly Stage with my main man Anders Osborne, look him up, trust me. After that I headed towards the big Acura stage and listened to some Dr. John before John Mayer. After a few beers, and enough of John Mayer,  I decided to wander  and then on my way to see Terrance Simien at the Fais Do Do stage…but I got sidetracked by some Crawfish Monica and the sweet sounds of George Benson playing “Breezin”. Amazing Song. Great moment.

And because festers are the best…here is You Tube link to that actual moment.

Oh and this is what I was enjoying, Crawfish Monica photo courtesy of WWOZ.org., my favorite NOLA radio station. It’s a public radio station so please send them a check. 🙂

crawfish_monica_540x260

I meant to take my own photo…but I was too busy enjoying the moment. It was a really good moment.

That night we headed to Le Petite Grocery. It’s been on my list for a while. It was unique and delicious. But I took no photos. Fail. The owner chef is currently on Top Chef: New Orleans. His food is amazing.

The next morning it was all about a trip to the mecca of fried dough…Cafe du Monde. Again, took no photos but it is a must do in New Orleans. This picture, courtesy of http://www.neworleans.com is why…

Cafe-du-Monde-New-Orleans-Beignets

After this we shopped a bit, stopped for a few cocktails…and then boarded the bus for the Fest.

That day…it was all about my favorite fest Po’ Boy…the paneed chicken po’boy. I took a photo of this years ago and can’t find it…so here is a photo I found on a link to Chez Pim’s blog.

http://chezpim.com/travel/gallery-favorite-jazz-fest-eats

She has a great gallery of jazz fest food, including the Cochon du Lait po’ boy which is my second favorite sandwich.

That night…it was all about my dream man, John Besh. Besh is a New Orleans Chef who I started reading about right after the storm. He is an amazing chef, easy on the eyes, and a wonderful humanitarian. Here is a NY Times article about him from 2007.

Now, he’s famous and on Top Chef and the Today show, but check out his show on PBS stations, Chef John Besh’s Family Table. Be careful, you will fall in love.

I had tried August, and Domenica but this night was about Luke. It’s a french brassiere type restaurant and it’s just as amazing as the others. It’s casual and relaxed.

luke

We started with the most gigantic and amazing roasted Oysters. I am very partial to Drago’s bbq’d oysters and always try to have them at some point during my stay but these were unbelievable.

oysters

I mean seriously, how good do those look?

For my entrée I had the Croque Madam. I am a sucker for a Croque Madam and it just sounded girl. It was a good call. Check this out.

croquemadam

My friend ordered this amazing bread pudding as dessert. It was sinful. Another amazing meal courtesy of the dreamy John Besh. You see why I love him don’t you. 🙂
breadpudding

We were up early the next day because it was all about Dave Matthews Band that day. Sure I went over to the Congo Square stage to meet up with some friends and dance my butt off to my buddy Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Sure, I had another helping of Crawfish Monica. But it was all about Dave…

Unfortunately, the weather was no bueno that Sunday in New Orleans.

We got there early to secure a spot in my favorite part of the Acura Stage grass (or that day mud). On the right side, close to the lane to the track to the bathrooms and the beer, both are key to the operation.

Here is where we decided to make camp…

predave

As you can see it was already muddy…and bout 15 minutes after I took this shot…the skies opened up. After retreating to a tent and then to the Miller Lite hospitality area, we ventured back to camp. Most of the afternoon ended up being dry…until it was time for Dave.

I color treated this photo just a touch…but this was the sky just as Dave and the gents were about to begin.

davesky

I love this photo. It’s the background on my iPhone.

And then…it RAINED. HARD.

Check out Dave’s shirt in this You Tube video. This was about half way thru the set.

And the people…well we just danced and danced. In the mud.

It ended w/ Ants Marching in the POURING rain. It was awesome even though it was cut short due to lightning. Nobody likes lightning.

This user had the best passes ever and was on the stage, but check out the crowd.

Here is a photo of my friend Teena and I, with a photo bomb by my friend Reed…

photobomb

and here is Teena’s cash drying out when we got home and both took the most amazing showers of our lives.

photo (7)

That night it was back to a John Besh spot…my FAVORITE…Domenica.

It’s his Italian restaurant and it’s hands down my favorite spot in the entire city. That’s a crazy statement with all of the amazing food in the city..but look at these photos.

This was the fried kale.

kale

These were the most amazing lamb ravioli

lamb ravi

and this was my gnocchi which was good but by far not my best choice there.

gnochi

I just wasn’t expecting it to be a soup really. Oh and nice photo bomb by the Brussel sprouts! They were awesome.

My favorite appetizer there is the roasted cauliflower with whipped goat cheese. It’s stupid good.I took no photo but can do even better. Here is the recipe!

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/whole-roasted-cauliflower-with-whipped-goat-cheese

I have made it using this recipe…it’s as advertised.

The next day…it was a New Orleans tradition…Brennan’s for Breakfast and a Bananas Foster. I am so glad we went as Brennan’s has been temporarily closed since July due to some family and real estate issues, only in New Orleans, and this dish is their dish!

YUMMY goodness! Butter, bananas, brown sugar, banana liqueur and rum.

bananas

I love New Orleans. I love the Jazz Fest. It refreshes my soul.

So…I am headed there for all 10 days of Jazz Fest in honor of my 40th birthday in 2014!

Consider this an open invitation to join me in my music and culinary adventures! Come for a weekend, come for the entire time, whatever works! I’ll be there. Eating. Dancing. Refreshing my Soul. You should join me…and make the answer YES!

First Chili of the season!

Greetings everyone!

I just put on my first batch of chili for the season and figured I better blog about it! I have another post planned this weekend, and I’ll still get to it, but this is just too easy.

So here goes…

Take a pound of ground beef (or turkey if you wish) and 3-4 big links of Italian sausage and brown it. I used ground beef and turkey sausage for this batch but it’s totally up to you.

While it browns, spray your chili pot w/ some non-stick spray. Dice up an onion and whatever other veggies you like, carrots, celery, green peppers, whatever. Saute them for a few minutes. Today I used an onion, and some garlic. I had some carrots but I hate mushy carrots so didn’t use them.

This recipe is all about “using what you have” as Bethenny Frankle would say. Time to raid the pantry. When your onion and veggies are cooked enough, add your pantry elements…starting with the tomatoes.

Today I used the following:

2 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes

2 14 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes

1 can of crushed tomatoes

I have an old recipe I use that calls for 2 25oz cans of diced tomatoes and 1 of whole peeled…so I improvised because I didn’t have enough diced tomatoes.

At this point I added some cumin and some chili powder. Just use it to taste. I probably but in about 2 tablespoons of each, but I did not measure it.

Now for the beans! Today I used:

1 14 oz can of black beans

1 14 oz can of dark kidney beans

1 14 oz can of great northern beans (or white beans)

Drain them and add them to the pot along with a package of chili seasoning.

Add your ground beef and sausage…and wait.

I let my chili simmer for about 4-5 hours.

Here’s a photo of it now…I’ll post one of the finished product later.

chili

Enjoy!

I started this blog a year ago…and then I got sidetracked

First, thanks to all of you who have checked out my blog.

I’m sorry I got sidetracked but I have a good excuse. In September, I was recruited by my company to help re-launch our website, NASCAR.com. Please make sure to check it out when it debuts on January 3rd. My team and I are responsible for all the videos on the site.

That being said…I haven’t blogged or for that matter cooked for a while. Every now and then I’d bust something out in the crock pot but it was few and far between.

So here is one of those recipes…

I don’t do anything special…I just follow Emeril’s recipe..

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/chicken-and-smoked-sausage-gumbo-with-white-rice-recipe/index.html

and it came out like this!

turkeygumbo 054

The only difference is that instead of using chicken I used left over smoked turkey from Thanksgiving that I had frozen for this exact dish.

I promise to be better about blogging in 2013! Once NASCAR.com gets up and running and into a groove…so late Spring. 🙂

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

An evening at Incanto, owned by Chris Cosentino, from Top Chef Masters

Greetings!

I feel like I start almost every blog apologizing for being away and not posting…ah such is life. August flew by. At the end of it, I traveled home to the Bay Area for my 20th High School reunion. I am so glad I went. It was so lovely to catch up with so many old friends. Here’s a photo of some of my favorite ladies.

The day after I had brunch with some old friends that are like family…and then dinner with my friend from college Teena, who I haven’t seen since a few years post college. It was so great to see her and try a new spot.

Incanto, is a nose to tail restaurant, in the Noe Valley area of San Francisco. If you aren’t familiar with the nose to tail concept, chefs aim to use the entire animal even the yucky parts. It’s considered to be environmentally friendly as you aren’t wasting any parts.

I picked Incanto, because Chris became my early favorite on Top Chef Masters, as the charity he is playing for is the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. His uncle died of Parkinson’s and my mother suffers from it.

First of all, I fell in love with the Noe Valley neighborhood. Even though I grew up in the Bay Area, I was not familiar with this part of town. There are lots of little knooks and crannies of the city and obviously there are some neighborhoods that have transitioned. Prime example…when I was growing up you never went to the south side of the Bay Bridge, unless you were going to the Esprit outlet, because that side of town was sketch…now it’s home to a beautiful MLB ballpark and is one of THE neighborhoods. Anyway, back to Noe Valley, it’s near the Castro, so it’s diverse but yet still a fun and quiet neighborhood. Like one I would live in…

Incanto has the feeling of a Tuscan home…even thought it is tucked into a big city. It’s very warm.

Note: I took these photos towards the end of the dinner…hence it was darker.

Ok so it’s fair to say that I was a tad hungover…so my Incanto visit started with a cola. A very delicious cola I might add.

Teena and I decided to share a couple of appetizers…and we landed on the Bruschetta with red peppers and the gnocchi which was a special that night.

Both of these dishes were amazing. The Bruschetta had a tangy goat cheese on it. The gnocchi was like a yummy fluffy pillow. We crushed them.

While we waited for our entrees…we saw the “Leg of the Beast” happening in the front of the restaurant. For six to eight diners…they present a braised leg of beef…with all of the fixings, served family style. It looked AMAZING. There was a giant plate of roasted corn that passed by…and then the leg of beef in a giant roasting pan. Hoping I can convince some friends to do this with me next time I go to town for the Sonoma race.

We both ordered a pasta for dinner. Teena’s was the chilli rigatoni.

Mine was the handkerchief pasta with the pork ragu.

With my sensitive stomach…I didn’t taste Teena’s but I did love this pork ragu.

It was a great dinner with a great old friend I had missed! While I didn’t walk away thinking “wow that was amazing”, it was a casual, warm and yummy place to finish up my trip.

Miss this city…

My own personal Dinner with Bevy…

Ladies and Gentlemen…meet Bevy Smith. She’s a self-described gal about town that lives in NYC. She is a self-made woman, who left her day job a few years ago to live her life the way she wanted…and she’s doing it. She’s a former fashion editor that has turned into an inspirational speaker, brand ambassador, television host, and businesswoman.

I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago via a mutual friend at a conference, and the minute we met, I knew we would be pals. It’s always fun to meet successful women that you can learn from…and have fun with.

One of Bevy’s businesses, is Dinner with Bevy. She hosts intimate dinner parties, sometimes for brands and sometimes for celebrities. Recently, she started doing public events, Dining with Bevy, Life with Vision. This past weekend, she held an event in Charlotte…and I was lucky enough to have my own Dinner with Bevy.

We dined at Bernardin. Not to be confused with Le Bernardin in New York City, which is owned by Eric Ripert, although the Chef trained there. Bernardin, is located in the old Ratcliffe building and was once a flower shop. The original structure was incorporated into the high-rise condo building built on top/around it. It’s a great space…and the one Bevy chose for her event, so we did a tasting menu. I didn’t take photos of all the courses…and we changed a few things as well but here are some of the dishes from our very entertaining evening. Also joining us was her friend/colleague CJ, who I now adore, even though he “eats nothing” as Bevy stated.

Here is the menu…which we adjusted slightly.

First up was the Tuna Tartar. A bit spicy but certainly fresh and delicious.

After this they served a seared scallop over a piece of pork belly that was so delicious I forgot to take a photo.

Next up was the asparagus bisque. I had something similar there for lunch a few months ago. I think it was a cold asparagus gazpacho. This bisque was divine.

The escargot was next…which is just something I do not eat. The list of things I don’t eat is fairly small, but snails…not so much. The staff was lovely and substituted this amazing goat cheese tart and duck spring rolls for CJ. He claims he tried the duck…but Bevy and I ended up eating them.

I love goat cheese.

The sea bass was also delicious and it was then that I realized that we still had another course and that I was going to be so full. I’m glad I paced myself for this cheese stuffed chicken. We did this instead of the Kangaroo, because that might also be on my list of things I am not interested in eating.

Both desserts were also amazing although my preference was the banana walnut tart…and I could only eat a few bites. Stuffed! It was one of my favorite dinners this year not only for the food but the wonderful company. We laughed a lot at this table. Follow Ms. Bevy on twitter. @bevysmith She is full of wisdom and humor.

Still coming up is the pesto…I just forgot to upload the photos and well I’m dog sitting this weekend at my parents. This is the lucky recipient of my cooking tonight. Meet Jamie Davis.

In honor of Julia Child’s 100th Birthday

Realizing that I have been lazy about my blog this summer…I decided to pay tribute to Julia Child’s 100th birthday today.

I have always admired Julia. I used to watch her show on KQED in San Francisco. I’ve eaten at the now closed, Julia’s Kitchen in Napa, which was a tribute to her at an amazing garden/museum called Copia.

So I decided to roast a chicken from one of her recipes…with garlic, lemon, rosemary and thyme. My parents had so nicely given me thyme and rosemary from the garden and had shared a ton of lemons they had gotten at the market but couldn’t use.

While searching for Julia recipes I stumbled upon a potato recipe from Judith Jones, who used to work with Julia on recipes. I decided to make it not only because it looked yummy but because I dug the story.

Judith Jones created this side dish while working late one night on a cookbook manuscript with Julia Child, who turned to Judith and said: “You make a nice little potato dish while I fix the meat.”

Just sounds like Julia Child doesn’t it? LOVE her.

So back to the chicken…

Per the recipe…found here…

http://americanfood.about.com/od/chickenrecipes/r/Chicken_Watercress_Recipe.htm

I bathed the chicken the juice of 2 lemons, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Since I had a massage that afternoon, prior to my friend Kelly coming over for dinner, I covered it in the bowl and put it in the fridge. But first I took some photos!

Yup starting to fool around with my camera a bit more! Watch out people!

Ok so as Julia directed, I preheated the oven to 400…got out my roasting pan, stuffed the chicken with the lemons, garlic, and herbs and cut up an onion and put my chicken in.

Drizzled some Olive Oil on it…set the time for 1 hr and 15 minutes and started on my potatoes.

Here is the recipe for the potatoes. I had to adapt it a bit to make it bigger.

http://www.oprah.com/food/A-Potato-Dish-for-Julia-Child

I also had a new mandolin so I was pumped to use it!

First, I peeled all of the potatoes. I used yukon golds.

and then I sliced them thin…

I also diced and smashed garlic and chopped some rosemary and after I took this arty photo I combined them with butter. I love butter.

I put some regular butter in the pan and then layered the potatoes in it…each layer adding some of the garlic rosemary butter.

I let them cook on medium for about 15 minutes and I thought there would be a pretty good crust on the bottom. Kelly and I devised a strategy to flip them out of the pan (as the recipe called for) and not get it all over the kitchen.

This was the result of that…hahaha good times in the kitchen.

So we slid it back in and let it cook for about 15 more minutes, after more butter on the bottom of course, and then once the chicken was out we put it on broil to get this side crusty.

Here was the chicken when we took it out…

So…how about I roasted my chicken upside down?

Here is the good thing about that…which I learned from my Dad when we smoke the Thanksgiving turkey. When the breasts are on the bottom…all the juices run into them and it makes the chicken really juicy and not dry. This was not my intent…it was just a mistake but the breasts were indeed very juicy. Hey…I keep telling you people I’m not perfect!

Another example of that…is the sauce. Julia said to use the bits in the pan, the onions, etc and make a sauce. Well my onions were burnt…and this is what the sauce looked like…so obviously we did not eat it. We stuck our fingers in it, because sometimes stuff that doesn’t look good still tastes good, but it was gross. Proof that sometimes, even when you follow a recipe…sometimes it was just not meant to be. The onions are on the left…sauce on the right.

All in all it was great catching up w/ my friend Kelly. Both dishes weren’t quite as I wanted them but both were tasty! Happy Birthday Julia Child!

Coming up…

Pesto: If you’ve never made it…you will soon as it’s SO easy!

Pasta Fagioli: An easy, weeknight soup I stole from Rachel Ray and made my own!