Friday, August 8, 2014

One Eleven at the Capital Hotel

Restaurants often have a private dinner for friends, media, or food writers prior to opening or reopening.  It's like a dress rehearsal for them.  The back of the house staff practices preparing new offerings for the front of the house to present to guests, the bartenders ready themselves to have plenty of drinks on hand, and management welcomes everyone upon arrival as if they were joining them for family dinner.  It's not this perfect at every "soft opening" or "preview dinner, " but with this team at this place, high standards prevail.

I was fortunate enough to be included at last night's private dinner reopening at One Eleven at the Capital Hotel here in Little Rock.  My first and last impression were equally superior, I have to admit.  Above you see the Eggplant Baba Ganoush with Lavash Crackers.  I can usually take one bite of a cracker and be done with it, but I ate all of this and looked for more.  Considering Justin Timberlake, they've brought sexy back to crackers with this one.
Photo Collage by Brooke Carter Wallace
I love good style and good taste.  I love what they've done to the place, and I highly recommend everyone finding out for themselves about One Eleven.  I'm sure I'll be a regular there.  Do say hi if you see me there sometime!  And now, more of the food offerings from last night.
I love colorful, bright food like beets.  I'll be back to order the beetroot salad with burrata cheese just as soon as I work off some of the weight that I've gained from this week filled with hotel and restaurant openings and Leo birthday celebrations.
Like the great Japanese restaurants that begin each meal with a hot, hot towel, I would begin my Last Meal with Chef Joel's asparagus soup masterpiece.  If shooting hot soup out of a shot glass is wrong, well....
Arshia K. asked me which of the tastings was my favorite.  It was like being confronted with the question of which of my daughters I love more.  I decided on the Maine Oysters Rockefeller.
House smoked salmon that I know my daughter Gianna will fall in love with.  She has quite the discriminating palate and should be a future Iron Chef judge.  I can also see her hosting a show with Mo Rocca - their personalities and humor are so similar.  Plus I'd love to meet him!
My husband's favorite was the Risotto with Peas and Black Truffle.  I don't think he normally likes peas.  But they did this dish so well, there was no denying a single bite.
I can normally abstain from desserts, but I ate almost all of this Popcorn Panna Cotta with Caramel Ice Cream.  Between this and the Chestnut Sundae with Pecans & Rice Crispy Treats, I may reserve all my dessert calories for One Eleven alone.  
A special thanks to Chef Joel Antunes for allowing us to tour the newly remodeled kitchen while he and his staff diligently attended to every morsel to assure quality and precision.  I observed them, wondering who would be the next great, considering that The Capital Hotel kitchen has been the incubator for growing talent in rising star chefs such as McClure, Bell, Jones, McConnell, and more.  I know that for myself in my own career, my greatest successes were when my teachers helped me to be my best. Over the years, there had been some teachers that wanted to do nothing more than prove that they were superior.  Yeah, that did nothing for me!  I wonder if that exists in some restaurants, but in this kitchen I loved seeing the convivial teamwork in this pristine kitchen!  If only Larry West could convert my office space into something as inspiring and productive as this!!   

I told my primary care physician Dr. Felton today, who happens to be a big foodie, that they looked like a team around an operating table.  With every bit of my respect, thank you to everyone at One Eleven at the Capital Hotel for some of the best tastings in Arkansas.  It was really nice seeing the new surroundings that will undoubtedly assure your success.  I'll see you again soon and often!     

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sausage Pesto Pasta

When you frequent the same locally owned merchants or grocers in your town where the owners are often on hand to say hi to you, you see the difference in shopping there versus a chain or big box type place where they'll never know your name, or even pronounce it correctly, in my case.

Two of my favorite places lately to distribute my dollars are Stratton's Market and Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Little Rock.  Reason number one:  they offer samples.  I shouldn't give all my secrets away, but offer me a sample and if I like it, I'll usually buy!  Reason number two:  sometimes I get leftover scraps, like the meat that got stuck at the bottom of the sausage maker thing.  I'm always so appreciative for any lagniappe I receive from the food industry, a term I learned as "something extra" when I was a server in the restaurant world...and I rarely forget when I'm offered that something extra.  Meaning I continue to shop with you and buy more from you!

You can make the dish without the pesto just as easily, and it would also be great.
The sausage is the Toulouse, described by owner and maker Brandon B. of H.A.M. as made with lots of white wine and garlic.  Two of my favorite things!  Then the pesto was made by J.J. at Stratton's Market.  We also recently bought some of J.J.'s hand made mozzarella cheese.  My daughter Gianna noticed a difference in the cheese without me telling her it was house made, asking where it came from because she could tell it was better than any she'd had before.  I never solicit her opinion, I'm always intrigued when she offers it on her own.  My little Sicilian Portuguese Vietnamese melting pot girl with the old soul.  She knows good food.

Thanks to everyone for the lagniappe.  See you again soon!  Now, it's been a while.  How do I post a recipe...

Ingredients:
  • Toulouse sausage from Hillcrest Artisan Meats, about 4 links for a family of 4
  • 1 Container of pesto from Stratton's Market
  • Pasta for 4 (I used Rotelle from Terry's Finer Foods)
Directions:
  1. Prepare pasta per package instructions.  Drain.
  2. Cook the sausage, removed from the casings, over medium high heat, stirring often until done, about 10 minutes total.
  3. Combine the pasta, sausage, and pesto.  Garnish with extra shredded cheese, such as asiago.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lobster Mac & Cheese for Eat Arkansas

If you enjoy this picture, please, click here now and give it a vote on Facebook!  (Just like the picture.)  This was my entry for the Arkansas Times Eat Arkansas food photo contest.  Last year, there was a similar Totino's pizza challenge.  This year, the challenge was to utilize a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Original to make a dish for the contest.  Not that anyone would do anything as simple as the original.....

I decided to compete with some of my buddies (the usual suspects) when friend, writer of Eat Arkansas, Daniel Walker announced the challenge this year.  I'll admit that it took 3 tries before I was happy with my entry.  Even on the Facebook private message board, one of the contestants said he would need to back out because "It didn't work."  True story:  mine didn't work the first 2 times!  Yes, it took some time to get a quality Mac & Cheese creation that would merit enough likes on the Eat Arkansas Facebook page.  I immediately developed an idea in my mind that would be a new way to make the mac and cheese as soon as the contest was announced.  I'm sure the others did as well.  Luckily, the third time was a charm to make my idea into a reality.

I'll post details on how I made this soon.  For now, how about giving me a vote by clicking here?  Then, like the picture on Facebook.  Thank you!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Grilled Cheese with Asiago, Pesto, & Nduja for Gianna

I feel so fortunate to have an 11 year old daughter who loves to try new food, who has exquisite taste, and loves for me to create new things for her nutrition and survival.  I owe a lot to her actually.  She knows me well.  She knows when I've picked her up from school, she's telling me something that happened with her friends, and when I hardly respond, I'm still thinking about something I need to do for work when we get home.  She says, "Nevermind.  I'll tell you later.  I can tell you're not listening."  So of course I tell her just repeat please!!

When Gianna was 9 months old, I sacrificed 18 days away from her to train for a pharmaceutical job in Bristol, TN.  (I have a very supportive husband who kicked in and held down the fort!)  On the day I flew out, for some reason, I had to go from Little Rock up to Ohio and back down to get to the small, well known NASCAR town.  We were delayed about 6 hours, and many of us from around the country waiting for the same connection to Tennessee got together and bonded over drinks about what we heard training would be like.  My Arkansas counterpart Brian was pretty mad I'd made him give up his seat on the plane and wait with me while I did nothing but engage in girl talk with my new friends!  Oops, my bad.  Such good teamwork on his part, though!

By the time I arrived to the Courtyard Marriott in Bristol, TN, there were flowers in my room from my new manager Marie.  She'd hired me just 2 months ago and we knew very little about each other aside from the fact that it would be hard for me to be away from my family for 18 days.  The card read, "Thinking of you."  I burst into tears, and my roommate Kerri from Las Vegas came in at that very moment, a complete stranger, consoling me because she had a little baby one year old boy back home too.  Marie had mentioned we would be paired with people that they thought would match well.

I learned from some of the more seasoned, travelled reps during that time that a 9 month old baby might be somewhat reluctant to welcome a mom home back with open arms after an extensive time away.  I learned that lesson the hard way.  I'll never forget returning home, wanting nothing more than to hold my baby, and she refused to let me have her.  She cried and turned away.  She was mad at me for having been away.  My heart broke.  I was crying in the airport, and our good friends the Rogers just happened to also be returning from a trip as well.  So awkward.   

Eventually Gianna gave in, of course.  The years went by.  I'd had a 5 year goal that I achieved in 3, and I didn't want to slow down on the momentum.  I was doing so well in my new job that I had the opportunity to move into a specialty position, a part of my 5 year goal.  I'd built my dream house in my dream neighborhood.  Marie even said that I needed to consider the larger territory that came with the promotion.  Consider the evenings I would sacrifice away from my new house for the promotion.  At this point, she knew me REALLY, REALLY well.  But I went for it and got it.

Gianna was in Kindergarten at Baker Elementary.  I'll never forget the day.  I was practically kicking her out of my car at 7:30 a.m. so I could get to a breakfast where I could see a large group of high decile prescribers.  From the age of 3, she's acted like an adult.  You can ask the PTA president at the time who said, "Talking to Gianna is like talking to an adult."  But that day I was reminded she was just a kid.  I heard her say, "MY MOM!"

Those two words haunted me all day.  So much for work!  That year, I met one of the top cardiologists in the state.  In regards to our jobs taking us away from our kids so much, he said to me, "Sometimes I wish I could just make my money and get out."  Later that year his 2 year old toddler died of cancer.  This doc was a favorite of all the drug reps.  We were all hurting for him.  The next year, I signed up to be Room Mom in Gianna's class, I volunteered at every event at her school to spend as much time as possible with her, and I joined her for lunch on a weekly basis.  Now she's 11 and I know that another  7 years will fly by and she'll be leaving the house to head to college.  

I hope she'll continue to spread the word about the food blog that she once convinced her mom to start when she was only 8 years old!  She's had such a profound effect on my life in such short years, I know she has great things awaiting her in her own future.  I plan to nourish her the best way I can while I still can.  I hope she'll have great memories of the new grilled cheese that we created together and remember how Eat Arkansas once mentioned her taco ring too!  For those of you with new or young kids who try your patience, take it from me.  Before you know it, they'll be all grown up!  Treasure the younger years, I would love to go back now that they're such big kids!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Green Beans and Prosciutto Bundles

I got a great deal on some green beans at the Little Rock Farmers Market this past week, so I decided to try them with one of my favorite things ever: La Quercia prosciutto that you can find at Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Little Rock.  (H.A.M.)  The traditional method found here is prepared with bacon.  We'll call this version the no - bake method.  

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound of fresh green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1/2 pound of thinly sliced La Quercia prosciutto
  • 1/2 stick of butter (real butter)
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar 
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
Directions:
  1. Start with a couple tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat.
  2. Add the green beans, tossing until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining butter, brown sugar, and garlic.
  4. Stir well to dissolve and incorporate the flavors into the green beans.
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. Take 2 or 3 green beans, wrap with a half slice of prosciutto, and continue until all are gone.
  7. Serve as a side item or snack.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms

You can find these fresh, local shrooms at Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Little Rock.  They were so perfectly made by nature, you don't need to do much to them when you cook them.
They came from Sweden Creek Farm in Kingston, Arkansas.  Just grab a brown bag and fill it up with as many mushrooms as you'd like!  I love the earthy aroma that they possess.  These shiitakes make a great snack or side item.  I can't describe how superior the flavor is.  When you compare fresh, local food from Arkansas farms to produce that you get in some of the large chain stores, you taste the difference, and there's no going back.

Ingredients:
  • Handful of shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • chopped shallot
  • chopped chives
  • dash of dry white wine    

Directions:
  1. Clean the mushrooms by wiping off any dirt if present - these didn't require much cleaning at all.
  2. Snip off the coarse stem with kitchen scissors.
  3. Continue using the scissors and cut each mushroom cap into thirds or fourths.
  4. Heat a large saute pan, add the butter, the shallot, and the chives.
  5. Add the mushrooms and stir around the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.  I used my daughter's baby tongs.
  6. Add a splash of wine.  Stir a little more, then serve.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Farm2Home at Moss Mountain Farm

Just last Tuesday, I was so excited to arrive to the traditional sight of a huge tractor and red - roofed building at Moss Mountain Farm in Roland, Arkansas, just about 30 minutes from my home in West Little Rock.  I'd heard from several reliable friends that the place was a must see, so I was delighted when I received an invitation from the P. Allen Smith team to join a group of other well known bloggers from around the state for the Farm2Home 2014 event.  The event focused on the benefits of eating and choosing Arkansas grown and Arkansas made products.  Made possible by the Arkansas Agriculture Department, it was a great opportunity to tour the farm, learn more about farming, and hear from advocates of the Arkansas Grown program about why everyone in Arkansas should eat local.  
Mr. Smith was quite the hospitable host as he addressed us all under his sprawling 300 year old oak tree and shared the background of his 650+ acres of land which overlooks the beautiful Arkansas River Valley.  As we followed him into his home, we all divided up to tour, someone mentioning that of course the foodies went to the kitchen first.  So true! 
Allen is a well - known expert in categories such as gardening, decor, and sustainable living.  His contributions have been shared in many publications such as People, The New York Times, Southern Living, and The Dallas Morning News.  The interior of his residence is warm and reflective of his love of nature.   
The scenic drive to Moss Mountain brought us to even more beautiful scenery all around the farm.
Farmers markets are always enjoyable because of the sight of many bountiful baskets of fruit and vegetables.  But it's even better to see the vegetables at the farm on the tree or vine!  If you enjoy farmers markets, I encourage you to get to know a farmer and visit their farm...
The gardens of Moss Mountain were full of wonderful produce including these blackberries that we were able to pick and sample along our tour.
We enjoyed the tour of the farm on a glorious, sunny day.  I imagined it must take a huge team of people to keep up this beauty!  Farming sounded like hard work, and as I followed along, I began to appreciate farmers even more that day.
I enjoyed the result of the hard work put into Moss Mountain.  Gorgeous, fragrant flowers and interesting eye - catching structures helped take my mind away, because a day at the farm for me involved nothing but the enjoyment of walking and taking in the view.
The rose garden was quite a sight to see!  On the left and right of the octagonal mini castle there were also similar square brick structures that matched.  Wouldn't you love to walk through that iron gate in a wedding gown if you're not already married?  What a great place for a wedding!  You can see some beautiful wedding photography against this backdrop here.
The view of floating lily pads and the rock fountain added to the tranquility of our walk around the area.
As we returned to our meeting area, we were greeted by some of the heritage poultry that resides on the farm.  I believe we were told that there were 18 different breeds there.  Poultry conservation is another one of the many great projects happening on the farm.
For lunch, we were treated to the US Foods 2013 Next Top Product winner: the Black Bean Burger, created by Chef Jerrmy Gawthrop, co-owner of Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville, AR.  The burger was comprised of a Greek yogurt bun, citrus slaw, pepper jack cheese, and avocado aioli.  We love aioli!  What a great burger!
Chef Jerrmy along with co-owner Clayton Suttle will open Wood Stone Craft Pizza and Bar next to Greenhouse Grille in July this year.  Later on in December, they also plan to construct an actual greenhouse on the premises as well.  Chef Jerrmy is one of the many thought leaders in the state who utilizes as much locally grown food as possible on his menu in his restaurant.  He has won multiple awards in various categories in the Arkansas Times Readers Choice survey over the years that Greenhouse Grille has been open.   
We also received a sampling of the P. Allen Smith Green Goddess Cole Slaw, some of the best I've ever eaten in my life.  I am making that recipe!  We just saw the abundance of cabbage on our tour, and Allen said that there was so much cabbage on the farm, they decided to make cole slaw.
We also enjoyed a wonderful Greek yogurt cheesecake!  Thanks to US Foods for sponsoring and preparing our lunch.
Farm2Home 2014 was sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department in partnership with the P. Allen Smith team.  We all learned more about the AAD's Arkansas Grown program which helps identify locally grown food, farms, and farmers markets across the state.  The goal is to get more Arkansas grown products on plates, whether at home or in a restaurant.  I believe that among the 25 of us bloggers that attended the event, every one of us agreed with all the great reasons to eat local.  Benefits include taste, economic growth, better soil health, good nutrition, and food safety.  I'd consider us all proponents for the cause!

I have many more pictures and additional information to share in another post.  In the meantime, if you'd like to continue reading about the event, here are some other resources from the Farm2Home 2014 event.  







Arkansas Food & Farm:  http://www.arkansasfoodandfarm.com/