Friday, February 28, 2014

Michigan Crack Coffee Cake and a Storied Wedding

Weddings are something that can bring out the best and worst in people both individually and collectively. As a caterer and Event manager I have seen my share of Brides, Mothers and Fathers acting out in the most insane and inappropriate of manners. True Bride-zillas I have only seen twice but the stories are varied and amazing.

Drunks, fights and screaming matches on the dance floor are par for the course. And let's not forget just plain old bad taste taken to the extreme on someone's special day. In short I hate weddings but I am kinda drawn to them because like a train wreck you just can't take your eyes off of them. Over the course of the years I have had friends ask me to help with their weddings and with one exception I have always politely declined. I just would never want to be responsible for one of my friend's special days. Too much pressure and the possibility of ruining a friendship, no thank you.

The most amazing story is from a wedding which was designed by a fellow in NYC, who we will call Eric. He's a great guy and very lovely to work with. This story started apparently when he was designing the wedding with the family. They were spending untold amounts of money on this wedding and during the planning process it became apparent the Bride was not very engaged in the whole thing. Instead of the usual involved, hands on manner most Brides take, this one simply did not seem to care if it was, "that shade of pink" or "that flower arrangement". Her mother did of course. Spending tons of cash to ensure a spectacle deserving her status and her daughters station. But the Bride was non plussed about the whole thing and this made Eric slightly suspect.

Well the big day came. The Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue had never looked so grand. The flowers, the music and the decor for the ceremony alone had cost a fortune. The Parents greeted their endless guest list as they arrived and waited for the ceremony to start. Eric went upstairs to check on the Bride who had strangely asked to be alone while she prepared not wanting the company of her entourage of dressers and bridesmaids.

As he approached the hotel room he could see that the door was slightly ajar, a strange sign he thought. He knocked. No response. He called out still no response. He slowly pushed the door open revealing the rooms contents. The Bride was no where to be found but on the bed was the dress and atop it a note and her ring. He lifted up the note and read these words, " Sorry Abe, I can't go through with it. Here's your ring back, Claire". Eric's heart sank into his shoes. There were 400 people waiting downstairs and the Bride was obviously not coming down. Oh Shit!

So he went downstairs and pulling the Groom and the Father of the Bride aside informed them gently of what was going on. The Groom was livid and was whisked away to a private room by his groomsmen with a bottle of brown liquor. The Father of the Bride seemed unmoved calm even. Eric explained that he needed to inform his guests, suggesting that perhaps the verbiage should be something akin to "I regret to inform you but my daughter has a had change of heart thank you for coming etc etc.". The Father shook his heard and said " Yeah Yeah Yeah....Got it". He then mounted the stage and took the mic hitting on it..."is this thing on".  Then he addressed the crowd. "I want to thank you all for coming today, to be with us, we spent a lot of money on this wedding and you can all go to the bar since it's paid for.... but there's no ceremony happening.... because my F&*%ing daughter FLED! Thanks!"

Now that's a wedding story!

Now as I said I have only helped one friend with a wedding and that would be my roommate of many years in NYC, Cristin Hubbard. Cristin is a Broadway actor and an amazing vocalist. She was also practically family. So when she became engaged I agreed to help put the reception together for her.

The wedding was set in upstate Michigan near the Sleeping Bear national seaside on the coast of northern Michigan. A fantastic place of natural wonder. The natural beauty aside the charm of the beach houses and the towns and the lovely natives were enough to entrance. It was a whole week of wedding activities with about 30 to 50 people, mostly family, participating. Cook outs on the beach at night followed by bonfires and sing alongs. Day trips in canoes and kyaks or antiquing. And a BBQ dinner after lake swimming and sun bathing.  A Buffet dinner at the house on the first night let to mornings spent over amazing breakfasts at the Bed and Breakfast.

This of course was coupled with the fact that I had agreed to help design and run the wedding. Her friend Mark also had agreed to help so between the two of us we came up with a plan. We visited the sight for the reception which was a rustic lodge building in a Church camp nearby the beach house she had spent every summer in growing up. A very connected and emotionally grounded choice, just like Cristin. Solid and soulful it hit the mark providing the perfect backdrop for a very special person's, special day. We visited the caterer, helped tweek a few menu items and service points and offered up my help the day of.

So then Mark and I armed with 3000 dollars in cash her father had given us set out to design and decorate the old Church Camp lodge for the reception. Aside from almost killing each other in the process we did an amazing job I think. White tuille and white christmas lights, flowers from a friends garden, sea glass and candles, blue, green, white and grey linens all came together to make a wonderful picture.

But it was Cristin, walking down the aisle of the church of her summer youth,  a beautiful family quilt adorning the altar, that really was the star of this wedding. She was the most stunning of Brides. The wedding and reception in their elegant simplicity were amazing. But the love so evident for these two people filling the room was the highlight of my experience of that wedding. I was moved beyond words. Hoping in my own heart that someday I might feel how she and her husband must have felt as the center of so much loving devotion. For after all, when the pomp and superficial things are stripped away, it's the love that makes a Wedding real. No show necessary if that is present. It speaks volumes louder than any floral arrangement or buffet dinner ever could.

So what has this to do with coffee cake you might ask? Well I discovered this recipe while staying at the bed and breakfast for this wedding. It's a simple almost stupid recipe and not an unknown or uncommon one. But I think if you try it you will agree it's addictive and ridiculously good! So I offer up with memories of weddings large and small. Memories of my dear friend from Michigan and this recipe. Enjoy Ya'll!

"Bob King Cake"

2 small tubes refrigerator buttermilk biscuits OR 1 tube Pillsbury Grands buttermilk biscuits 

3 Tbsp. butter melted
1/2 cup pancake syrup not real maple!
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Place all ingredients in a pan and melt together over low heat 
Place in the bottom of a bundt pan
layer biscuits overlapping in the pan
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 to 30 mins or until nice and brown on top
Invert onto a plate and yum yum yum!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pimento Cheese: My favorite Cheesy Southern Snack Indulgence

Pimento Cheese is probably one of the most outstandingly Southern dishes that is sort of unknown in other parts of the country. It's fame has been spread by the Lee Brothers and other evangelists of Southern cuisine but to some extent it's still the lesser known outside of the South than other better known dishes. Some folks would consider it as iconic as deviled eggs and Fried Chicken and it certainly has it's own camps of people who debate what goes into it. But regardless no one would debate that it is definitely up there are something that one should know how to make as a Southern cook.

I grew up around pimento cheese which is sometimes referred to as the "Caviar of the South" or "House Pate". It's at it's best a delicious concoction of simple ingredients which somehow when taken together are amazing. It's a version of a fortified cheese, or Formage Forte, a French concoction created as a way to use up odd bits of cheese. Formage Forte uses wine and other flavor elements to make a spread that can be served with bread or crackers. Pimento Cheese uses Mayo and A Spanish red pepper and spices to really create a spread which actually is more than just a spread and can be used in sandwiches and other cooked foods using cheese as an ingredient such as grits or casseroles. While there is debate as to what goes into it like "is there more than cheddar cheese?" "is there sour cream?" And also "is there green onion or grated white onion or is it just onion powder?".  I think almost everyone can agree that no matter how it's made it's mostly just delicious.

So many Southerner's I know, who cook, have a story like this one. When I was first living in New York City as an actor, my roommate at the time and I threw a cocktail party. And since we didn't have any real money for fancy foods for the some 20 people we had invited, I decided to make a bunch of pimento cheese sandwiches. I made them on white bread and cut off the crusts to be fancy and the cut the sandwiches in 4's to make little "tea" sandwiches. I made a lot of them. And that with bowls of potato chips and onion dip was the food. Don't you know every single one of those sandwiches disappeared. They were really a hit.

Now when I make pimento cheese I make sure that I have extra because without a doubt it will be the first thing to go. Now my recipe has changed many times over the years. I mean sometimes Pimento cheese is just that dip you make with whatever cheese you have on hand. And sometimes you change the rules up. For instance I never put cream cheese in mine before a friend made me her recipe, now I do. And I add little things into mine now that I think really ramp up the flavor and the texture. Recently I was at Husk Restaurant in Charleston and has their pimento cheese appetizer in in the bar,
wow was it good, really good! They used fancy peppers and jalapenos, smoked paprika and local cheese. I still use the Spanish pimentos from the jar but my my my....I think that's what's so good. So take a minute and check this out and if you want to try this for your next party you can be a hit if you put this on your menu. Hope Ya'll enjoy!

Forrest's Pimento Cheese Recipe

1 1/2 cup shredded extra sharp Yellow Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Jack cheese
7 ounces room temperature cream cheese
1/2 cup Dukes Mayonaise
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 good shakes of Worchestershire Sauce
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons jarred jalapeno pepper slices minced
1 4 ounce jar pimentos drained and diced and 2 tablespoons of juice reserved
1 tablespoon of pickle juice
S&P to taste

Basically place everything in a big bowl and mix mix mix till combined. Chill about an hour before serving.

Here's a little video for your viewing pleasure

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hoover's Chicken in Every Pot Pie, A Favorite Winter Comfort Food Taken to New Heights

President Herbert Hoover promised back in the 1930's while on the campaign trail that he would put a "chicken in every pot". Well that promise didn't come through, but this recipe for chicken pot pie really does. I mean, who doesn't love a pot pie. All hot and crusty and bubbling with goodness. And since Mother Nature has seen fit to really give us a real winter this year I thought it would be a good thing to actually revisit my pot pie recipe and whip it up for a little winter dinner last night.

I was pressed for time and wanted to be able to enjoy myself during the get together and thought well just make something you can throw in the oven and forget about. So while shopping at Trader Joes on a Saturday ( which I never do because the line literally wraps around the entire store ), I thought pot pie is easy ( I think? ). So I ran around the store grabbed what I needed and got in that line. It wasn't that bad actually. In fact it was quite a quick trip to the cash register. In the meantime I looked around at other people's baskets. I always find it interesting to see what other people are buying and eating.

So what makes Pot Pie so popular with us in the US. nowadays? It's simple uncomplicated food which somehow connects us to our roots. It evokes thoughts of a simpler time perhaps and makes us relax in a world that is far too modern sometimes. I think it is also an easy food. One not associated with trying too hard. Yet even the humble pot pie can be elevated and enhanced and I set out to do just that.

I didn't really do much just added a few things like bacon fat and herbed cheese to the sauce to enhance the flavor. I added some chicken bullion to the chicken broth which I got from my onion soup recipe to ramp up the flavor.  I also chose to add the wine at the end and let it cook out in the oven. That touch changed dramatically the overall flavor and really made it better than my usual. But all in all it's Chicken Pot Pie and it's just a good recie to try if you want to make it. So enjoy and give it a try Ya'll

Forrest's Best Ever Chicken Pot Pie

What you will need:

2 pre-made pie crusts defrosted and rolled out using a small plate measure 4 circles and cut out and reserve in the fridge.

Then you will need 3 to 4 cups of cooked cubed chicken or shredded Rotisserie Chicken
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 cups cubed carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
10 oz sliced mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon bacon fat ( optional if you don't have use another tablespoon of butter)
1/2 cup flour plus 3 tablespoons
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh or dried parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
4 cups warm chicken broth
2 chicken bullion cubes
1 package Boursin Herbed Cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup white wine ( not Chardonnay)
Maldon sea salt
1 egg yolk mixed with a little water to make an egg wash


Preheat oven to 425

In a large pot melt the butter
Add the veggies except mushrooms and saute till just soft
Season with S&P ad fresh and dried thyme
Add the 3 tablespoons of butter and stir cooking about 3 mins
Combine the bullion with the broth keep warm
Add half the bullion stock mixture to a bowl and slowly whisk in the flour to make a "slurry"
Add the other stock to the pot with the veggies bring to a high simmer and the flour and veggie mixture
Slowly add the slurry mixture with a whisk stirring to combine and bring to boil then reduce heat and stir till it thickens up stir to avoid clumps.
If too thick add a little water
Add the Boursin and melt in till combined
Add the wine
Add the Mushrooms
Add the Chicken
Hold warm

In 4 individual baking dishes divide the filling to the top of each dish
Top with the crust and crimp the edges
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and press in with your fingers.
Brush with the egg wash
Make a small slit in the top

Place on a baking tray cover with foil to protect from spillage
Bake for 25 mins or until the crust is golden brown and done
Let sit for 5 mins then serve