Braise! A fabulous in-home dining experience to support Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA)

Though this post strays a bit from my normal theme, I wanted to share this special experience with everyone that reads this blog!

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am generally tied into community events and that I was raised to be charitable with my time and money.

Several months ago, in an effort to help support and promote restaurant supported agriculture (RSA), I purchased an in-home dining experience for eight people. This dinner would be prepared by the owner and chef of Braise, Dave Swanson, and would include four courses plus wine pairings.

I was beyond excited to invite some friends over to enjoy some great food – that I wasn’t going to have to cook!

Fast forward a few weeks and know that Becky (general events manager at Braise) was absolutely wonderful to work with during the planning process. And, when the date finally came to have everyone over, Dave and a bonus chef, Jarid were extraordinary!

I was able to scramble and get my table ready for company – except that this girl who LOVES fresh flowers and purchases them almost weekly, forgot to buy flowers for the table! EEK!

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Enter Dave and Jarid:

  1. They were prompt, polite, and fully prepared with coolers, tubs, and lots of gear!
  2. They were as gracious as can be and seemed to feel right at home in my (small) kitchen.
  3. They left me feeling totally confident that the evening would be spectacular – even if I don’t have restaurant quality dishes and glassware. (But, I really like my dishes!)
  4. Even I didn’t know what my guests and I would be dining on, but Chef informed me that he decided to throw in an extra dish and we would enjoy five courses plus wine pairings. Chef Jarid was kind enough to offer to email the menu in full detail since I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it justice (keep reading; you’ll see why!).
  5. They served us, explaining each dish in detail. Sometimes, it took a bit of patience as our dinner party was very conversational – yet, never a sign of frustration from Dave or Jarid.
  6. The kicker: THEY CLEANED EVERYTHING UP!!!! I told my friends that I wanted to keep them for my own – men who cook AND clean!?! (Guys, I’m kidding…I know y’all do exist)

Now, about that food.

We started off being passed crustini appetizers (which I failed to photograph as I was greeting the final two guests to arrive).

One of the things I love about my friends is that they prefer NOT to sit next to their spouses so they can get to know others in the group, so that’s what naturally happened.

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Once seated we were served homemade wheat bread, Parmigiano sticks, and Parmigiano-cayenne sticks, with Wisconsin butter.

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Then came the Roasted Sweet Corn & Summer Squash soup with olive oil cured pepper garnish and sambal oil. (Yeah, I had to Google a few things) This lovely soup was served with Prosecco to start the evening off.

We were then served a “beets” dish. I have recently found myself loving beets – and it feels like the rest of the world was either ahead of me on this trend, or is on board the way I feel now. Our dish was a mix of yellow and red oven roasted beets served with white wine poached fennel, toasted walnuts, lemon chèvre, herb fennel vierge, and currant salt. Say that five times fast!

The beets were paired with a Cuvee white wine. It was an amazing salad dish!

Next, came the grilled Chanterelle mushrooms, Parmigiano custard (AKA: “I would put this on everything” – Christy), picked ramps, ramp jam, and ramp salt.These delights were paired with a Chardonnay.

I have to say that with each subsequent dish, my dinner guests kept updating their favorites parts of the meal!

Our fourth course was the “main dish”, I suppose. However, in my mind, each of these could stand alone as a dish I would fully enjoy!

We were served roasted airline chicken breast, seared summer squash, candied pepitas, herb creme fraiche, and preserved lemon chutney served with an Italian red wine.

I must call Christy out again, because it was so fun to see her excitement at “finally having creme fraiche; they always talk about it on Top Chef!”. I believe she then claimed to feel “very fancy”.🙂

Up until this point, we all were fully satisfied and had enjoyed each course immensely.

When we were served dessert, we were surprised with a crazy, refreshing, and delicious dessert of Muskmelon mousse with compressed melon and served in a cucumber fennel broth with milk crumble (and, although I’ve never done drugs, I have to think this is the culinary equivalent of crack!). When paired with a sweet dessert wine, it was essentially perfection in a bowl!

I’d better NEVER learn how to make milk crumble, or I’m in serious trouble!

Because I had asked for permission, and Chef Jarid did joke about needing a photo waiver, but didn’t actually present one, I’m including a few pictures of these fabulous chefs in action.

An endeavor like this is not an inexpensive one, but if you’re anything like me, it’s totally worth every penny (plus tip). Two of my guests texted me that this was a once in a lifetime experience that they thoroughly enjoyed. I have to agree!

If I had an endless amount of discretionary income, I would do this once a month (or more frequently!).

I’m happy to report that five of the guests who had not been to Braise previously do plan to have dinner there soon! Also, by word of mouth (because I can be a big mouth), another several people in my network plan to swing by for a meal.

Finally, during our dinner, our group of eight talked about taking cooking classes at Braise’s Culinary School as another fun outing. I have since learned that both Chefs Dave and Jarid are focused on this aspect of the business more so than the restaurant (which allowed other talented chefs to run the restaurant while they were graciously hosting my friends and me to a fantastic dinner!). Definitely something to explore further!

Have you ever had an in-home experience with professional chefs preparing meals? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Cheers!

Ker

Viva l’Italia – Vincenzo’s, New Jersey

It’s been a couple of weeks since I went to New Jersey to visit with a customer whom I had been wanting to meet for a long time. I’ve heard great things about this company, and I know we have opportunities to partner on some good things!

So, my colleague (and now frequent road trip buddy) and I set out to Middlesex, NJ to have a couple of meetings as well as a nice dinner up the street at Vincenzo’s with our customers.

Foolishly, I only brought my small Clemson clutch with me, which funny enough, my dear girlfriend who lives in New Jersey gave me as a gift earlier this year.

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Anyhow, the point being that I forgot to bring my blog card with me. Thank goodness for mobile phones. I called it up from the blog page itself!

I had been warned that this dinner and our dining companions were going to be fabulous, so I came hungry! In addition to fabulous table mates, our server, Carlos, was perfect. He was professional, yet was equipped with a biting sense of humor. The best of both worlds!

Carlos started us off with several appetizers: calamari (two ways: fritti and with an “Italian hot sauce” – which everyone at the table claimed was Thai sauce!), escarole and pignoli nuts, and sausage and peppers. To be honest, I was full by the time we worked our way through these delicious plates of apps!

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A mesh of apps! Calamari, sausage and peppers, and escarole. 

And then came this salad… I think it’s one of my favorite salads – ever. The tri-colore insalati. The mesh of flavors – and that cheese! Heaven on a plate.

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Tri-colore salad made of European blend, tomatoes, pepper, and parmagiano cheese.

I’d say finally, because it really should have been the final set of bites, but it wasn’t. This is the penultimate dish.

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Grilled salmon over escarole and served with roasted potatoes.

Without flinching while reading the blog card, Carlos had chosen a popular dish that evening – salmon over escarole with roasted potatoes. The salmon filet was enormous, and cooked to perfection. Those who know me know that salmon is not my favorite seafood, but when cooked well,  I really do enjoy it! I loved that there were some greens on the plate and just a few potato bites.

It was  a simple, delicious dish and light enough not to pain me after all of the appetizers!

It was then that our customer insisted that we all have dessert. What?!? How was I going to fit one more bite into my mouth and belly?

Here’s how:

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Chocolate banana pie with fresh whipped cream, strawberries and mint.

I mentioned “heaven on a plate earlier”. This banana chocolate pie is heaven on a plate served by singing angels! I could have eaten two or three slices (but I didn’t!).

Our dinner lasted a marathon four hours, but the time flew by. We did indeed have a wonderful time with our customers and we really enjoyed the ambiance, the service, and the FOOD at Vincenzo’s! I’m still working off those glorious calories.🙂

Since I’m not a huge connoisseur of salmon, I’m curious to know your favorite way to prepare it. I’d love to try more recipes at home. Please leave a comment if you have a recommendation.

Cheers!

Ker

 

 

Montreal Smoked Meat – Can’t Beat Pete’s!

Typically when I travel for business, I don’t have much time to really enjoy touring the cities I’m in. This trip was no different.

On Monday I flew from Milwaukee through Detroit to Montreal, arriving at 1:30AM. I flew out of Montreal through Detroit to Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon. I left Cleveland for Miamisburg on Wednesday afternoon and left Miamisburg to stop in Cincinnati on Thursday before flying out to Milwaukee on Thursday evening. There was not much time to see anything but the inside of airports and rental cars, folks! I was fortunate enough to have a meeting less than five miles from my parents’ house, so I did get a chance to say hi to them while staying overnight at “home”.

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At least in Montreal we had time to stop for a local lunch prior to heading back to the airport. My colleague loves Smoke Meat Pete’s because of the food, and because of the live blues music they have in the evenings.

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Since this was a lunch stop, no live music, but still plenty (I mean plenty!) of good smoked meat! (it was tough to get a photo of the stage because of the sunny glare coming in through the windows, but here it is…)

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In case you’re not familiar with it, smoked meat is a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spice, either “lean” (my preference) or regular and served as a platter or on a sandwich. I had asked the man behind the counter suggest his favorite menu item for me – whoops! He had “recently decided to become a vegetarian” (an interesting choice for working at a joint known for its meat!), so he couldn’t make a personal recommendation. Fail.

However, he did recommend the “Pete’s Special” which is a smoked meat sandwich with yellow mustard, french fries (frites) and cole slaw (salade de patates – vinegar based). It was a LOT of food, and it wasn’t healthy (evenly “lean cut”), but it was a tasty indulgence. (much like a REALLY GOOD corned beef deli sandwich is)

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The meat was thicker than I thought it would be for “lean cut”, but I forgave it because of the flavor! It’s also one of those sandwiches that has to be (at least partially) eaten with a fork.

And, those fries… so good! Real cut potatoes, perfectly fried to heavenly perfection!

As any great joint has, here is the ever-present “neon sign”!

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And, for good measure… great press for Smoke Meat Pete’s

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I’ve seen smoked meat spots in the US, but admittedly have not tried it. If you’ve had smoked meat, in Montreal, or elsewhere, did you enjoy it? How do you think it stacks up to US style deli meat? Please comment below!

Cheers!

Ker

 

Joe’s Texas BBQ – A Little Slice of Hog Heaven!

Last week, a colleague and I drove up to Green Bay, WI for a business trip. I think that trip takes the cake for the furthest I’ve gone in Wisconsin since I moved to Milwaukee almost three years ago! Admittedly, I’m woefully bad at getting in the car and just driving to see all this state has to offer. It’s just so easy to stay downtown (walking distance) when you live in the heart of such a great city! However, I’m really glad we made the trip – not just for business, but also for the delicious lunch we had!

Now, it certainly would have been more fun if the trip were to see the Green Bay Packers play, but I did get to see Lambeau Field (that’s where the expo was being held).

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Once we finished the expo, rather than eat less-than-exciting catered food after the event, we decided to use Yelp! to find a local joint for lunch before making the two hour drive home. After a bit of back & forth, we settled on Joe’s Texas BBQ.

Please let it be known that having been educated in the south, I can be a bit particular about my barbecue. Okay, I can be a snob!

The minute we drove up to the small shack and walked in the door, we knew we were likely in for a real treat! The smell was heavenly! Like, stop in your tracks and just take in the aroma of barbecued meet and sauce!

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This is a no-frills place. A whiteboard menu hangs on a wall across from the door and items are erased when out of stock for the day .

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A pleasant woman stands behind the counter waiting to take your order and then checks with the chef to ensure your items are still available. Tables with mismatched chairs adorn the dining room, and a table full of silverware, napkins and various sauces sits in the corner.

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After perusing the menu and considering brisket versus pork, I decided I couldn’t pass up the pulled pork plate and the jalapeno cornbread!

Instantly, the lovely woman walked to the whiteboard and erased “pulled pork” – I had ordered the last of it! Thank goodness nobody had snuck in line in front of me!

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My road trip partner, Tyler, ordered the brisket and our other colleague, Mark (who met us in GB) tried the rib tips. Both thoroughly enjoyed their meals, although according to my colleague Mark, the tips were a bit of work to avoid the bone! He said that the flavor was worth it though!

From my perspective, the meat was so tender and tasty! I tried both the mild and spicy sauces, and neither disappointed. Although the jalapeno cornbread was dense, it was also full of flavor and delicious! I cleaned that huge plate of food! No problem.

It’s no wonder Joe’s Texas BBQ makes this claim:

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And they have several awards to back up that claim!

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If I ever find myself back in Green Bay, Joe’s Texas BBQ is a stop I’d gladly make. I know for certain I will leave with a full belly!

2 Tall Sushi

It was a week ago tonight that I drove into a nearby and charming neighborhood in an area of Milwaukee outside of my typical 3 mile radius to join some friends for a new dining experience. My friends Mike and Ericka purchased an in-home six-course sushi dinner for eight people at Next Act Theatre’s Bravo event last summer, and they were kind enough to invite me to join in on the fun.

Of course,  I had to have a little fun with the theme!

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The dinner would be prepared and served by “2 Tall Sushi” – a team of wonderful folks that offer up dining experiences to raise money for non-profit and charitable organizations.  They each have their day jobs, but enjoy giving back to the community by sharing their talents in the kitchen!

We started off with small talk, meeting new friends, and sipping on various pre-dinner drinks.

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Then, as we sat down at a beautifully dressed table, we were served edamame, both standard style and marinated (yum!). An exquisite asparagus dish followed. Such amazing flavor! And, then…Miso soup (which will become my new go-to for a healthy, yet filling dish).

I may not get the exact order of the evening correct – it’s been a full week, friends!😉 But, I think the tempura came next. Absolutely delicious broccoli, shrimp and more – lightly battered to perfection!

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After that, the gluttony began (at least for me – I don’t turn down sushi or maki!).

First, please allow me to share this photo of my friend Mike (not the host Mike, but the fellow guest Mike)…

12593967_10207199226433019_6295581923090998342_oWithout exception, all of the diners’ tastebuds, sinuses, and tear ducts were surprised by the “hidden” wasabi in the sushi that was served up prior to the maki. As we would quickly discover, our chefs added wasabi between the seafood and the rice.

As I always do, unknowingly, I loaded up my sushi with wasabi (on top of the seafood), and took a big bite. And…WOW! I managed it, but not without serious clearing of my sinuses! (our li’l secret: I liked it!)

In my haste to exchange my dying phone for a new one, I think I accidentally lost the sushi pics. Sorry, folks! Aside from the hidden wasabi, they looked like traditional salmon and tuna sushi.

Following this sushi course, our servers allowed us to have a nice pause for lovely cup of tea.

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And, then came the maki…  Spicy tuna, rainbow roll, spider maki, and Unagi (with double servings of a few of these – because they were THAT GOOD!).

By this time, we were all feeling satisfied and full. The only dish left… You guessed it – dessert! Green tea ice cream!

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After dessert, we chatted, exchanged stories, laughed (there is likely a sitcom coming out within a few years that I will key y’all into – MUST SEE TV based on the stories told over this dinner), and just had a great time enjoying the company!

Y’all KNOW I had a good time when I didn’t even begin to head home until after 9:30PM on a Sunday night. I’m lame, and I don’t stay up that late!

Who could leave when the food was so excellent, the company was both lovely and hilarious, and the cause was such a good one?!?

Here’s to supporting the arts in Milwaukee (thank you, 2 Tall Sushi!), and to enjoying quality time (and really good food) with great folks!

Cheers!

Ker

 

 

 

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