At Inspired Occasions we are constantly searching for new and innovative dishes to wow and amaze our client's and their guests.
This website is designed to take you on a journey by bringing you into our kitchens to observe our culinary creative process from conception to final presentation.
As we create each new dish we will define our inspiration, discuss challenges, present our solutions and post some great pictures along the way.
So join us in the Inspired Occasions Research and Development Test Kitchen for some amazing new dishes! I guarantee an amazing journey!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Preservationist Cuisine

It’s the holidays, the time of year when we all gather together with our loved ones in the spirit of love and family while creating the most stressful situation since the Cuban missile crisis!  Did you brine the turkey?  Where are the eggs and why aren’t they Deviled?!  Who made the pie; wait was I supposed to make the pie?!  When will you people leave me alone??!! 

As the last piece of dessert is served all the stress melts away and we remember why we invited all these people over in the first place.  But after all the cooking we have been doing leading up to and including the holidays we have no intention of stepping back into the heat for the next 48 hours.  And here is where we at LLIO have revitalized some foregone classics to shake up your post-holiday traditions!

I love the old world mindset of preparing for the future.  Back in my grandmothers day nothing went to waste and the bounty of summer was preserved for the lean winter times.  Her canned green beans, beets, pickles and apple butter brought us warmth and joy while the howl of winter was trying to force its way inside. 

Her inspirations led to our creation of some amazing dishes, and to start us of why not an appetizer of smoked duck breast and leg on a wild rice pancake with cranberry and plum chutney.  Here we used a cupboard staple of wild rice mixed with carrots, celery and onions and dried thyme from our garden to create a small but flavorful vessel.  The duck legs and thighs were shredded and acted as a base for our chutney while a perfectly smoked medium rare duck breast was placed on top.  Every bite was a journey of smoke and sweet mixed with fat and earthiness.  The buttery duck melted in your mouth while resting on the “al dente” texture of the pancake.  The flavors of the season in every bite.

With hors d’oeuvres behind us we now focus on the lead, and the star of my preservationist meal is the terrine.  These beautiful and artistic expressions of meat and vegetables sealed away in a shimmering coat of natural gelatin.  This dish was originally created as the perfect meal for French laborers containing everything they needed for a hard day’s work in a self-contained package.  Since its humble roots the terrine evolved to the heights of cuisine only to be discarded by modern chefs moving away from intricate and labor intense productions.  Till now.

Here we have the simple to the complex on display.  Our first dish is a classic made modern terrine of head cheese. This traditional dish was taken to another level by layering the meat with feta cheese, chives, parsley and preserved lemon.  The meat was so flavorful and tender yielding to the fork and coating your lips in rich gelatin.  The hits of herbal parsley and chive were popped by the salty bite of the preserved lemon cutting through the richness of the meat.  A slice of this and a strong beer will set even the most stressful days at ease.

But if you are in the mood for a dish to satisfy and impress those lingering relatives consider serving our new brandied duck breast, pistachio and roasted grape mustardo terrine wrapped in prosciutto.  The terrine was made with pork and veal, with a layer of brandy marinated duck breasts, crushed pistachios and our home made grape mustardo.  The dish was then wrapped in prosciutto like a beautiful Christmas present ready for the table.  The terrine was sliced and served on an arugula and spinach salad with crushed pistachios, shaved black Spanish radish, and drizzled with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.  The salad was finished with a spoonful of grape mustardo to enhance and compliment the entire dish.  Earthy, sweet, salty and rich, a beautiful and tasty way to celebrate during this holiday season.

Keeping an eye on our past helps us to create a better future, and our future is delicious. Stay tuned for more inspired dishes from Lon Lane's Inspired Occasions Research and Development Department!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Colors of Winter

Winter, nature’s blah period.  Winter time in the Midwest always means one of two things; piles of snow that melt during the warm days then freeze at night leaving the city covered in an ever increasing ice shell, or a grey and boring environment where even the birds look bored.  This year we unfortunately have the latter. 

This type of season has always bummed me out, the calendar says winter but without the snow and cold…. It’s just a long fall without the beautiful foliage.  And fall is not the time for my classic winter weather dishes of Coq au Vin, Shepherd’s pie, and my mother’s hearty beef stew.  No this drab, warm and colorless season is in need of some new classics, and I have just the thing.

While the mercury may not be dropping the wind outside still carries enough of a chill for us to desire something warm.  And when I say warm I mean a dish that removes the goose bumps from your arms and the cold in your chest with every bite.

Our new Tuscan Bread Casserole layered with hearty rainbow chard, wild boar sausage, crisp pancetta, rich vegetable stock, and parmesan and gruyere cheese is just the cure.  We toasted thick slices of a locally made whole wheat sourdough bread, and layered it in a dish with sautéed rainbow chard spiked with hints of rosemary, lemon zest and a pinch of anchovies for body.

Before going into the oven we poured the vegetable stock all over the dish.  As our casserole baked the bread soaked up the liquid causing it to rise like a soufflé becoming lighter while the edges became golden brown and crispy.  Every spoonful was a “mid winter’s night flavor journey”;  the wild boar sausage burst with the flavors of game and Christmas, while the hearty greens were lightened and enhanced by the bright bite of the lemon, while texturally you were treated to a custardy smooth interior and flavorful toasty edges.  A perfect bite for any season!
But you can’t live all winter long on hearty greens, strong cheeses, and good breads.  You need to diversify and lighten things up to truly appreciate all the flavors of the season.  So as a perfect counter balance to our Tuscan casserole we created a light, slightly sweet and every so delicate salad of Arugula, shaved red onion, Fuyu persimmons, toasted pumpkin seeds and a fresh pomegranate vinaigrette.  The sweetness of the persimmons was cut by the sharpness of the shaved onion, and the salted and roasted pumpkin seeds created the perfect texture to round out the dish.  Adding a generous medallion of blue goat cheese will create yet another layer of intense savory flavors and creamy texture.  Cold or hot, rain or shine this salad is for you!

Winter time to me has another meaning, crisps and cobblers.  These classic dishes combine everything we love and need on cold nights. They are sweet, bubbly and always come paired with ice cream!  Keeping along my theme to brighten my winter culinary landscape we created a Persimmon, apple and pear crisp with a savory and sweet pistachio topping.  The combination of sweet flavors with three very distinct textures combined with the crisp topping prepared with salty pistachios made for a spoon full of happiness with every bite.  The crisp topping was given an added bonus with fresh orange zest creating a little holiday “taste bud surprise” on every spoonful. 

Special thanks my latest Test Dinner Crew and all pictures in this article are courtesy of

Stay tuned for more inspired dishes from Lon Lane's Inspired Occasions Research and Development Department!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Last Harvest

The fall, a wondeful time of the year where all the leaves change color, the oppressive heat of the summer fades into memory, our culinary direction turns towards hearier fare and the cold breeze of winter can be seen over the horizon. But fall has one last treatsure for us before we dive into the long cold, a bountiful late season harvest of hearty greens and vegetables from the gardens!

Yes this year I have been blessed with a mountain of green and semi ripe cherry tomatoes, thick and beautiful heads of bok choy, and swiss chard so deep green you can lose yourself into the leaves.  These colors and flavors were my inspiration to roll down my sleeves and face the cold to harvest some creative dishes.

I know we recently talked about pumpkin here but we would be doing a great disservice to you readers if we didn’t present you with our newest pumpkin treat!  Here we have a roasted pumpkin hummus served with grilled sage pita.  The roasted pumpkin adds a body and some sweetness to the hummus while not at all reminiscent of your mothers pumpkin pie!  The earthy and rich flavor is complimented by the char and hints of sage from the grilled pita.  A perfect bite every time!

When it came to this next dish, our discovery process was a bit backwards.  When we harvested everything we could form our garden, before the frost, we ended up with pounds of green sun gold tomatoes.  Well we did the only natural thing, we pickled them all!  We made a simple rice wine pickling liquid with chili’s and herbs, pickled the tomatoes and gave them a try a few days later.  They were so good we tried coming up with new ideas on how to serve them, and that’s when it came to us.  We made a pureed tomato cognac soup, served with a grilled cheese crouton and pickled tomato skewer.  The velvety smooth soup with just a touch of cream was the perfect foil for the bright acidity of the tomatoes while the grilled cheese crouton added a beautiful texture and a bit of tasteful whimsy.

Our next dish is an example of on the spot inspiration.  We make an amazing marinated vegetable salad, tossed in a fine herbs and caper vinaigrette.  I love this dressing and so the last time we made the salad I kept some of the vinaigrette back, added a little extra virgin olive oil and fresh orange juice, and my new favorite salad.  This salad has the last of our ripe heirloom tomatoes, tossed with freshly sliced oranges, feta, shaved red onion, and baby arugula.  The sweetness of the oranges and the tomatoes played delicately with the acidity of the dressing and the salty crumbly texture of the feta while the peppery bite of the arugula evened out the entire dish. Bright and refreshing but still some body behind every bite.

One of my favorite crops this year has been our baby bok choy.  They are growing into perfect tight little bulbs packing so much flavor and color.  We harvest a few heads and developed this next taste experience, grilled bok choy risotto with fresh lemon and topped with julienned red radish.  We started this dish like a standard risotto, but instead of using just wine to start the rice we used a combination of chardonnay and mirin, a sweet rice wine.  As the rice was cooking we grilled the bok choy then finely sliced some of the heads down.  Right as the rice was almost finished we gently stirred in the grilled bok choy, lemon zest, a little shaved parmesan and a touch of butter.  The dish was a beautiful contrast of bright green and pure white with little bits of red from the radish garnishing the top.  Each bite was refreshing and light, with the lemon and mirin bringing brightness to the deep flavor of the bok choy while the raw radish added a slight hint of heat.

As we come upon winter our starches tend to become heavier and less creative.  Potatoes of all different varieties and styles show up on our tables with as much enthusiasm as a kid for candy the morning after Halloween.  So at LLIO we want to get away from the classic potato side dishes and come up with new and exciting options!  we did just that, and then some, for this dish with lentils and rainbow swiss chard.  Here we have my new go to dish, a seared filet of salmon set on a bed of orange and black lentils tossed with roasted tomatoes, and swiss chard sautéed with a touch of garlic, chili’s and lemon.  The fish is then dressed with a caramelized fennel brown butter sauce.  I just want to let all of that sink in, don’t worry I will wait.  

Each bite was an exciting journey down flavor town road, with the earthy body of the lentils mixed with the sweet roasted tomatoes then brightened and darkened by the sautéed chard was taken to another level by the delicate seared salmon.  The dark and nutty brown butter sauce carried a sweetness and body from the caramelized fennel draped over the salmon highlighting the fish with a dainty shine.

Winter is coming, but with the last of the harvest comes new and exciting inspiration for the season.   Stay tuned for more inspired dishes from Lon Lane's Inspired Occasions Research and Development Department!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Culinary Ambasadors

We are going to do something a little different this week on Culinary R and D.  On Sunday I am heading to the great North East for a Culinary Learning Journey through New England!  I will be doing daily updates on the Culinary R and D facebook page with food pictures and ideas on new dishes to create back at Inspired Occasions.  Sooo this week I am going back in time and writing about an extraordinary experience Lon and I took part in last spring.  Enjoy!!

Every once in a while you get a chance to really shine. Not just for yourself or those around you, but for an entire city! That was the opportunity my dad and I had last spring at the Wigwam Resort in Phoenix Arizona.

A little bit of background here; every year the top rail freight carriers convene for an amazing four day conference. This year there were over 1000 of the top rail executives and their largest clients gathered together on the fertile oasis of the Wigwam Resort. During the conference, each carrier would host one or more event- “Proms” as the event planners called them, to entertain and show their appreciation to their customers and executives. 

Kansas City Southern didn’t want to go with the flow this year. They wanted to do something different that represented their spirit of ingenuity and uniqueness. 

Several months before the conference KCS approached us to do something special, something intimate, different and exciting.  We were tasked with creating an evening that would stand out from all the other parties.  Something that would keep people talking. What could be more exciting than a father - son chef’s demonstration dinner!

After several weeks of planning with the Wigwam Event and Culinary staff, Lon and I flew to Phoenix and immediately started prepping with the Wigwam chefs for the dinner. 

It was an amazing menu showcasing the best of the south west, with a flourish of Midwest flair. And for each course, Lon and I were walking the diners through the creation process. Part of the show was providing additional tips, tricks, and secrets to help make them a culinary success at home.  The rest of the show was pure entertainment!

We started with a beautiful Lobster Ceviche made with coconut milk and fresh chilies served on fried plantain chips.  The sweet coconut milk added a rich yet slightly creamy component to perfectly balance the subtle lobster. 

Next, a personal favorite of mine, Baby Greens, Arugula, and Watercress with a Sautéed Goat Cheese Medallion, Asian pears, Spiced Pepitas, and drizzled with a Prickly Pear Vinaigrette! 

Then we showcased the big boys, Balsamic Glazed Pan Seared Sea Bass on a bed of Grilled Corn relish with Grilled Fennel and fresh Cherry Tomatoes followed by fork tender Zinfandel Braised Short Ribs with a Parsnip and Potato Puree. Sautéed King Trumpet Mushrooms and Sautéed Patty Pan Squash completed the entrée presentation. 

The Trio dessert was a perfect way to end the meal, Brandy Snap Cookie Basket with Fresh Berries, Our signature Chocolate Habanera and Lime Ice Cream and Mini Lemon Tarts with Blueberry Tarragon Compote.
The dinner was amazing; guests were laughing, joking, clapping and enjoying every second of the Culinary Show. We had the opportunity to present a culinary side of Kansas City to people from all over the nation that night, and repeatedly we heard, “That was the best meal I have ever had!” 

Lon and I were so honored to demonstrate to the guests of Kansas City Southern Railroad that Kansas City is so much more than BBQ.  We have some of the most talented and creative people in the nation serving up the best drinks, food and entertainment rooted firmly in our fantastic city. Kansas City is the best kept secret in the Nation, and, as “Culinary Ambassadors”, we are doing our best to spread the word!

Stay tuned for more inspired dishes from Lon Lane's Inspired Occasions Research and Development Department!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Great Pumpkin

Pie, Jack-O-Lanterns, and Halloween costumes for babies.  During my childhood these were the reasons for pumpkins existence.  In fact outside of my grandmother’s famous pumpkin pie at thanksgiving, I really could care less about this strange squash.  But I am a little older, a little wiser I hope, and ready to re-evaluate the culinary choices I made in my youth.   As I have discovered, brussel sprouts are delicious, Eggplant has more uses than fried, and pumpkin is not just for pie!

I wanted to go as far outside of my norm as possible with this article.  I wanted to find and develop new dishes to capitalize on pumpkins sweet and less understood savory side.  And like all good development days I started with the most important meal of the day, breakfast.  Here we have our soon to be famous Pumpkin Crème Brule French Toast with Caramelized Pecans and topped with a Chai Whipped Cream.  We first make a rich brown sugar syrup with butter, poured   this into the bottom of the casserole dish, and then shingled sliced challah bread into the dish.  We whipped some pureed pumpkin into our custard along with vanilla, sugar and a little triple sec.  The custard was poured over the bread, left to sit for overnight, then baked till puffy and golden.  We topped this with a sprinkling of caramelized pecans and a healthy dollop of our house made chai whipped cream.  The custardy smooth bread yielded to the fork while the sweet crunchy pecans popped with each bite.  The sweet and spiced chai whipped cream added the final kick to take this dish over the top!

With a satisfying breakfast behind me I set my mind to lunch.  I have always found that squashes and heat worked so well together, and pumpkin demands a dark and spicy heat!  With this in mind I set about making my favorite lunch time favorite, Pizza!  We sautéed some homemade sage sausage till it was golden brown and crumbly, then we sweated some diced red onion and garlic in the rendered fat.  To this we added some chipotle peppers in adobo and pureed pumpkin.  We lightly seasoned this with some salt, pepper, homemade pumpkin pie spice, a pinch of sugar, and a dash of cayenne.  We layered this spicy sauce with our crumbled sausage and a mixture of shaved fontina and gruyere cheese.  The crust was crispy and delightful, with the spicy thick sauce which melted perfectly with the pungent creamy cheeses.  The sage in the sausage added the special final touch to turn this pizza into a rich and satisfying meal.

Lunch over, and as the Italian say, “Hurry and finish your lunch, we are late for dinner.” Since I was a small child I have loved mac and cheese.  Loved, loved like the wind, loved so much I would eat it for every meal of the day hot or cold, loved like Bill Cosby loves puddin pops, you know I loved it!  as I grew my tastes changed.   Sure I will still get down on the blue box every now and again, and so have my ideas of what all can make up your mac.  Mac is a beautiful cold weather comfort food; it makes you feel good and happy, just like beer.  So why not combine them?  Here we took some pumpkin, cream and our local Boulevard Pale Ale, mixed with some sautéed red onion, homemade pancetta and gruyere cheese. We seasoned all this with a few dashes of local honey, a little pumpkin pie spice a dash of cayenne.  The sauce turned a deep orange color and became silky and smooth carrying all the flavors in a delicate symphony of taste with each player in perfect harmony.  The crisp chunks of pancetta added body and spice to each spoonful.

But what meal or day is complete without something sweet for dessert?  But we have all had pumpkin pie, mouse, cake and dip…. Boring and so last week.  Why not mix two great things, dessert and an after dinner drink!  Introducing our Pumpkin Ale float with house crafted salted caramel ice cream!  We used a Schlafly pumpkin ale, from St. Louis Missouri, to bring a rich pumpkin kiss right off the bat.  The flavor was a trip through every taste bud starting with the light bitter from the beer and quickly working its way to the pumpkin spice and then finishes creamy and sweet from the ice cream.  A perfect mix of flavors and textures creating a perfect drink that leaves you begging for another glass! 
Stay tuned for more inspired dishes from Lon Lane's Inspired Occasions Research and Development Department!