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!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summertime Osso Buco

When I think Osso Buco my mind immediately goes to the Italian classic done Milanese style.  The rich and unctuous meat slowly braised in a deeply rich broth of wine, stock and tomatoes.  The meat yields to the barest pressure of your fork while sauce mixes with the golden saffron risotto underneath.  Just writing this makes me dream of cold nights in Italy warming my soul with meat and wine. 

But that’s just the problem, this amazing dish is a staple of the winter, where you need the heavy and rich to take the chill off your skin and keep you warm on your journey home.  But what are we, the devotees to low and slow braised proteins, supposed to do during the hot summer months?  I thought I would never find the answer until the answer found me. 

One of our purveyors brought over some samples of this new product, a 4 inch cut pork osso buco, and the gears in my head started spinning.  Pork is much lighter than beef, takes very well to low and slow braises, and contains all of that lovely porky goodness that sends me over the edge.  But how was I to prepare them?  The classic Italian way with heavy flavors of red wine and beef stock would not do.  No, to make this right we needed to travel outside of the norm and head to the south of France.

I took a page from my regional pork belly post and went with a Provencal flavor profile for this cut of pork.  I needed to concoct my flavor profiles with a feathers touch.  Not to many heavy flavors to overwhelm the pork, but not to light that the dish falls flat. 

I started by seasoning the shanks with a little salt and then let them sit for just long enough for the salt to pull out some of the surface proteins to promote caramelization.  Then I seared them in a glorious combination of pancetta and bacon fat, pancetta for the bouquet and bacon for its smoky salty goodness.  Then I deglazed the pan with celery and onions sautéed till lightly golden.  The herbs, tarragon, parsley, rosemary and chives were then introduced to party so the heat could bring out all of their floral flavors.  Once the pan started smelling like the south of France in spring, I poured in lemon juice, chicken stock and a dry white chardonnay.   The pork was added back to the pan; the ethereal broth was heated back to a boil and then placed in the oven for 3 hours. 

The meat, the meat…. I umm sorry I was lost in the memory of that melty succulent pork.  The meat was tender as pulled pork with the body and substance of the best pork roast.  The sauce was mixed with a little brown sugar and reduced to gravy that should have been poured in a snifter and enjoyed like a fine cognac.

A fine main dish needs a great side, and here I present the pork with some fresh picked sautéed dandelion greens topped with bright lemon zest.  The bitterness of the greens played perfectly with the sweet and tanginess of the pork and sauce.  But if you are looking for a more substantial side try our apricot whole grain mustard polenta made with stone-ground apricot mustard, shaved parmesan, and rich chicken stock.  The polenta turns this dish into an instant fall classic.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Devotion or Obsession??

Everyone, foodies and non-foodies alike, has one food that they treasure.  One dish that always makes them either happy, nostalgic, excited or all three!  This dish is protected like a younger sibling on the school yard, and when you see people abusing it the situation turns ugly.  This is a tale of my treasured dish, risotto and the lengths people go to protect their favorite food.

Several years ago I spent a semester abroad in Florence, Italy, studying at the Apicius Culinary Center.  Now Italy is known for many things, living inexpensively is not one of them.  As the months went on my bank roll became lighter and lighter my culinary options became limited.  I started looking for cheap items that could stretch the remaining Euros I had left, while still leaving me satisfied enough to enjoy the nightlife(this is a tale of risotto not my poor priority choices).  Then one day our teacher taught us a classic dish, osso buco Milanese, and gave me the best present of the semester! 

I don’t like to jump to assumptions but everyone in that class must have been extreamly lazy, stoned or drunk to be as bad as they were.  My partner and I, mostly me because he couldn’t figure out how to cut onions without slicing the tip of his finger off, made a perfect risotto while everyone else’s looked sad and goopy.  Needless to say the teacher loved me and at the end of the class that day I asked if I could take some of the raw rice back home to “practice my technique”.  She gave me a 5 kilo bag, about 11 pounds!!!

Since I lived right next to the market, and spoke just enough Italian at the time, I begged all the butchers for bones.  Fish bones, chicken bones, beef bones, any animal they had I was asking for the bones.  I would take them home, caramelize them in several skillets then make rich stocks.  Wine was always plentiful and cheap, and granna padano cost almost nothing.  I spent the last few weeks of my adventure abroad living on hot bowls of that beautiful rice, and my love affair became a lifelong commitment.  Now I have a full garden of supplies, and risotto is my canvas upon which I paint the bounty of spring.

This first dish is inspired by a classic, Champagne risotto with julienned zucchini and clams with fresh squash blossoms.  The champagne gives the dish a lightness and crisp flavor, accentuating the sweet clams and the floral zucchini.  The fresh clams are first cooked in the stock used to make the rice then place right on top of the plate while the zucchini is stirred in right as I pulled the pot off of the stove.  This left a beautiful sea note throughout the dish and a nice contrast of textures between the al dente rice and the semi crisp zucchini.

My next dish was inspired by my dad and his love of all things beet.  It’s a white wine risotto with roasted golden beets, house pickled beets, fresh tarragon and thyme.  The combination of the sweet pickled beet against the roasted caramelized goodness of the beet provided a wonderful mix of both flavors and textures.  The earthy fresh thyme complimented the light anise of the tarragon to enlighten each grain.  Then to really take this over the edge we topped it with a balsamic glaze seared sea scallop and a drizzle of balsamic syrup.

This dish is a tribute to my grandfather and the most amazing sweet corn he used to grow on the farm every year.  I made a sweet corn and oven roasted tomato risotto topped with sautéed fresh sweet corn and grape tomatoes.  I used champagne for this as well because I didn’t want a powerful wine flavor fighting with the subtle flavor of the corn while still providing the acidity required.  Each kernel burst with a sweet flavor and the tomatoes brought a dark caramelized flavor for body.  It was a hearty yet light tale of the garden in spring.

Oh and about the lengths some people go to protect their beloved dishes I introduce my buddy, let’s call him Joe.  Joe is an amazing cook, giant smart ass, and fiercely loyal.  We were both working at this Italian restaurant and Joe was training me on the sauté line.  As he was explaining how to make the risotto the executive chef came in and stopped him. “No, we don’t finish the dish with stock we use cream.  How else do you think it gets creamy?”  Joe looked at him right in the eye then back to me.  “If you put cream in that rizzo I will find and kill your children.”  Then under, his breath loud enough for both of us to hear, he mumbled, ”Idiot.  To some people you just don’t mess with their dish.

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

Friday, May 18, 2012

Growing some Happiness

This is my garden.  This is where I spend several hours every day, watering, weeding, planting and harvesting.  This is both a link to my past and a gateway to my future.  This is my garden.

Four years ago my mother and I took on the task of cleaning up the vacant lot next to Inspired Occasions, turning weed and clover filled space into a lush collection of raised bed gardens and tomato cages.  This year we are growing 24 different variety of heirloom tomatoes, 6 different kinds of spicy peppers, Japanese eggplants, golden and purple raspberries, rhubarb, beets, carrots, swiss chard, blueberries, patty pan squash, zucchini, okra, 5 different kinds of radishes, salsify and a series of herbs thriving in the warm spring sun.
This project has become a labor of love for both my mother and I because the task became personal on so many levels.  My mother and I would laugh as we planned out the beds, talking about how grandpa would be so proud of us and spouted off a few of his more memorable quotes and carpentry tips.  As we labored in the hot sun building the beds she would regale me with tales of the farm from when she was a little girl, or even stories of my grandpa when he was young. 

As we started filling the beds, and planting all of the herbs and vegetables, we would repeat pearls of wisdom my grandmother told us.  I shared stories of summers helping my grandmother in her big garden on the farm weed and harvest all of her crops.  I had a nasty habit of eating the radishes and green beans faster than she could pick them. 

Every spring the garden becomes a large part of my life, because it’s not just a bunch of plants, it’s a link to my past and a constant reminder of loved ones gone and the times we spent together.

The first harvest of the year yielded a massive mound of plump french and red radishes and sweet swiss chard.  While I love radishes I had never thought of a use for the tops, till now!  I made a tasty and delicate radish top soup with creme fraiche, slice of fresh radish and diced cucumber.  The soup was cool and delicate while still having almost a nettle bite, perfect for a hot spring day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Juice Mania

I am going to come right out and say it, I Juice!  I sometimes juice twice a day or more!  When I started juicing I was a little worried but I got hooked on the feeling.  That’s right folks; I am talking about fruit and vegetable juicing!

A couple months ago my roommate and I watched a movie that sparked a curiosity and sent me on a crazy and intense journey.  The movie was, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”, and in this movie a fat Australian man came to America and filmed himself on a 60 day juice only fast.  During his adventure he met up with a truck driver that decided to join him and together the two of them became inspirations to hundreds. 

The Australian, Joe Cross, ended up losing 80 pounds and stopped taking all of his medication.  The truck driver, Phil Staples, lost an amazing 200 pounds!!  So I began thinking, “I could totally do a 10 day fast.” And that’s where the problem began. 

I went to work the next day and told everyone at work about this juice fast and my desire to do a simple 10 day fast, and they all wanted in.  I was shocked, we all were about to spend 10 days with no solid foods while being surrounded by food all day long!  This would become a horrible test of all of our will power.

These are the 5 people involved in this adventure, Catering Chef Chris, our Executive Chef Zelda, Event Specialists Jeff and Alisa, and Myself.  And what are all of those veggies and fruits in front of us?  Why they are what we will be feasting on for the next ten days.  You are looking at over 100# of veggies that will be turned into 25 gallons of juice. 

Day 1 and 2:  To say this was hard is an understatement.  I was watching the food network like starved wolf stares at an open chicken coop.  I kept a pen a paper next to my chair and for two hours I just jotted down food and beverage ideas, some awesome and some delusional. 
Day 3: I call this the “Oh no you didn’t” day.   Tempers were hot, kind words were in short supply and every one of us was on edge.  I do believe this day each of us snapped at least once at our fellow employees.  Also our pastry chef Ethel decided this day would be a fine day to make fried chicken and gravy…..

Day 5-6: And then there were four, one of ours dropped off the island and landed in a chicken sandwich.  Now it’s down to the four of us to complete this task. 

Day 7-10:   We finished, feeling much better, several pounds lighter and feeling goooood.  All together we lost an average of 9 pounds.  The girls lost around 4-5 pounds while the fellas lost an average of 11.5 pounds.  The ladies were not happy. 

I must say, I fell in love with this process.  The feeling you get from those pure veggies and fruit was unbelievable.  My favorite drink was my morning elixir of carrots, ginger, granny smith apples, beets and pineapple.  You could feel the beet giving you a straight shot of energy that pushed us through the worst morning drudges. 

I plan to incorporate juicing into my everyday life and I hope you give these drinks a chance, might just change your life!

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