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, July 24, 2012

Smoke'n Summer

Is there a symbol of the summer?  Is it a shimmering pool surface about to be broken by the wild screaming cannonballs of children, or a cold glass of ice tea sweating in your warm hand?  My summer always starts with an ice cold margarita and ends with some sweet and smoky goodness from my grill.

Every one of my summers has had a theme.  Whether it is a song that we played all the time, a drink we always made or an activity we always were participating in, every summer has been unique.  Last summer was my "M" summer, Margaritas, Mojitos, and Mint Juleps.  My roommate and I would throw pool parties every Friday, Fiesta Friday if you will, and have all the components for the drinks laid out across our bar.  For those with limited mixology training we had recipes hanging on the wall.  I would make beef and chicken tacos with all the toppings, queso fresco, pickled jalapenos, guacamole, salsa, fresh flour and corn tortillas.  We would drink, swim and eat till the sun went down then do it all again next week.

This summer's theme is centered around my grill.  I wanted to take some classic dishes and twist them into something new.  Isn't that what it's all about?

The first creation actually came about because of one of my co-workers named Jessie.  Jessie loves chicken.  I cannot say that enough, that boy eats chicken every single day!  Whether it's fried, grilled, smoked, or baked he is eatin' him some chicken!  So one day he comes up to me with a case of chicken leg quarters and told me to do something new to them, something that he has never had before.  Challenge accepted.  We rubbed the legs down with a spiced chamoula rub (cayenne, paprika, and cumin) mixed with our good friend David Peaks seasoning salt, (Salt, rosemary, pepper, onion powder, granulated garlic, and thyme) then added a bit of brown sugar to sweeten the pot.  We then smoked the chicken for four hours low and slow, then as they walked out of the smoked we placed them on a hot grill just to crispen the skin and a nice char to the spices.  After the grill we drizzled the chicken with extra virgin olive oil, chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice.  The smoke and the heat were in perfect harmony while the light fresh flavor of the lime and cilantro kept the flavor roller coaster rolling!  Jessie was pleased, so much so that he bought another case of leg quarters and asked me to do the whole case!

This one’s for all the gluten free people out there, taco pasta!  Arrowhead meat company now sells corn pasta that tastes very much like a corn tortilla.  So that got us all thinking, why couldn't we take a traditional street taco and create a fun and different pasta?!  We started with a wonderful herbed olive oil marinated tenderloin taco with sautéed red onions tossed with lime juice and fresh cilantro.  We marinated the tenderloin overnight a mixture of sautéd garlic, red chili flake, oregano, black pepper, and a pinch of salt in olive oil.  Then it was grilled adding bits of char and smoke to the meat.  We tossed the meat and onions with the corn pasta then topped everything with queso fresco and some more fresh cilantro.  The pasta was the perfect stand in for the traditional corn tortilla, adding both a rich corn flavor and a wonderful pasta texture.  This might become my new summer treat!

But how can we all celebrate summer without a cool refreshing beverage to help beat the heat!  So we decided to take on of our favorites, the margarita, and make it a bit more interesting.  Introducing the Grilled and Smoked Margarita.  We started by smoking the salt, this added a fun and deep dimension to the salt.  To get the flavor of the grill all the way through this cocktail we grilled limes and used the juice in the margarita mix.  The margarita is then complete with a smoked salt rim and a grilled lime wedge garnish.  Perfect for those hot summer days and nights!  Cheers!

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

The patty pan squash is niether a patty nor a pan, discuss.

One summer, when I was young, my grandmother planted two zucchini plants.  I showed up one day to find her exhausted, sitting in her kitchen chair, staring at rows upon rows of glass jars.

"It just won’t stop!  Every day I go out there and pick all that I can see and the next day there are a dozen more the size of my arm!"

She spent that summer picking and canning every single zucchini amounting to a grand total of 120 pints of zucchini relish, 20 pints of zucchini pickles, and 12 loaves of zucchini bread.  I know, she was a machine!

This year my garden has blessed us with an almost never ending bounty.  Every morning I harvest every vegetable I can find, yet the next morning I come across a half dozen more that I had over looked.  So what do I do with this overflowing horn of plenty ?  Well, I believe the correct term, in the parlance of our time, is "get a little crazy".

Zucchini and squash have become the “Beige” of the gourd family.  They are so common in today’s markets, with their year round availability; most people don't even notice them anymore.  But in our garden they take center stage on this fun and exciting dish for summer, “Garden Fettuccine” with goat cheese and roasted tomatoes. 

We sliced the squash and zucchini on the mandolin for perfectly uniform "noodles", then sautéed them in extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh cracked black pepper. The noodles were then tossed with a sauce made from fresh vegetable stock, white wine, thyme, garlic, shallot, red chili flake and fresh lemon zest.  When plating, we positioned them side by side then brought the colorful duo together with a goat cheese medallion topped with hot roasted cherry tomatoes straight from the garden.    The combination of textures and flavors were outstanding, the goat cheese medallion acted like an egg yolk melting into the noodles creating a silky smooth sauce.  The earthy notes of thyme paired with garlic and shallot danced ever so delicately with the acid of the white wine and lemon zest all set off with the slight lingering heat of the red chili flakes.  Perfect for these hot days of summer.

But what summer plate up would be complete without something from the grill?  Well I couldn't agree with you more, so here is our new summer classic; grilled patty pan squash topped with Lebanese eggplant with basil and fresh tomatoes, goat cheese and shaved parmesan.  The patty pan squashes we are growing grew a little bit bigger than we ever anticipated.  But with their size they never lost the sweet squash flavor only to be accentuated by the intense heat of the grill.  The eggplant was made using Ichiban Japanese eggplants freshly picked from the garden, mixed with sautéed mushrooms, onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes, brown sugar and fresh basil.  The combination of sweet and savory, herbal and cheesy, perfectly played with the sweet and savory crunch of the grilled patty pan.

But, I would be remiss if I did not discuss my lost favorite, okra.  Okra has been a favorite vegetable of mine ever since Lamberts Cafe doled them out by the buckets to me while I waited to catch a hot “throwed” roll.  But this noble plant of African origin deserves so much more than just a quick batter and fry.  No this glorious pod deserves its time in the lime light, a chance to be more than another fried snack at the forgotten foods buffet.  So we created this treat, roasted red okra spoon bread!  Roasting the okra pods brings out all of the wonderful herbal aromas and nutty flavors of the plant while eliminating the slime so feared by okraphobics.  The pods were then diced and stirred into a soft spoon bread batter made with rich vegetable stock, shaved parmesan and roasted grape  tomatoes for an added sweet pairing.  The spoon bread was then baked to a golden hue; A perfect side dish for any southern dining experience.

This year our garden is growing inspiration, all we have to do is keep up with the harvest…and, stayed “Inspired”.

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day off Dinner

We all need a day off every now and then.  A time to step away from our job and do something for ourselves, something that will melt away the stress of the week and rejuvenate us for the week ahead.  On my day off I did what any good Research and Development Chef would do, I hosted a dinner party!

I have just moved into my new condo, I was still waiting on my table and chairs to be delivered, and just couldn't fight the urge to have a special group of people over to celebrate my very first dinner party!  But I couldn't play this one safe, just because my crowd was family doesn't mean I could phone this one in.  No I had to bust out all the stops and really set the tone for my new life in the heart of Westport.

During the summer the grill is my tool of choice.  Fast and direct or low and slow a fired up grill loaded with goodies for friends and family is a Norman Rockwell painting of summer.  And in the spirit of back yard cookouts I wanted to make the grill the focal point of the entire dinner.  I wanted to elevate the standard meat and potatoes fare with light and fun dishes to both entertain and delight!

The evening needed to start with a bang, set the tone, get these people just screaming with anticipation for the next course.  So I went a little crazy and came up with something amazing, a grilled polenta pizza margarita!  The polenta was made in a traditional style with rich homemade chicken stock, shave parmesan and fresh cracked black pepper, but I scaled back on the amount of stock to create a firm yet delicate crust.  After a brief period in the cooler to firm up I oiled the crust with olive oil and took it to the grill.  The parmesan created wonderful crisp grill lines while imparting that great toasty cheese flavor throughout the crust.  The pizza was then topped with tri color, home grown, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella slices.  A second trip to the grill to melt the cheese then the whole pie was topped with fresh picked dark purple and sweet Italian basil a robust balsamic reduction and extra virgin olive oil.  The contrast of sweet tomatoes,crisp smokey crust, the toothy texture of the polenta and the melty goodness of the mozzarella almost made me forget about every other pizza out there.... almost.

Now that I had their attention we moved on to the main event.  I started with a salad and pasta combo, homemade fettuccini noodles with a fresh clams, julienned zucchini and white wine sauce tossed with fresh herbs and home grown red chili's. The clams were steamed in a mixture of crisp white wine, fresh thyme and a little home grown cayenne pepper.  While they were steaming away the julienned zucchini was sauteed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and fresh thyme.  The sauce and zucchini were combined then tossed with the noodles still steaming from their pot of salted water.  The sweet clams were highlighted by the bright flavor of the wine and fresh herbs while the cayenne pepper brought up the rear with a sweet floral heat.   A wonderful light pasta for a hot summer day.

The scent from the grill would waft into my house every time I opened my door, guiding my guests through their current course and setting the stage for the next.  Grilled hearts of romaine were plattered right off the grill and dressed with shaved parmesan, seasonings and drizzled with homemade Caesar salad dressing.  The cheese melted into the grooves and the dressing coated each of the leaves.  The char added a smoke and bite to the romaine, the melted cheese added a creamy texture and the dressing kept the salad fresh and bright.


Our main course was next, herb brined rotisserie chicken with roasted tri colored pearl potatoes with red onion and rosemary.   The chicken we brined with salt, sugar, white wine, lemons, garlic, peppercorns, fresh basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano,and sage pulled right from our garden.  The chicken turned slowly on my rotisserie while the potatoes roasted in the drip pan underneath.  The brine kept the chicken super moist, the grill made the skin golden brown and crispy, and the potatoes were the perfect medium of texture and roasty flavor.  

The last course of the evening was a throwback with a fun modernist twist, an Amalfi coast Ricotta Tort topped with a fresh blueberry and lemon verbena compote.  The torte is like a very light whipped Italian cheesecake, bursting with the flavors of fresh lemon and tangy ricotta.  The sweet and tart blueberry compote was enhance by the herbal bite of the lemon verbena.  It was a perfect ending to an amazing dinner, leaving us all satisfied yet not stuffed. 

Summer is the time of year for fresh and light.  Smoke and char add elements to our familiar dishes that turn them from old favorites to new classics. 

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