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!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Viva Las Vegas!!

Vegas claims, “What happens here stays here.”  But time and time again this line has been proven false!  This was especially true after the Catersource Conference and Tradeshow we at LLIO recently attended.  The nights were wild, the food was amazing, and I am here to spill my guts on all of it and tell you a tale or two of things we learned.  So sit back, relax and remember, Viva Las Vegas!

Beets have quickly become one of my favorite vegetables; bursting with colors, full of deep rich flavor, and being so versatile what’s not to love?  After a few meals in the city of sin we started to see beets coming back and being presented much more prominently and proudly on the menus.  So with this in mind lets us present our version of the roasted beet napoleon; roasted golden and bulls blood beets layered between herbed smoked goat cheese and ricotta accented with fresh thyme and lemon zest, then drizzle with a lemon and cracked black pepper vinaigrette.  We topped the beets with springs of fresh thyme and lemon zest, then finished off the plate with fresh arugula and shaved red onion.  The beets were meaty and deep accented by the sweet peppery bite of the vinaigrette while using the goat cheese and ricotta to bind and enhance all the flavors.  The bite of the fresh thyme and lemon zest took this dish over the top, a perfect dish to welcome any season!

While we are talking about beets, let’s discuss another often overlooked vegetable or vegetable category, leafy greens.  These dark dinosaurs are the ancestors of all modern cabbages, broccolis and sprouts, yet are not shown the love and attention they deserve.  Considering most people associate greens with long slow simmers with pork shanks as a side dish to fried chicken, and there is nothing wrong with this, I say it’s time to take a trip on the fresh side of greens.  Let me introduce you to a new leaf of green innovation, our rainbow chard and cavolo nero salad with roasted butternut squash, dried cranberries, seasoned roasted walnuts, green onions and a blood orange vinaigrette.  This is a mouthful of textures, flavors and smells, each more intense and inviting than the last.  The greens have a wonderful hearty texture compared to the soft roasted squash, the crunch of the walnuts and the chew of the dried cranberries.  What ties this all together is the sweet yet tangy blood orange vinaigrette made with fresh blood orange juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, and extra virgin olive oil.  A true taste sensation.

Speaking of leafy greens why not delve into one of my favorite yet least used herbs in my garden, Thai basil.  Its sweet anise flavor can be intense and sweet, but its depth of flavor and complexity come to life with the application of heat.  With that direction lets dive into a bowl of our newest development, Thai basil fried rice with julienned radishes and grilled baby bok choy.  Once again grilled bok choy comes into play, both for the depth of flavor it provides and the texture it adds to rice dishes.  The Thai basil pops this dish, adding a slight anise flavor but a very big and deep almost curry note perfuming the rice.  This would be a perfect dish on its own or with grilled chicken, or beef, or shrimp, or fish…. really just about anything would be a perfect companion for this dish.

Second to the light bulb, fennel is my favorite bulb.  This is the original home of anise and licorice flavor but the texture, and sweetness is hard to find anywhere else.  I have loved fennel in every incarnation I can, caramelized in brown butter, shaved and mixed in with French potato salad, and now apple cider braised with seared Brussels sprouts.  We cubed the fennel and sautéed the chunks to a nice golden brown, added some granny smith apples, then a dash of cider vin and fresh apple cider, this braised away on the stove top till the fennel was soft with a touch of texture left and the apples yielded away to your fork.  This mixture was then added to Brussels sprouts hot seared then tossed with crispy homemade pancetta.  A taste and texture explosion like you wouldn’t believe!!  Bright hits from the vinegar mix with the sweetness of the apple and fennel, offset by the herbal saltiness of the crispy pancetta, then rounded out by the seared sprouts. 

With all this green talk we almost overlooked the most crucial part of any meal, dessert!  But what would be a fun an exciting new twist on dessert, what was new and exciting, what would be perfect for spring…. Eureka!  A good friend of ours at Catersource led us to this perfect cocktail,  introducing our line of beer floats perfect to beat the heat of the summer.  We used a classic combination of blue moon and orange, except we replace the orange slice with orange sherbet.  The sweetness of the beer paired perfectly with the sorbet melding the two together into a sweet beer treat!  Our next addition to the line, which I never got a chance to photograph before it was so rudely eaten, was a dark modelo topped with our signature chocolate habanera and lime ice cream.  The sweet dark chocolate mixed with the cold heat and the tang of lime made for a perfect taste sensation taking you back to a hot day in Mexico, or your favorite pool side lounger.

They claim what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but you can’t stop inspiration and ideas have no geographic limitation.  So let’s raise a toast to the city of sin, may she always inspire us to keep creating and stay on our toes.

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Southern Smokehouse

I love the smoker.  No joke, no punch line or caveats, I just love our smoker with a pure unadulterated passion.  Over the years we have smoked everything from house corned beef shanks, heirloom tomatoes and tenderloins to fresh goat cheese, leeks and eggplants.  Almost nothing is off limits when it comes to the wonder that is smoke.  So this week I kicked around some of our classic dishes and took them for a spin through our house of hickory.

I must warn you now this next section contains nuts!  Bar nuts are a perfect snack food.  Weather they are roasted, toasted, seasoned sweet or spicy; they are always the perfect choice for munching and cocktailing.  At Inspired Occasions we have developed a few different recipes to satisfy every pallet but two recipes stood out leaving me wanting something more! 

Introducing our new Chinese five spice smoked cashews with a dusting of cayenne!  The cashews were tossed in lightly whipped egg whites, five spice, cayenne, kosher salt and cracked black pepper before being placed in the smoker to cure.  The result is a shiny and crunchy shell around a rich and meaty cashew highlighted by the brightness of anise, cloves and pepper.  But the real player was the smoke which brought out and changed the flavor of the five spice into a sweeter more balanced flavor, without overwhelming the other ingredients.  

For some contrasting flavors try our newest smoked hot and spicy mixed nuts!  Cashews, macadamias, peanuts, pecans and brazil nuts sautéed with butter, Worcestershire, celery salt, Seasoning salt, cumin, cayenne, and granulated garlic.  These nuts alone are a flavor bomb of spicy, salty goodness but once they took a long slow nap in the smoke box the game changed.  After a 2 hour smoke, flavor was way too intense, bitter and almost acrid.  But, like most good things, a little patience and curing time was required.  We let them cure overnight; The next day we were greeted with a perfectly smoked, hot and spicy, mixed nut that was above and beyond our expectations.  The butter soaked up the smoke then coated each one of the nuts, soaking into every pore overnight, resulting in a perfect smoky bite.  The transformation was simply amazing.

But enough about snacks let’s talk about something really fun, dessert!  I know what you are thinking and let me tell you that this next taste sensation will shake your foundation.  Presenting our smoked banana pudding tart, with a crisp nilla wafer crust layered with fresh bananas then topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.  The pudding was prepared by “cold smoking” peeled bananas and mashing them with a little banana liqueur then incorporating them into a velvety smooth but thick pudding.  The smoke was once again took center stage at first, but given time, settled back to a more subtle supporting role enhancing the sweetness and banana flavor in the pudding.  The firm raw bananas on the bottom of the tart provided that perfect textural journey between the smooth pudding and the crisp wafer crust.  As my friend from Charleston once said, “There is no reason why this should exist, but I am so happy it does!” 

Here’s to a “Smokin Hot” Spring!

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