THE UNITED STATES OF CHILI

By Dana C, Regional Director of Corporate Sales – Harbor Magic Hotels

A warm bowl of chili on a cold day, is one of my favorite comfort foods.  The United States has certainly taken ownership of this delicious dish.  You can usually find a chili cook-off on any given fall or winter weekend.

Chili or Chili con Carne can spark a debate as passionate as ….. well, one might say a political debate.  You see, I grew up in Baltimore.  We called it chili, and it contained the usual meat, beans, onions, garlic, cumin, tomatoes, and peppers.  My dad would eat his chili served over white rice.  As my tasted matured and I started to travel, I noticed not all things (food especially) did not mean the same geographically.

Some say chili is the basic dish served without beans or tomatoes.   Chili cooks have raised passionate discussions of whether beans belong in chili or not.  Purists would argue that the hearty dish would never include beans.

Chili parlors, often family run, could be found in Texas before World War II.  During the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, chili parlor chains could be found throughout the Midwest.

Cincinnati chili can be traced back to 1922, when a chili parlor called Empress Chili opened.  This bowl of chili has also evolved, but will always be served over spaghetti with oyster crackers.

Today there are so many chili recipes, and the ingredients are definitely different depending in what part of the United States of America you live.

I think this one though, is pretty universal, Frito Pie.  This I would say… could not cause a political debate…

Here is how it’s done:

  1. Start with a 2 ounce bag of Fritos corn chips. Carefully cut the side of the bag from top to bottom
  2. Top the Fritos corn chips with your favorite chili or chili con carne.
  3. Top with chopped raw onions, freshly grated cheddar cheese (or your favorite cheese), jalapeno, salsa (optional), and sour cream
  4. Dig In!
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FORAGING FOR HEN-OF-THE-WOODS

By Keith D – Director of F&B Hilton Christiana, aka Forager Extraordinaire

As I begin to write this, I unfortunately realize that this is one of the last mushrooms of the year that I will forage for in 2016.  The weather is turning, temperature are dropping, which means the mushrooms will just about all be gone for this year.  Only a few poly pores will fruit in the cold, like oyster mushrooms.  It also makes me think back to the 2016 mushroom foraging season.  It started off fairly well with a wet spring, but quickly dried out in summer under extreme high temperatures and turned into the worst season I have ever had.  But as a forager, you have to be optimistic; have to think that in the next hollow you will find the mother lode, or that next week will bring perfect conditions.  So I begin the thoughts of what 2017 will bring….

Hen-of-the-woods, Grifola frondosa, or Maitake in Japanese,  is a late fall mushroom, usually September and October in my area, and fruit around the base of old oak trees, sometimes in clusters that can grow 20 pounds or more.  In fact, the mushroom will bring a slow death to the tree and eventually kill it.  They are a Polypore, which are a group of fungi that form fruiting bodies with pores or tubes on the underside, unlike a gilled mushroom, and usually grow on some kind of wood/tree. They are fairly easy it identify, making it a good mushroom to start out with. The Hen-of-the-woods is native of the Eastern United States, as well as Japan, where it is a highly prized mushroom.  If you have ever watched the Food Networks Iron Chef, this was one of the special ingredients used is several battles.

Hen-of-the-woods are considered a choice mushroom by foragers, and therefore usually are a closely guarded secret as to where they picked them. The mushroom is known for coming up in the same location at a base of the same tree year after year.  I keep a log of dozens of trees to check as the season nears.  Never done it before, so no log book?   Start by walking in the woods early October that has a good amount of big Oak trees.  You actually walk around just about every tree, and especially look for trees that have big dead branches and are starting to die. If on a hill, they usually grow on the downside of the tree since three is more moisture there.  You may have to walk 5 miles or more, but eventually should find one.  Every year, in late October, I try to find new trees. It is easier later in the season since the mushrooms can get very large and are easy to spot from a distance.  Unfortunately, they are usually past prime, where they become tough and woody, so they are not good to eat, this year.  But, I will then log it for next year to check earlier in the season.

You can buy Hen-of-the-woods in some specialty stores, but they are almost always not wild but grown with spore plugs inserted into wood.  They taste good, but the wild ones just have better and more robust flavor and qualities.  They taste delicious, and are wonderful just sautéed in butter or can be used in any recipe that calls for the common button mushroom.  They are more flavorful and are hearty, and will keep their shape and not breakdown when cooked for a long period of time.

To see a video on foraging for Hen-of-the-woods

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1flq4fEHIPE

For more pictures of wild and grown Hen-of-the-woods:

https://www.google.com/search?q=pictures+of+growing+hen+of+the+woods&espv=2&biw=1920&bih=984&tbm=isch&imgil=E5R9VuLtnO4RwM%253A%253BpdDb936ScahwHM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.huffingtonpost.com%25252Fpaul-stamets%25252Fmaitake-mushroom_b_2908332.html&source=iu&pf=m&fir=E5R9VuLtnO4RwM%253A%252CpdDb936ScahwHM%252C_&usg=__GzATcVcRnpAGU0Fe1jI48GoKmj0%3D&ved=0ahUKEwi2mOaE2MvPAhUFej4KHUgNDsAQyjcINQ&ei=0Sb5V_brO4X0-QHImriADA#imgrc=E5R9VuLtnO4RwM%3A

PANCAKES AND BACON AND SPIDER-MAN – OH, MY!

By Sheila C – Director of Sales aka True Superhero

Weekends are made for a lot of things when you’re a kid… sleeping in, playing with friends, staying up past bedtime, and watching your favorite morning cartoons.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday or Sunday by any means.  But want to know an even better way to spend your weekend as a kid?  Attending the Superhero Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Reading!

Recently the Crowne Plaza Reading opened its doors one weekend to moms, dads, kids and Berks County superheroes alike!  With Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Batman and Cat Woman greeting the crowd – families had the opportunity to bring their weekend cartoon rituals to life!  Plates full of eggs, bacon and of course a hearty side of pancakes with ALL the fixings filled the ballroom as kids enjoyed a Superhero coloring station, make your own mask station, photo ops with some of the coolest superheroes around and a delicious buffet breakfast to boot!

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The breakfast benefited a local non-profit partner of the hotel, and created a truly memorable morning for the families of Reading, all the while raising money for a great cause!  This is the second edition of a themed breakfast hosted by the Crowne Plaza this year as this summer a Princess Pancake Breakfast brought hundreds (yes, hundreds) of families out raising over $10,000.00 in a matter of 5 hours.  A truly “super” showing by the Berks County Community!

PAWPAW…. YES, YOU CAN EAT IT

Keith D, F&B Director and Forager Extraordinaire!

What a tough summer for a forager.  No rain means little grows, and that is especially true when it comes to fungi/mushrooms.   Again, it shows that we are under the mercy of the weather & Mother Nature.   So goes the ways of a forager.  You pick what’s available or wait for a new season to change options.  So with no rain, I have been checking and waiting for a fall gem, the PawPaw.

What the heck is a PawPaw?  Probably never heard of it, right?  How can that be?  It has an unusual genus name, Asimina (uh-SIM-min-nuh), probably derived from an Algonquin Indian word where “min” means food.  And the word PawPaw is probably a corruption of the American Indian word papya, or version shortened by Spanish. The PawPaw is a native to the temperate woodlands of the eastern U.S., and is actually the largest native North American fruit, and ripens in the fall, usually September and October.  It is a deciduous tree that grows 12 to 25 feet, in the Magnolia family, usually close to streams and in low light areas that have a canape of larger trees above.  Extremely rich in nutritional value, including high levels of vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, riboflavin, niacin and manganese and is higher in protein and fat than common fruits like bananas, apples, or oranges.

The texture of the PawPaw is like that of a custard, and tastes like a combination of banana and mango, with a hint of melon.  The best way to probably eat it is in the woods, where you pick it, rip the skin away, and slurp the pulp, and discard the seeds.  It is a gooey sensuous experience. But for culinary use, think frozen or icebox desserts, smoothies or salsas.  The flesh oxidizes quickly, and its distinct flavor compounds are volatile, so its best used in recipes that don’t expose it to heat.  It also can be used in baking cookies, cakes, and quick breads.  It also makes great beer, such as Weasel Paw PawPaw Pale Ale http://www.weaselboybrewing.com/eat-drink/#our-philosphy .

But being good for you doesn’t make them marketable.  They bruise easily, last only a few days at room temperature, a week at most under refrigeration.  They are also extremely difficult to propagate, though strides are being made. They are starting to show up at some farmer markets, but availability is very limited.  So for now, if you want to taste this native delicious tasting fruit, you need to go out and forage for it.  I know.  I bet you anticipated that I would say that.  But, after all, I am a forager.  That’s just what I do.

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A RIPE PAWPAW CUT IN HALF

For a video on how to forage for PawPaw, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T0tHrfrc8E

COLD BREW CRAZY

By Todd L., Banquet Manager at the Hilton Christiana

The newest way to enjoy your coffee is to make Cold Brew, especially during a hot day. Start with cold water and coffee grinds and then wait to see what happens next. The “what happens next” is a full and smooth flavor with a rich body finish ….truly a coffee experience you won’t soon forget. I have done it myself and the waiting is kind of exciting. The process does take a little bit of guessing, trial and error but, in the end, you get the satisfaction of a well-crafted coffee beverage.

Trust the Process!

The cold-water-extract process requires grinding: coarse-ground beans are soaked in water for a prolonged period of time, usually 12 hours or more. The water is normally kept at room temperature, but chilled water can also be used. The grounds must be filtered out of the water after they have been steeped using a paper coffee filter, a fine metal sieve, a French press or felt. The result is a coffee concentrate that is often diluted with water or some type of milk, and can be served hot, over ice, or blended with ice and other ingredients such as chocolate.

The Reward!

The reward for the cold brew coffee experience is the many applications it has. You can use it in the kitchen with a trendy dessert so that the rich and bold coffee flavors jump right out at you. At the Hilton Christiana, we create our own specialty coffee drink with a little simple syrup, caramel and chocolate sauces, or vanilla cinnamon syrup. We also offer some at the hotel bar and have reached perfection with a little addition of a cordial and some cream. It can make an afternoon pick me up truly delightful.  ENJOY!

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The sky’s the limit for things to add to your Cold Brewed beverage.

PROVIDENCE FOOD LOVERS’ GETAWAYS

It’s almost here – officially. September 22 marks the first day of autumn. New England has earned its awesome reputation for it’s incredible leaf-peeing opportunities. The Providence Marriott Downtown is nestled between the historic East Side (beautiful fall foliage) and downtown Providence. But it is still located near local farms and beautiful walking trails – oh the joys of being the smallest state in the US. Discover why fall is many Rhode Islanders’ favorite season. Online guide to trails in RI.

Autumn is also that time of year when we begin to crave foods that are a bit more decedent and nourishing. If you are going to visit Providence in the Fall, you are wise to take advantage of one of the amazing Food Lovers’ Getaways created by the Providence Marriott Downtown. Whether you want your own private bourbon tasting when you book the Bourbon & Bites or you are interested in Rhode Island’s array of craft beers with the more casual Beer & Blue Jeans Escape, or you want to see how the chefs at the Bluefin Grille can rock your taste buds with the Chefs’ Tasting Escape. Anyone who loves food will love these getaway packages.

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Fall doesn’t last long in Rhode Island. It only takes one Nor’Easter to pull the colorful leaves down before their time. Visit the week of Columbus Day for the projected by fall foliage.

CHEF’S TABLE: A CULINARY EXPERIENCE

Keith D ~ Director of F&B aka Forager Extraordinaire!

I’ve always had a passion for food and cooking, even as a small child. I would rather help my mom cook dinner than play outside, and so it still continues as an adult.  As a graduate of the CIA, or Culinary Institute of America, life is all about food, and when we have a Chef’s table at the hotel, it really becomes a special day.  And if you are lucky enough to attend one at the Christiana Hilton, then you’re in for a treat.  The following is a series of pictures of food and events for one of these Chef’s tables we recently did.

EXECUTICE CHEF ROBERT FRATTICCIOLI EXPLAINS THE PREPERATION AND LIST OF INGREDIENTS TO OUR GUESTS IN OUR PRIVATE DINING ROOM

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FRESH LOCAL INGREDIENTS ARE KEY TO GREAT FOOD.  IN OUR COURTYARD GARDEN, I SHOW THE GROUP THE HERBS WE GROW AND USE IN THE FOOD THAT THEY ARE ABOUT TO EAT.

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LOCALLY FORAGED ELDERBERRIES, SWEET PUREED WATERMELLON, AND LEMONAIDE MAKE UP THIS REFRESHING SUMMER BEVERAGE.  GARNISHED WITH A SPRIG OF PINAPPLE MINT FROM OUR HERB GARDEN.

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FIRST COURSE: SAUTEED LUMP CRAB CAKE OVER LOBSTER QUINOA AND TOMATO        SAFFRON LOBSTER REDUCTION.    GARNISHED WITH FRESH BASIL AND RED AMARANTH

 

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CHEF ROBERT AT WORK IN THE HILTON KITCHEN PLATING THE NEXT COURSE

SECOND COURSE: BABY HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD WITH BURRATA CHEESE AND A   SUNDRIED TOMATO CRUSTINI.  FINISHED WITH A DIJON OREGANO VINAIGRETTE AND GARNISHED WITH PEA SPROUTS AND RED AMARANTH.

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THIRD COURSE: ROASTED MARINATED VEAL TENDERLOIN TOPPED WITH PORTABELLO MUSHROOMS AND VEAL DEMI; ON A BED OF SPINACH, LEEKS, AND FENNEL WITH BROCCOLINI AND ROASTED RED PEPPER SAUCE. SERVED WITH STUFFED CRISPY ASPARGUS GNOCCHI TOSSED IN PARMASIANA CHEESE AND TRUFFLE OIL.

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FOURTH COURSE: FRESHLY MADE VANILLA CINNAMON CREPE STUFFED WITH GRILLED LOCAL PEACHES AND CHEESECAKE , DUSTED WITH POWDER SUGAR AND GARNISHED WITH MORE PEACHES, RED RASPBERRIES, PINEAPPLE MINT, LAVENDER , AND RASPBERRY SAUCE

chefs_table-7

CHEFLIFE

By Chris Steele, Executive Chef ~ Stamford Marriott

As chefs we spend our careers working nonstop 14 hour shifts on our feet most nights and weekends foregoing family reunions, concerts and birthdays. It can be challenging to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, in an environment that rewards working crazy hours under the high stress of constantly needing to create, put up with an oven that worked up until today, broken mop buckets, leaking faucets and my personal favorite last minute call outs. Let’s not forget the craziness of a dinner rush that keeps us on a “flight or fight” state for most of the night. Kitchen life is not easy, but every job has its ups and downs, it all depends on which sacrifices you want to make.

My first night in the restaurant business as a dishwasher, the owner of the restaurant approached me red faced using a language I won’t repeat, explaining the importance of not mixing up the dinner plates with the pasta bowls, which at the time looked exactly the same to me. I thought to myself this is nuts, what’s the big deal?

chris_steele_exec_chef_stamford.jpg

The life of a chef is now one I can’t imagine living without. For those considering this life, I have to say that the energy, the people, the team work, and of course the food makes it a working environment that is fun to work in. The people I’ve met are now friends I’ve acquired and the heart connections made are still holding. What draws me to being the chef in a hotel and what changed all that for me was I found out I was going to be a dad. Out of all my chef friends who are still in the kitchen, since many have left the business altogether, I’m probably the only one who has a consistent paycheck, health insurance and a semi “normal” personal life. I still get that rush of working on the line, platting large banquet functions and of course creating and interacting with guests at our unique chef’s tables.

The love of food is both universal and unconditional since everyone eats and has a favorite food that can be related to.  Think about it, a chef can go out anywhere, talk to anyone from anywhere and always find a common ground in food. Despite people’s backgrounds, upbringing, personal tastes and/or ethnicities, food transcends all our differences and brings people together.

NIKKI’S ELDERBERRY SPARKLE

by Nikki Abasolo; Hunt Club supervisor at the Christiana Hilton

Muddled with our handpicked basil leaves, locally foraged Elderberry syrup is the main flavor in or new bar cocktail,  Nikki’s Elderberry Sparkle.

We mix local Delaware gin or vodka if you prefer, with our fresh squeezed lemon juice and top with sparkling wine for a bubbly finish.

The sweet and unique flavor of the elderberries coupled with the other refreshing ingredients makes this drink a great way to stay refreshed and enjoy the heat of the summer.

elderberry_cocktail

FORAGING FOR ELDERBERRIES

by Keith Davis – Director of F&B (aka Forager Extraordinaire)

There appears to be something mystical about Elderberries.  Many people have heard of them, but when you really start to ask them what Elderberries are and what they look like, you get a kind of stare.  And when you ask them if they have ever EATEN Elderberries, few people have.  Well, you are missing something delicious if you have never tried Elderberries. So what are they and where can you find them?

In spring, the Elderberries bloom and the flowers turn to green unripe fruit.

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Elderberry, or Sambucus, is a shrub in the honeysuckle family.  They can grow as tall as 10 feet and are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the winter.  They grow near wetlands, along damp roadsides, and easily can be located in the spring when flowering, which is what I do.  The flowers look like one big flower head, but upon closer observation, you will find they really are a cluster of tiny white flowers.  By the way, these flowers are edible and can be used to make a jelly, but I have not done so.  These flowers are also used to make the liquor St. Germain.  The flowers turn to little green and round seed pods which eventually ripen around the end of August and early September. They are ripe when the green pods turn from green to a deep black/purple, and the upward facing bunch of berries droops over toward the ground. Once you know what they are, they can easily be identified.  To learn more:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambucus

http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Spring2008/Elderberries/tabid/905/Default.aspx

As I have said in previous posts, when I was a young boy, my grandfather used to take me out to pick berries. We picked blackberries, black raspberries, wild cherries, and yes, Elderberries.  He was the first person to teach me that the little bunches of round berries could be just wonderful as jam. But I also remember my mother toiling over getting the juice out of the berries, which can really be a chore.

When I go out to forage for Elderberries, I review my notes where earlier in the season I saw the white flowers blooming. I check each spot periodically, but find the areas in full sun will ripen first, though the whole bush doesn’t ripen at one time.  I carefully pick only the deep dark purple clusters with my shearers, and place them in a 5 gallon bucket.

Elderberries in my kitchen that my youngest son and I foraged.  Ready to be plucked and then cooked down.

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Foraging is actually the easy step.  Processing Elderberries takes a lot of time and effort.  Once you pick the clusters, you then need to pull them from the clusters, and separate out the unripened fruit.  You also need to wear gloves when handling the berries or it will look like you lost a battle with your ink pen.  Next, they need washed and cooked.  Then, and this is the hardest step, you have to extract the juice from the cooked fruit to remove the seeds and skins.  When I say this is a chore, I mean it’s not an easy feat.  Generally you have to put the pulp in cheese or cotton cloth, and squeeze the juice until it starts to fill the bowl underneath.  Black Gold! Now it is ready for processing. I usually add lemon juice, sugar, and put back on the stove to bring to a boil and make syrup.   If it will be jam, I add pectin.

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See the following for greater details:

http://www.homesteadandgardens.com/elderberry-jelly-syrup/

http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/surejell-elderberry-jelly-60866.aspx

Elderberries for many are harvested for medicinal purposes.  They are full of vitamins A and C, Calcium, Potassium and Iron. Some books say mention they contain anti-viral compounds that may be useful in treating influenza, or that the syrup helps to boost the immune system.  This may be true, but for me, it’s all about that wonderful distinctive taste.