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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Carrabba’s Tastemaker Event


On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a Tastemaker Event in Huntersville, North Carolina, sponsored by Foodbuzz and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. I also got to bring a guest, so I asked my friend Staci, who lives in the Huntersville area.

First, we met the owner and our host for the afternoon, Marci Lambert. Marci told us a little about herself, describing her journey from Carrabba’s server to proprietor of the Huntersville location.


Then we met Mike Brannock, who led the cooking demonstration for us. Mike is a Food Tech for Carrabba’s and works for twenty-five different locations developing recipes and integrating new quarterly specials for the restaurants.


Mike told our group some of the history behind Carrabba’s before beginning the cooking demonstration. Did you know that Carrabba’s originated in Houston, Texas and that the style is Sicilian Italian? Or, that all of their food is made in house? Also, they still use many of the original owner’s recipes, including their sauces and bread crumbs.

The first recipe that Mike prepared for us was pesto. Carrabba’s uses only Genovese basil (12-15 lbs. per week), and Mike said the best way to prepare it is to cut the herbs with a knife before adding to the food processor for a more consistent texture. He then added pine nuts, walnuts, garlic, butter, salt & pepper (always freshly ground) and olive oil and processed the mixture. The consistency of the pesto was fairly thin at first, but Mike thickened it by folding in freshly grated Romano cheese at the end.

DSC03836 Pesto and Caprese Salad ingredients

After the pesto was prepared, Mike and the kitchen staff made beautiful tomato caprese salads for us to enjoy:


I added a little balsamic vinegar to mine about halfway through for a little extra acidity, and the pesto was delicious! Staci and I both agreed we could eat it alone with a spoon.

Next up were two of Carrabba’s sauces, marinara and pomodoro. Mike started the marinara by sweating anchovy, garlic and onions in pomice olive oil (pomice is used for high-heat cooking, which extra virgin should be more of a finishing oil), then added scallions, red wine, oregano, chopped tomatoes and crushed red pepper. He explained that the sauce shouldn’t be overly spicy but that the red pepper will add a slight heat to finish the taste. Pomodoro is a simpler, sweeter sauce that has larger chunks of tomatoes.

After the sauce demonstration, we got to choose between two entrees – Tag Pic Pac or Linguine Pescatore.


Staci and I both chose the Tag Pic Pac with added shrimp. “Tag” is short for tagliarini, which is a flat pasta that is thinner than fettuccini. Mike told us that pastas were often named after what the look like, such as linguine means “tiny tongues” and spaghetti means “small cords.” He also said that Carrabba’s uses only imported dried pastas from Italy because Italians still use the traditional method of air drying pasta that creates a much better product.

DSC03867Tag Pic Pac

Next, Mike showed us the preparation for Penne Franco, which includes olives, artichokes, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic in a simple oil and garlic based sauce. I was very excited because those are all some of my favorite ingredients, and also because we each got an order of Penne Franco to take home!

DSC03870 Penne Franco ingredients

Penne Franco is finished with ricotta salata cheese rather than Romano like most of Carrabba’s other dishes. Ricotta salata is ricotta that has been salted and allowed to dry into a hard grating cheese rather than the fresh, spreadable version you usually see.


Penne Franco with ricotta salata cheese

We ended the afternoon with a mini version of the Dessert Rosa, which includes butter cake layered with strawberries, sliced bananas, pineapple, vanilla pudding, Cool Whip and a chocolate drizzle. Yes, I said Cool Whip – they keep in the restaurant for only this dessert, because it was in the original recipe, but they make fresh whipped cream for their other dessert selections.


Finally, we ended the afternoon with some questions for Mike and received our take-out goody bags. Mike really loaded up the bags, too – we each got a serving of Penne Franco, a loaf of bread with two containers of spice blend and olive oil, a huge container of mixed olives and a small container of pine nuts.

I had a fantastic time and want to thank Marci, Mike, Foodbuzz and Carrabba’s Italian Grill for a great experience!

P.S. – You want to know what is in Carrabba’s bread dipping spice blend? Well, it’s fresh garlic, parsley, basil, rosemary, kosher salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, granulated garlic, and oregano! Mix some up and give it a try!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hi everyone!

Guess what, everyone!

That’s right…Scott and I bought a new house! Originally, we planned to renew our apartment lease and purchase a home next year. However, we started investigating the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit in mid-March and decided just to go for it! Over the course of just three weeks, we applied for a home loan, looked at many house around the city with our fantastic realtor Crystal, and signed a purchase agreement the first weekend in April. Since then, it’s just been a blur of collecting documents, making many phone calls and sending a ton of emails, signing our life away and moving. Whew!

We have been in the house for two weeks now and although we are not unpacked 100%, I finally feel like I’m settling down a little. I am SO excited to have a real kitchen with WINDOWS and NATURAL LIGHT. Expect some new recipes soon. We were also fortunate enough to make this all happen just before our first anniversary. More on that this weekend…

I’m also extremely excited about this:

IMG_3991My new square foot garden!


IMG_3994 Tomatoes (Roma, Cherokee Purple, Yellow Pear)

IMG_3995 Cucumbers (Burpless Hybrid)

IMG_3997 Peppers (Green Bell, Red Bell, Mexibell, Jalapeno)

I can’t wait to share more from the garden throughout the summer months. Here’s to creating some fresh garden-to-table recipes in the future!

Do you have a garden? What are you growing this year?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

CEiMB: Peppercorn Pork with Wine Sauce


Hi everyone! So, I’m back today with the latest CEiMB pick, hosted by… ME! For this week, I chose the Peppercorn Pork with Wine Sauce from Ellie’s book The Food You Crave. I will add the original recipe at the end of the post, or you can click over to the Food Network where it is listed as Pork au Poivre.

peppercorn pork

I chose this recipe mainly because I LOVE black pepper. I put a generous dusting of it on almost every savory dish I cook, and I like to find the flavor in unexpected foods (such as Starbucks Chai lattes, yum!). I also chose this one because it seems like we don’t feature many pork recipes in the CEiMB group and I don’t cook it very often otherwise. I decided this would be a good challenge.

I liked this recipe because it had a short, simple ingredient list and was quick to prepare. Scott really enjoyed it, so much that he ate 2 1/2 servings! I thought there would be leftovers, but for the first time since I joined the group there were none.

The only change I made was to add around 1 T. sugar to the wine sauce because it was a little bit too acidic and bitter for my tastes, but I think that was a result of the wine I used rather than a glitch in the recipe.

I served this with roasted asparagus and mushrooms (which had a nice, earthy flavor that I thought paired well with the pork) and butternut squash casserole. The casserole is a recipe I picked up after a demonstration at Williams Sonoma, and I will post it soon since it has been a huge hit in our family.

I hope everyone in CEiMB enjoyed this recipe. Thanks for letting me host this week!

Peppercorn Pork with Wine Sauce
Serves 4

- One 1 1/4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed
- 1 t. Dijon mustard
- 1 T. black peppercorns, coarsely ground or crushed
- 2 t. olive oil
- 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 c. dry red or dry white wine
- salt to taste

Slice the tenderloin open lengthwise, being careful not to cut through to the other side. You want to split the meat into one large, flat piece. Spread the mustard over both sides of the meat and rub in the pepper, pressing gently so it adheres well. Cut the meat across into four even portions.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Put the tenderloin in the hot pan and cook, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 155 degrees F, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the meat to a plate and tent with aluminum foil to keep it warm.

Add the broth and wine to the pan and cook over medium-high heat, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom. Continue to cook until the sauce has reduced to about 1/2 cup, 8-10 minutes. Pour the sauce over the meat, season with salt, and serve.