It may seem odd, she said, but people should eat together at home much more than they do now.
“It’s really important for people to cook things at home,” said Megan Carolan. “Our general health has very much to do with how we eat and what we eat.”
Carolan smiled as she spoke, because she realized how ironic it was for her to give this advice — since she is a sous chef at the restaurant End Posts, at JOLO Winery and Vineyards in Pilot Mountain. JOLO just held its grand opening on April 5.
“People don’t eat together at home much anymore,” she added. Carolan feels folks should make eating together an important part of their lives. “Not 15 minutes in front of the T.V.”
But she is just fine with recommending folks eat at home, because this newly opened restaurant at which she works uses fresh, locally grown foods. So, folks still can gather together and eat a wholesome, healthy meal, while the chefs at End Posts take care of all the preparation, even including bread and/or rolls made from scratch.
And Carolan knows what she’s talking about. She has been cooking since she was 15 years old.
“I always loved to cook … My first dish was tuna fish salad,” she said, remembering back. “I told my mom I had this recipe.”
Her first job at a restaurant she was washing dishes, while at the same time the owner of this restaurant, a studied French chef, taught her the art of cooking. Then, she went to culinary school, graduating from the Johnson and Wales culinary school in Rhode Island in 2004. She has been cooking professionally ever since across the country, and has been in North Carolina for the past two months or so.
Carolan and her fiancé, Brian Brown, cook all the meals at End Posts together, as he is the executive chef at the same restaurant.
“Now, we get to see each other all the time,” she said. “It’s great.”
The two haven’t chosen a date for their wedding. They’re just too busy at their new jobs at the recently opened End Posts restaurants. You see, the pair makes everything from scratch, from the appetizers to the main entrée, from the dinner rolls to the desserts, made with locally grown and raised foods, keeping the two extremely busy.
And, both confidently let people know that folks at home can usually make most of these dishes from scratch as well, including making homemade pasta and ricotta cheese.
“It’s a lot fresher and creamier,” Carolan said. “And all these recipes (I’ve given) are quick and simple to make at home as well.”
The main secret to successfully making great-tasting, healthy food at home is timing, the same as in a restaurant.
“It’s like a dance, a choreography,” she said. “It’s about planning … I wouldn’t survive without making a list.”
And folks can use the freshest of ingredients, without preservatives, to not only stay healthier, but also enjoy their food at the optimum of flavor, containing the highest level of nutrition.
In fact, Carolan and her fiancé, as well as the owners of the End Posts restaurant, have committed themselves to establishing relationships with local farmers, buying the freshest, locally grown foods possible. Even produce on the grocery shelf are often grown out of the area, shipped in, and often have been sitting in the store for quite some time.
“And you don’t know how old they are,” she emphasized.
If you have never eaten a freshly dug potato, fresh out of the ground, you are truly missing a big culinary treat, she said.
In addition to buying locally grown foods, folks may need to spend a little more time in the grocery store reading labels until they find the best products that contain the freshest, most natural ingredients, with little or no preservatives.
“You just have to look … Read the labels,” Carolan said. Watch for sugars, especially hidden sugars. “Be diligent … If you can’t pronounce it and don’t know what it is, you probably shouldn’t put it in your body.”
Unfortunately, both Carolan and Brown also divulged another “secret” part of their life as chefs — they feel they have to exercise diligently at least three to four times a week. Why? Well, it’s probably no “secret.”
“We taste food all day long,” she said.
Chefs can easily eat their entire allotment of calories just in the process of cooking on the job.
CHOCOLATE POT DE CRÈME
FROM MEGAN CAROLAN
12 egg yolks
150 grams of sugar or .63 of a cup
284 grams of chocolate or 1.2 cups
256 grams of whole milk or 1.08 cups
960 grams of heavy cream or 4.05 cups
Preheat the oven to 325-degrees Fahrenheit. Simmer the milk and cream on medium heat and remove from the heat. Stir in the chocolate. Whisk the sugar and chocolate mixture together. Add chocolate mixture to the eggs. Strain and cool for 10 minutes and skim the foam. Divide mixture evenly among cups. Put cups in a water bath. Bake for 55 minutes.
FROM MEGAN CAROLAN
250 grams of cream or 1.05 cups
75 grams of glucose/corn syrup or .31 of a cup
50 grams of liquor of .21 of a cup
600 grams of dark chocolate or 2.53 cups
Heat the cream and glucose. Pour this mixture over the chocolate. Stir to melt.
FROM MEGAN CAROLAN
1 pound of butter, softened
9 ounces of sugar
1 ½ teaspoons of Kosher salt
18 ounces of all-purpose flour
Roll out dough about 1/2-inch-thick between pieces of parchment. Cut out cookie shapes. Bake at 300-degrees Fahrenheit.
FRESH RICOTTA RAVIOLI
FROM MEGAN CAROLAN
1 gallon of whole milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 Tablespoon of Kosher salt
3/4 cup of white distilled vinegar
In a large stainless steel or non-aluminum pot, heat the milk, cream and salt to 170-degrees Fahrenheit over medium heat. At 170-degrees Fahrenheit, shut off the heat and add the vinegar, stirring once. Let sit for 10 minutes and the curds will separate from the whey. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and set over a large bowl to allow for drainage. Ladle the curds into the strainer. Let drain one hour and then transfer the fresh ricotta to a bowl to season for pasta filling. You can save the leftover whey and use it to cook potatoes.
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
Make a mound of flour in the bottom of a large bowl with a well in the center. Crack the eggs into the well and stir with a fork only in the center. Slowly let the flour get incorporated into the egg, trying to maintain the eggs in the well. The egg will become thicker and thicker until you can use your hands to finish incorporating the flour to achieve a dough. Don’t worry if there is still some flour in the bowl. When you have a mass of dough, remove it from the bowl and place on a clean counter. Wash your hands of any dough and begin to knead your pasta dough, dusting lightly with flour if it becomes sticky. Knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth. Dust lightly with flour and wrap in plastic wrap to rest for 1 hour at room temperature or in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.
To make the ravioli
Season the fresh cheese with salt and pepper to taste. (Chef’s Note: Some fresh herbs and lemon zest is nice too. You could also add some chopped cooked spinach, or mushroom. Use your imagination.) Cut the dough into 4 pieces and take one piece to roll at a time, keeping the rest in plastic wrap so it does not dry out while you roll out the pasta. Using a pasta machine (hand crank or electric) run the dough through the largest setting, then the next one down and the next one after that until the dough is thin enough to see your fingers though. Lay your pasta sheet on a lightly floured counter. Spoon mounds of filling in the center of the dough with 1-inch intervals in between. Roll out another sheet of pasta and lay on top of the first sheet. Use your fingers to press around each mound of cheese to remove any air and seal the pasta. Cut between each cheese mound to separate the raviolis. Place on a floured sheet pan. Be careful not to overlap. Cook them immediately or freeze them and drop them frozen into the cooking water. Cook in salted water at a very gentle boil for 3 minutes. Serve with your favorite sauce. (Chef’s Note: I like a light tomato, or even just olive oil and parmigiano reggiano.)
Lucie R. Willsie can be reached at 336-719-1930 or on Twitter at LucieRWillsie.