Friday, July 6, 2012

Zipping and Eating in Hilton Head


A little over a week ago I was relaxing on the beach, stuffing my face with seafood and flying through the air on a wire. My family and I went to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I'm editing a travel guide on the area and it seemed like the perfect place to go for our annual beach trip. We had a great time and the weather could not have been more perfect. We packed in a lot of activities (on top of general relaxing), but two of the most memorable for me were ziplining and attending a cooking class. We had some amazing family outings, but these were two things that I did just for me. Of course, it's part of the job, too!

First, the ziplining. This is one thing I NEVER imagined myself doing. I am the chicken who doesn't ride roller coasters, hates flying on airplanes and generally freaks out over anything deemed "risky." When I was presented with the opportunity to try out ZipLine Hilton Head as part of this writing assignment, my heart kind of skipped a beat. I said yes to challenge myself and get over some of my useless fears. And then for weeks, I tried to figure out how to get out of it. Thankfully, my husband who isn't afraid of anything, was able to come with me and encourage me along the way. The tower pictured above was 75 feet tall, and when I saw it in person, I had a moment of disbelief. Am I really going to do this?? But, I did! I have to say, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I couldn't help but scream the entire time. Want to see a clip of me zipping down (and screaming the entire way) the the longest and fastest leg of the course?

In the end, I had fun. And I felt safe. Even if you think you are terrified, I encourage you to try it sometime. Often, the biggest obstacles we face are in our heads. Like fear of cooking new foods, for example. I had the opportunity to take a cooking class at Robert Irvine's eat! while in Hilton Head. Anyone who watches the Food Network likely knows who Chef Robert Irvine is. On his latest show, Restaurant: Impossible, he whips failing restaurants into shape. You know, the guy with the muscles ...

Little did I know, Robert has a restaurant in Hilton Head. While he does not live there, he has ties to the area and checks in as his busy travel schedule allows. The kitchen at Eat! is in the very capable hands of Executive Chef Jared McElroy. Originally from Cape Cod, Chef McElroy is a transplant to the South, but has readily embraced the flavors and culinary traditions of the South Carolina Lowcountry. You'll find creative takes on local ingredients, like the black eyed pea hummus the chef prepared for us. The kitchen relies heavily on organic farm fresh produce (some local, some shipped in daily from California and Ohio). Freshness is key. The restaurant offers cooking classes at least twice a month, and more often during the peak summer season. Each one is based on a different theme. The class I happened up on was "summer vegetarian," and I couldn't have been more thrilled. Summer is the easiest time to eat your vegetables and the chef showed us some great ways to enjoy the bounty of the season.

 The grilled avocado with quinoa tabouleh over black-eyed pea hummus and the jasmine rice frappe were amazing.

Pickled watermelon served with feta and fresh greens.

One of my favorites was this pickled watermelon salad. It has been quite a hit at the restaurant -- and it's oh so simple and flavorful. I'll provide the recipe at the end of this post. The fried squash blossom stuffed with goat cheese and served with sweet pea puree was amazing, too:

Tempura fried squash blossom with fresh pea puree and micro greens.

Cheese and tomatoes are a winning combination. Chef Jared prepared this simple heirloom tomato salad with burrata -- fresh mozzarella and cream. He didn't even include the recipe in our packet because it's so easy. The key to extra deliciousness is the drizzle of 25-year balsamic vinegar. The restaurant sources their vinegar from The Oilerie, a shop that just happens to be located next door. I had to get some of this delicious vinegar which is so thick and luscious I could almost drink it straight! The shop also has quality olive oils and spice mixes -- all kinds of fun stuff. If you're ever in the area, definitely check it out!

Heirloom tomato salad with burrata and aged balsamic vinegar.

I hope you are enjoying summer fruits and veggies and feel inspired to experiment with them and try out new dishes. Cooking, like ziplining, is all about taking risks! I feel refreshed and inspired. But then I look at my laundry pile and to-do list and start feeling worn out. For now, I will close my eyes and reminisce about my time in Hilton Head -- and plan my trip to the grocery store so I can recreate some of these wonderful dishes!

Pickled Watermelon
Recipe by Chef Jared McElroy - Robert Irvine's Eat!

1 large seedless watermelon, rind removed and diced
1 cup basil, chiffonade (thinly sliced ribbons)
4 shallots, julienne
2 quarts water
1 quart sugar
1 quart white balsamic vinegar (they sell this at the Oilerie if you need some!)

In a sauce pan over high heat, combine the water, sugar and white balsamic vinegar, stir the mixture and heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the pickling liquid from heat and coll to 40 degrees. In a bowl, mix the diced watermelon with the basil and pour the pickling liquid over the melon. Store the melon/pickling liquid mixture in an air-tight container for at least 24 hours. Will keep up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Serve over mixed greens with crumbled feta cheese with citrus dressing and a drizzle of 25-year balsamic vinegar.

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