Chef’s table: Undone by the real-estate crash, he’s thankful for a fulfilling new career


Undone by the real-estate crash, Todd Webster is thankful for a fulfilling new career


Spiced Chocolate Pecan Pie

Unbaked pie crust for a 9-inch pie

3 eggs

1 cup dark corn syrup

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 cups pecan pieces or halves

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces or chips (Hershey’s recommended)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place pie crust in a 9-inch pie pan and crimp the edge.

In a bowl, whisk eggs until smooth and evenly colored. Add corn syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla. Stir in pecans and allspice.

Sprinkle chocolate pieces over the bottom of the pie crust. Add corn syrup mixture.

Bake about 45 minutes, until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. If crimped crust begins to brown too much, shield it with aluminum foil. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Source: Adapted from Front Porch Café pastry chef Stuart Whalen.

Per serving (based on 8): 546 calories (42 percent from fat), 27 g fat (6.5 g saturated, 12.4 g monounsaturated), 77mg cholesterol, 5.7 g protein, 76 g carbohydrates, 2.4 g fiber, 178 mg sodium.

Side Dish

Picadillo Dressing

If desired, add golden raisins, dried apple or goji berries to the finished dressing and/or substitute chorizo for part of the ground beef. This is cooked on top of the stove, leaving plenty of room in the oven for turkey.

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small onion, chopped

Fresh-ground pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon adobo spice

1 pound 85-percent-lean ground beef chuck

2 cups raw rice

3 1/4 cups chicken or turkey stock

1 cup sliced, pitted, stuffed green olives

1 cup cilantro, chopped

Whites of 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

In a Dutch oven or other large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt. Add the onions. Season with pepper and adobo. Sauté about 5 minutes, until translucent. Remove onions from pan and set aside.

Without cleaning out the pot, add the ground beef. Sauté until browned and broken up. Drain the fat from the pan and combine the onions with the meat. Add the rice, stock and olives. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, until rice is fully cooked.

Place in a bowl. Toss in cilantro and egg whites. Makes 10 cups.

Source: Adapted from Front Porch Café chef Todd Webster.

Per 1/2 cup serving: 152 calories (34 percent from fat), 5.6 g fat (1.6 g saturated, 2.4 g monounsaturated), 17.6 mg cholesterol, 6.4 g protein, 16.8 g carbohydrates, 0 fiber, 336 mg sodium.

Side Dish

A New Take on Green Bean Casserole

Salt, to taste

1 pound fresh green beans or haricot vert, ends trimmed and long beans halved

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh-ground pepper, to taste

1/2 (2.8-ounce) container French’s Original French Fried Onions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook about 5 minutes, until just tender and bright green. Drain and set aside in a serving bowl.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the garlic and cook until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the onions and sauté about 5 minutes, until translucent.

Add cream and Parmesan. Stirring constantly, let cook until reduced to a thick sauce. Add salt and pepper.

Pour cream mixture over beans and toss to coat. Sprinkle with fried onions. Makes 10 servings.

Source: Adapted from Front Porch Café chef Todd Webster.

Per serving: 120 calories (67 percent from fat), 9 g fat (4.6 g saturated, 3.3 g monounsaturated), 21 mg cholesterol, 2.4 g protein, 7.7 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g fiber, 68 mg sodium.

Side Dish

Roasted Seminole Pumpkin

Similar to candied yams, this dish takes advantage of the locally grown Seminole pumpkin. If you can’t find one, use a traditional pie pumpkin or a piece of calabaza. Peeling pumpkin isn’t easy, but we had success cutting the pumpkin into wedges and using a sturdy hand peeler.

3 to 4 pounds Seminole pumpkin, seeded, peeled and cut into 1-inch squares

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

6 tablespoons brandy

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 cup white chocolate pieces, melted

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Place pumpkin squares on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

Bake 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft but not mushy. Remove from oven. Recipe can be prepared ahead to this point in advance; refrigerate the pumpkin until ready to proceed.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Remove pan from heat. Add pumpkin pieces and brandy.

Return to stove and, stirring, allow brandy to evaporate slightly. Add butter, white chocolate and fresh herbs. Toss to coat and heat thoroughly. Place on serving dish and sprinkle with nuts. Makes 10 servings.

Source: Adapted from Front Porch Café chef Todd Webster.

Per serving: 192 calories (40 percent from fat), 8.8 g fat (3.1 g saturated, 4.2 g monounsaturated), 7.2 mg cholesterol, 2.3 g protein, 21.4 g carbohydrates, 2.9 g fiber, 10 mg sodium.

Todd Webster is very thankful this holiday season. He has a new job as executive chef at the Front Porch Café in South Beach. He has a lovely wife and healthy 5-year-old daughter. And, yes, after years of doing without, he even has a dining room table.

Like many in South Florida, Webster and his family suffered financially when the real estate bubble burst. After losing a lucrative real estate-related job, he and his family had a financial meltdown.

One morning when he went to the kitchen to heat his baby daughter’s bottle, he found the electricity had been turned off at their Boca Raton home. The family was in such bad straits that they had to sell nearly all their possessions.

“All we had left was a bed and a crib,” he says.

And now, he, like many of us, has learned to live with less.

When he was looking for a new job, his sister-in-law suggested he stop trying to make a lot of money and instead do something fulfilling. So in 2008 he enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miramar. He’s been cooking ever since.

Four years later, Webster, 41, has a job he loves, a home in Homestead and he’s even bought a dining room table on which to enjoy the holiday meal.

“We went from my daughter getting her Christmas presents off the back of a Toys for Tots truck to our life as it is now,” he says. “I’m very thankful.”

So we turn to Webster for recipes to make your holiday feast particularly flavorful, especially easy and, shared with family, meaningful. To round out that meal, we also get a holiday pie recipe from the café’s pastry chef, Stuart Whalan, who has also served as executive pastry chef for Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

Webster began cooking as a latchkey kid growing up with a single mom in Winter Haven. “I was home alone a lot and cooked in order to survive,” he says.

On Thanksgiving, his mother would take time from her waitressing job to make dinner for her three boys. There would be a turkey, stuffing and cranberry jelly from a can. Her stuffing recipe was right off the Stove Top Stuffing box, Webster recalls.

But that didn’t seem to matter.

“We’d all get around the table and rip it all up, then sit down and eat,” he says.

Today it remains important to Webster to be with his family for the holiday meal.

Of course, given his new job, he’ll be working at the restaurant on Nov. 22. But he and his wife have developed the tradition of a day-after celebration.

“I insist we have a Thanksgiving dinner in our house — even if it is a day late,” the chef says.

On Friday, he’ll make his wife’s favorite picadillo stuffing, a recipe he got from his Peruvian mother-in-law and shares with us.

You may be taken aback that this dressing is based on rice instead of bread cubes. So was Webster the first time he tasted it. But he’s come to relish this dish. “It’s really good,” he says adding that it never gets mushy like some bread stuffings.

And to make life easy, the combination of rice, ground beef (you can use some chorizo, too, if you wish), onions and pimento-stuffed olives is cooked on top of the stove while your turkey roasts. This colorful melange is flavored with adobo and cilantro to make it savory yet sprightly.

Webster suggests serving the whole turkey atop a bed of dressing and then carving it so the meat juices moisten and flavor the rice.

When it comes to turkey, Webster is a dark meat fan. But for the holiday he knows the whole turkey is an important part of tradition. In fact, he brings the gorgeous golden turkey to the table whole, then takes it back to the kitchen for carving, then presents it again.

“My daughter looks at me like, ‘Hey Dad, when can we eat?’ ” he says with a laugh.

Webster used to slip just butter under the skin of the turkey before roasting it. But after four years working for chef Michael Schwartz at Michael’s Genuine in the Design District, he learned a lot about fresh ingredients, including all sorts of herbs.

So now he tucks butter as well as fresh thyme, rosemary and sage under the skin of the turkey before roasting it at 325 degrees for as long as the cooking instructions on the package direct. “Just smelling the herbs makes me think of the season,” he says.

He recommends buying 1 pound of raw turkey per person. “This allows for seconds and plenty of leftovers, which really are the best part of Thanksgiving,” he says.

He also suggests roasting two small birds instead of one large one if you are feeding a crowd. That way the cooking time is less and you’ll have plenty of drumsticks, white meat and crisp skin to go around.

For a side dish, he tosses crisp green beans in a rich mixture of reduced heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Then he tops it with the de rigueur fried onion bits. “It’s a new spin on a very identifiable dish — green bean casserole,” he says.

For another side dish, try roasting a Seminole pumpkin. Webster opts for this variety because it is a Florida native enjoyed by the Indians and early European settlers. He gets his pumpkin fresh from a Homestead farm, following his farm-to-table philosophy.

“I believe in buying as local and as sustainable as possible. Not just for the good of the environment but because it tastes better,” he says.

If you can’t find a Seminole pumpkin, use whatever type is available at your market.

Webster cubes it and then sprinkles it with plenty of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme, ground allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg as well as a sprinkling of brandy.

He tosses the roasted pumpkin with melted white chocolate that adds a velvety texture and just a hint of sweetness, then garnishes it with toasted almonds. It reminds him of a savory sweet potato pie.

For dessert, pastry chef Whalan offers a recipe for pecan pie with the addition of chocolate and a subtle touch of allspice.

“It puts a real holiday spin on this traditional pie,” says Whalan, who not only makes pastries for the café but has his own bakery business, Avant-Garde Cakes & Sweets.

This year, Thanksgiving is particularly important to Webster, who will cook dinner for his family, enjoy leftovers in sandwiches and, most of all, give thanks.

“This holiday we’ll stop and look over our shoulders and think about that Toys for Tots truck and think about living from hand to mouth, which we did for a while. But now I’m in a good place where I don’t have to be afraid,” he says. “The electricity is on.”

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