Holiday Tips and Recipes from ‘Tis the Season Class

24 Nov
cheese wafers spicy pecan crackers

Pecan Cheese Wafers from Saveur Magazine. These were the BOMB!

I was a goofy, disjointed mess at Friday’s ‘Tis the Season event at Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock, and that made it more fun. At least for me. I’m blaming my lingering cold, so there.

This annual women’s event includes a potluck the likes of which you’ve never seen (including some Burge hams provided by the church), door prizes, and the highlight: choosing three of nine available classes on topics from hair braiding and games to cake decorating and my class, holiday cooking.

I learned from the event flyer that I was sharing tips and tricks (ha), so I came up with these:

  1. Buy one good chef’s knife and learn how to use it. No need for a huge knife set! Maybe add a paring knife, and you’re set. I showed everyone my favorite santoku knife and said a regular chef’s knife is just peachy as well. Look for one in the $30-50 range for everyday use. I also demonstrated the very basics of knife work and how to cut things up safely.
  2. Take advantage of small appliances when tackling holiday cooking. For this class, we focused on the food processor and the magical things it can accomplish.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe your own! Take an old family favorite or something new you found online. Look in your cupboards for new ingredients you can use. Or just go crazy and make something up! Once you learn the basics of how ingredients go together (and I can help if you need it), the sky’s the limit.

The first item I made is a cranberry relish I’ve served at several Thanksgiving and Christmas events over recent years, from the Simply Recipes blog. Since it’s not my recipe, just click the link to check it out! This relish is super simple, with just four ingredients, and it freezes beautifully.

At the class I demonstrated in real time what happens if you overload your food processor with this recipe…you get perfectly-sized relish, with huge chunks of apple and orange throughout. Even if you have a big processor like mine, do half of the recipe at a time to ensure better uniformity, pulsing the processor until it’s just right. And if you have a meat grinder, use that instead for a PERFECT texture!

The next item was a pecan cheese wafer from Saveur magazine’s website. This is an innovative twist on the spicy cheese cracker I’ve made before (as here in culinary school), adding a pecan half with an egg white as “glue.” The pecan’s sweetness perfectly balances the salty, spicy cracker. This recipe is easily made gluten-free, too, since there is very little flour used and the low-protein GF flour keeps the crackers light. I used Cup for Cup for mine.

My only complaint about the Saveur recipe as published is the quantity listed. The recipe claims a yield of 2 1/2 dozen, rolling the crackers to 1/8 inch thick. This is actually pretty thick for a cracker, but I went with it since it’s easier to cut and transfer to a baking sheet that way. I QUADRUPLED the recipe and got just around 3 dozen. I imagine the Saveur folks actually rolled them much thinner in their test kitchens, likely 1/16″ or so. If you want to roll it that thin, try rolling it directly onto some parchment paper on the back of a baking sheet, baking it as a solid sheet. Once it’s crisp, break the sheet into “rustic” uneven pieces. (If you were at the class, you’ll get the joke about “rustic.”)

The final recipe was my own invention, a “Thanksgiving Dinner in a Bite” canapé (see below). This is the demonstration of tip #3 above, creating something completely different on your own. Using a few simple ingredients and fun techniques, I inventioneered this while planning the class. I couldn’t taste-test due to my gluten problem, but class visitors said it was pretty good! Somehow I managed to not take a photo both times I made it, so you’ll have to trust me. It’s pretty cute.

If you attended, thanks for coming by, and sorry I was a little crazy! But as I said, life is more fun that way, right? Let me know if you make any of these, and let me know if I can help!

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“Thanksgiving in a Bite” Canapé
Makes 24 pieces

  • One box of frozen puff pastry
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 thick slice of deli turkey or about 1 cup leftover roasted turkey
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 a standard box)
  • 1/2 cup cranberry relish
  • Optional: 2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Optional: 2 chives, cut into several 1-inch pieces

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and move the puff pastry and the cream cheese to the countertop about 30 minutes before starting the recipe.

The puff pastry should still be cool when you’re ready to cut out your circles. Dust a smooth working surface with flour and unfold the puff pastry onto it, then dust the top of the pastry with flour as well. Using a rolling pin or similar device, roll the pastry out just slightly to smooth it out.

Press straight down into the puff pastry with a 1 1/2″ round or scalloped cutter and move the cut rounds onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. The sharper the cutter is, the easier this step will be and the higher the rounds will puff.

Bake the rounds for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and punch down in the middle with the round end of a wooden spoon or similar utensil. Place back in the oven for 2-3 minutes or until the rounds are slightly browned on the bottom. Allow the baked rounds to cool before filling.

If you would like to lighten up the cream cheese, mix it thoroughly with the sour cream or plain yogurt. (It’s fine without it, just a bit heavier.) Place the cream cheese or the mixture into a piping bag or a freezer bag (don’t use a standard sandwich bag or the seams will burst). Cut off a corner and pipe a small amount, maybe a half teaspoon, into each baked puff pastry round.

Place a small piece of turkey into each round on top of the cream cheese. If you purchased the turkey at the deli, cut it into cubes and smash it a bit so it won’t look so “manufactured.”

Scoop a 1/2 teaspoon or so of the cranberry relish on top of the turkey, and garnish with the chives if you want. Pretty and delish!

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Foodie Tool Review: Utensils by The Saucepan Chef (Giveaway)

31 Oct
footer_utensils

The Saucepan Chef utensil set

DISCLAIMER: The marketing team from The Saucepan Chef gave me two sets of their utensils for review and a giveaway. No promise of a positive review was given in exchange for these products. 

If you’re like me, you probably love your kitchen toys. Zesters, blenders, high-tech or basic, these gadgets can make cooking even more fun! I must say that, with professional training, I don’t use them quite as much as I once did. But sometimes there’s just no substitute for what a cooking tool can accomplish.

We’re starting a new series here on Fancy Pants Foodie, the Foodie Tool Review. These reviews may be of a product I already have, or I may accept a sample product to complete the review. Either way, there’s no promise of a good review…I’ll just tell you what I thought.

My first Tool Review subject is a set of cooking utensils by The Saucepan Chef. These utensils are unlike anything you’ve ever seen or used. They’re kind of big and bulky, and a little heavy. And they’re awesome.

The heft and size comes from their unique design. The business ends are a little bigger than average, and they’re at weird angles…more on that in a minute. Made of vinyl, they can withstand high-ish heat (I did rough up the end of one in some super-hot bacon grease). They’re solid black with grooved handles for your thumb, so they look sleek and would probably match most kitchens.

Spoon with rice

The spoon in the set is narrowish and squared off on the end, allowing you to scrape the corners of a pot easily. I also found the flat end helpful when stirring a sauce that might burn or reduce too much if it didn’t get scraped thoroughly while stirring in the pan. When serving a hard-to-grip product like rice, the narrow spoon gets down into the pan easily and scoops it up well, without a lot of spillage.

Spatula collage

The spatula is really wide, curved at the edge, and, most noticeably, and tilted at a precarious angle. I wondered how this would feel while cooking, but my test on a burger patty worked great. Learning to flip at this angle took a bit of brain retraining, but once you get the hang of it, the Saucepan Chef spatula feels quite natural. Later, I used it to cook some bacon pieces and noticed it worked well turned upside down to move the food around. Then I could scoop it up easily with the spatula turned the other way.

Well, yeah, this is where the outer limits of the spatula’s temperature range got tested…when the grease got really hot, the spatula’s edge started to get a bit of a rough texture. But there was no outright melting like you’d see with a cheap plastic spatula.

The slotted spoon functioned pretty much as expected, if a bit sturdier than usual. And I honestly haven’t used the “spork” just yet, although it does look like it would be handy at lifting heavier meats. The leaf-shaped “knife” was handy, however, at breaking up ground meat in a pan.

Ladle

Okay, so this blackeyed pea concoction looks a little gross in photos. I liked it!

I’m saving the ladle for last. It’s magnificent, my daughter says. She’s not wrong.

I mean, why haven’t ladles always had corners? Some do have a slight edge, but I’ve never seen a large ladle like this. The corner directs the flow of what you’re pouring. Right. Into. The. Destination. It’s a thing of beauty. My husband’s cheese dip will never be the same. (And by never being the same, I mean I won’t have to scrub it off the countertop anymore.)

The Saucepan Chef utensil set retails for $39.95 and is sold exclusively on their website at this time.

I would say it’s worth it. I’ve seen high-end spatulas alone retailing for $15 or so, and this is a whole set of tools that will last you a long time. (I mean, if you’re smart enough to not dip them in boiling grease.) Plus, there’s a 30-day guarantee on full sets and a one-year guarantee on individual utensils.

And how do I prove that they’re great? A giveaway! I’ve got an extra set of Saucepan Chef utensils that you can win, just by commenting with what you’d make with them. Do so below, and on Friday, Nov. 14 we’ll randomly pick a winner.

Root Café’s Award-Winning Coconut Curry Collard Greens

29 Oct
Root Cafe's Coconut Curry Collard Greens

Our sampling of the glorious greens from last week’s Food Day event. (I went in for more later.)

And can I get an amen?

This holy manna makes an appearance just about every day (although sometimes in different forms, depending on what greens are available) at The Root Café in Little Rock. Even if you don’t think you like greens, you’ll probably dig these.

People dug them pretty hard at the 2012 Arkansas Cornbread Festival, where this recipe won “Best Side Dish.” And to our knowledge, the recipe hasn’t been published anywhere…until now.

Root Café owner and chef Jack Sundell prepares the restaurant's Coconut Curry Collard Greens with Dr. Meenakshi Budrahaja.

Root Café owner and chef Jack Sundell prepares the restaurant’s Coconut Curry Collard Greens with Dr. Meenakshi Budhraja.

Root Café owner and chef Jack Sundell served as a panelist on last week’s Food Day event at Pulaski Tech’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, giving insight on how restaurateurs can commit to using local ingredients. (Hint: It takes a lot of planning and networking.) After the panel, Sundell made this recipe for the audience, which included culinary students, middle schoolers from Conway, and members of the local food community.

Hope you enjoy as much as we did!

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The Root Café’s Coconut Curry Collard Greens
Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. best quality curry powder
  • 2 pounds collard greens or kale, washed and stemmed (should give you about 1 1/2 pounds ready to use)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. salt and more to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Sweat onions with salt until softening, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder and cook one minute, then add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant.

Add half the greens, lower the heat a little bit, and stir occasionally until the greens have mostly wilted.  Add rest of greens, coconut milk, stock, and 1 tsp. salt, cover pot, and reduce heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, 25 – 30 minutes.  Avoid over stirring.

Remove lid and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until most liquid has evaporated and broth has thickened, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully as not to scorch the greens.  Remove pot from heat, stir in one tablespoon each olive oil and lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pulaski Tech hosts Food Day to discuss community, health and economy

22 Oct

Food DayPulaski Technical College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute will host a Food Day panel discussion and food demonstrations with chefs, farmers and doctors on Oct. 23 to discuss how food choices affect the community, environment, economy, and public health.

The discussion begins at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, in the Celebrity Chef Theatre at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Institute, 13000 Interstate 30.

The panelists are Jack Sundell, chef/owner of The Root Café; Jody Hardin, a farmer for St. Joseph Farm and Farm and Food Innovation Center; Dr. Meenakshi Budhraja, gastroenterologist and nutrition educator; and Chef Suzanne Campbell, a culinary instructor at Pulaski Technical College.

The discussion will focus on food safety, health, seasonal cooking, and food preservation. Questions will be accepted from the audience, and the panelists will provide a cooking demonstration using locally grown products.

The event is being held in conjunction with Food Day, a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. The event is free and open to the public. To reserve a seat, contact Kendal Haycook (501) 812-2860 or email khaycook@pulaskitech.edu

Fattoush: The garlicky salad that’s as awesome as it sounds

17 Oct

Fattoush FB image wordsWe pulled over at a ratty gas station somewhere in North Carolina, and I went promptly to the dank restroom to lose my breakfast.

The day before, the husband and I had witnessed the lovely wedding of our dear friends’ daughter (who is also a friend and super awesome) in Tennessee, and he talked me into the additional day’s excursion to Asheville. On the way further east, farther away from my kids and all the things I needed to be doing, I made the mistake of taking vitamins too long after the Holiday Inn Express just-passable breakfast of eggs and bacon and such.

The extra day of travel was to visit the Overland Expo East — think Jeeps, Range Rovers and such all decked out for serious long-distance travel, but with wine and cheese rather than meager rations. This is a trade show of sorts, where equipment providers can hawk their spendy wares. But overlanders also camped out, trading stories and tips, making it sort of a Woodstock of high-end adventurers.

I agreed to the excursion. I wasn’t crazy about the extra day away from home, since that would mean my mother having to take kids to school bright and early that Monday. But I knew that overlanders are often gourmet foodies, so I was on a quest to find them.

First, we looked for Overland Gourmet. Although I have but a passing interest in the overlanding experience, I’ve read this blog over my husband’s shoulder (and when he requested one of their recipes) many a time. Turns out they were on the original map of participants but didn’t quite get there. Gah!

Overland collage

I have to say, the travel rigs at the event were pretty cool. I mean, if you’re gonna go driving in the middle of nowhere, why not take along a gourmet kitchen?

Finally, we met the person who made the trip worthwhile (besides my awesome hubs, of course). My overland imzadi.

forks-cover-art-high-res

Allan Karl. This dude is legit. He motorcycled through countries all over the world over the course of three years, breaking bread with folks on five continents. And he wrote a book about it. Readers follow him along as he is led into a jungle, wondering if he is going to be killed (turns out they just wanted to show him something); awaits entry into not-so-friendly countries while border agents deny him and menacingly adjust their guns; and at every turn, finds friendly people who just want to share their food with him.

When we met Allan, he was selling copies of his book, Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection. The book in front of him fell open to the recipe page from his travels in Syria, a colorful salad with cucumber, olives and feta called fattoush. We were hooked. He said a worker at a gas station there offered it to him, and he wondered if this was going to be a good idea. Turns out it was just the refreshing, nourishing bit of hospitality he needed to move along on his journey.

Fattoush angle FPF

Not long after we got home, we made our own batch. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe it…garlicky, crisp, refreshing. As the recipe is written, it might be a little strong for some, but you can cut back on the garlic and/or feta if you like. (We dig it.) You could also use black olives in place of the pungent kalamatas, which is what my kids did. We also had to cut out the pita bread, obviously, for lack of time to make a gluten-free version. But next time I’ll use this GF naan recipe and go all the way. I also added some lemon zest, because, why not?

My recommendations?

  1. Make this salad. With a quickness. Double the recipe. We did, and the tiny bit that survived was even better the next day.
  2. Buy Allan Karl’s book, Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection. I don’t have any financial benefit in telling you to do so. It’s just really good writing about an amazing adventure, with recipes for every single country he visited, over 35.
  3. Share something with someone from a different cultural background. The whole book is about that very thing. Even within our own country, there are opportunities to break down borders, which is one thing food is really awesome at doing.

Oh, and when you’re traveling in a weird place, whether it be Syria or the wooded outskirts of Ashville, North Carolina, make sure you eat before taking your vitamins. And keep your eyes open…you never know what you’ll discover in a ratty gas station.

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Fattoush
(Recipe courtesy of Allan Karl)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded (if necessary), and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 2 large pitas (preferably pocketless, Mediterranian-style), cut into 3/4″ square pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, premium quality
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 vine-ripened tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon stemmed and finely chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped mint leaves (save a few sprigs for garnish)
  • Hearts of romaine, hand torn, rinsed and spun dry, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably from sheep’s milk (optional)
  • 1/8 cup pitted kalamata olives (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Place the diced cucumber into a strainer, sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place the pita pieces on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven until crisp and golden brown, about 20 minutes, shaking the pan 2 or 3 times as they toast. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. (Note from Christie: Gluten free folks can use my GF naan recipe in place of the pita.)
  4. Make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. (Christie again: I used a food processor; a blender would be great, too.)
  5. Continue whisking until the dressing is emulsified, then stir in the bell pepper, tomato, green onions, parsley, cilantro, mint, pita strips, and cucumber. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and toss well to coat.
  6. Gently toss in feta and olives, if using, and transfer to a large platter garnished with the romaine and the mint sprigs. Serve immediately.
    (One last Christie note: I added lemon zest to garnish.)

Matt Cooper of Cache wins 2014 Iron Chef Competition

18 Sep

Iron Chef wordsUPDATE: Chef Matt Cooper of Cache has won the 2014 Iron Chef Competition.

I saw from my search terms that some of you are wondering where in the world my Iron Chef coverage might be. I’ve been working at the trade show mainly on behalf of arfoodjobs.com, but I had to at least attend the final round of competition for Iron Chef. I’m excited to participate in the last and best round!

The finalists are Chef Matt Cooper of Cache and Chef Marc Guizol, both of whom are Iron Chef alumni. Guizol is the winner of the Iron Chef competition in 2013.

The final mystery basket contains:

  • Pumpkin
  • Molasses
  • Farro
  • Almonds
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Pork Brisket

The chefs have 40 minutes to create a dish with these ingredients. See photos and plate descriptions below.

Final dish by Matt Cooper of Cache

Final dish by Matt Cooper of Cache

Matt Cooper’s dish:

Risotto style pumpkin farro
Marinated pork with chiles, fennel, paprika, molasses
Pumpkin and fennel moustarda
Pumpkin seed and almond gremolata

Final dish by Marc Guizol of Capital Hotel

Final dish by Marc Guizol of Capital Hotel

Marc Guizol’s dish:

Pork two ways, BBQ and Asian
Potato chips and pumpkin chips
Brussels sprouts with truffle oil
Farro with shiitake mushrooms, orange, cinnamon and almond

WINNER: Matt Cooper of Cache.

A Taste of the 2014 Culinary Classic

16 Sep
Sweetbreads and pork belly by Arturo Solis of the Capital Hotel took top honors at the AHA Culinary Classic. More details on awards to come.

Sweetbreads and pork belly by Arturo Solis of the Capital Hotel took top entree honors at the AHA Culinary Classic. 

Last night I had the priviledge of helping judge the Culinary Classic at the Arkansas Hospitality Association’s 70th annual Convention and Trade Show. (SEVENTY years!)

If you’ve read my blog for any time, you know that this conference is my favorite thing all year. The Culinary Classic kicks things off with a bang!

The AHA Culinary Classic is an annual event, always held the night before the trade show begins. Chefs from across the state gather in the Statehouse Convention Center to offer their best plates to judges (I was one for entrees) and to those who bought tickets to the tasting-style event. It’s always full of surprises, both from innovative new plates and from new chefs to the event and community. If you missed it, be sure to buy a ticket next year and join us.

Award winners:

Soup/Salad

1st Jason Godwin, Acxiom – Sopa Azteca

2nd Jason Knapp, Green Leaf Grill – Thai spiced sweet potato soup

3rd Adam Hanry, Camp Mitchell – Purple pea soup

Appetizer

1st Micheal Mayer, LR Marriott – Crab and smoke gouda stuffed tempura shrimp

2nd Jason Knapp, Green Leaf Grill – Three see seared salmon

3rd Matthew Cooper, Cache – Dungeness crab cakes

Entrée

1st Arturo Solis, Capital Hotel – Sweet breads

2nd Stephen Burrow, Clinton Presidential Center – Korean BBQ veal ribs

3rd Jason Knapp, Green Leaf Grill – Pan seared filet of beef

Dessert

1st Jason Godwin, Acxiom – Curry roasted fruit tart

2nd Adam Hanry, Camp Mitchell – Animal crackers

3rd Lauren Creel, LR Marriott – Deconstructed peanut butter and jelly

People’s Choice

Adam Hanry, Purple Pea Soup

Best of Beef

Stephen Burrow, Korean BBQ veal ribs

Hiland Pride Award

Matthew Cooper, Dungeness crab cakes

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On Conferences, Food Blogging and Business (#AWBU, AHA and #IFBC this month)

4 Sep

COLLAGE

I’m a little busy this month.

You may have noticed some changes around here lately at Fancy Pants Foodie. And if you’ve been with me a while, it might look familiar.

Back in 2009 when I started this blog, it was basically about what I cooked at home, teaching you how to do the same if you wanted. That morphed into my experiences at culinary school, and later I wrote quite a bit of local food industry news, often in awkwardly newsy style.

With my release of arfoodjobs.com and its own blog, I’ve decided to publish all new industry-related stuff there. So if you’re in the culinary or hospitality business, you might want to check that out! And back here at FPF, we’re back to food news, reviews and how-tos that relate directly to the home cook. We’ll continue to have an emphasis on gluten-free cooking (since that’s what I do, duh).

In the near future, I’m offering even more.

In the works: A whole new site design, video-based instruction, gear recommendations and more. I’m also writing up some publications you’ve told me you’d like, such as an elimination diet guidebook and a seasonal, local gluten-free recipe book.

This month is a great time to think new, bigger and better, because it’s conference season. I have THREE in the next few weeks! The first, this coming weekend, is Arkansas Women Bloggers University (#AWBU), a fabulous smallish event that has grown into a full-fledged blogger conference on par with just about any other of its size. For me, this one will be about the usual blog-improvement business, but even more so about learning to connect with other people, my local lady friends.

Next is my favorite industry event all year, the Arkansas Hospitality Association Convention and Tradeshow! This includes the Culinary Classic, the live Iron Chef competition, on-site seminars (I’m teaching one on gluten free foodservice!) and loads of great freebies and contacts.

And lastly, my big leap of faith, the International Food Blogger Conference by Foodista. I went to one #IFBC event a few years ago in New Orleans and it was mind-blowing, in a different way from the others I’ve mentioned. It can be summarized in whom I ended up sitting next to at the round tables during sessions. One day, it was the lead food photographer for the New York Times. Another day, it was the author of the book we used in my Professional Food Writing course in culinary school. And that doesn’t even get into the high-end companies looking for partners, the generous swag and the amazing bloggers themselves…several of whom were “internet famous.” Everyone was very welcoming and willing to chat, which I understand is not always the case at these big blog conferences.

I say that #IFBC is a leap of faith this year because it’s not just an easy drive to the Big Easy this time…it’s a flight to Seattle. I’ve never been there, and I don’t even know my roommate yet, other than a few messages online! But I know it will be great.

Starting tomorrow at #AWBU’s Foodie Friday event, I’m ready to be inspired. Want to hear more about it? Follow me on the Twitters (@ARFoodie) or just search for the #AWBU hashtag.

On Using Up a CSA Box – Veggie Potato Fritatta

29 Aug
Completed frittata, with plain yogurt and some fresh thyme. It's what I had.

Completed frittata, with plain yogurt and some fresh thyme. It’s what I had.

A couple weeks ago, I signed up for my very first CSA share from North Pulaski Farms, a local, organic small farm. CSA means community supported agriculture, where you basically buy a share of the farm for a season. They can plan better and have a predictable flow of sales, and I get fresh veggies.

Every. Single. Week.

You see where I’m going with this.

Things went well with the first box. I made sauce out of the raspberries, used the eggplant for a cooking demo, roasted the grape tomatoes for risotto, and worked the bell peppers into several things.

This past week, though, was super busy. I pick up the CSA box on Sunday from the Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market. Today is Thursday. This morning, the tomatoes, okra, bell peppers (both fresh and smoked) and eggplant stared up at me from the veggie bins. There were also a ton of other leftovers and things needing to be used. Ugh.

After finishing up some critical biz-ness, I scrapped the rest of my to-do list and set up shop in the kitchen. Operation Fridge Cleanout, commence.

First, I was STARVING, so I made a frittata for lunch.

The quick version (see step photos below):

  • I preheated the oven to 375 degrees.
  • I seared some of the grape tomatoes in a super-hot, smallish cast iron skillet, no oil.
  • I added some leftover fried potatoes that were in the fridge.
  • I tore up some fresh parsley and basil that I had leftover. Added them to the hot skillet.
    Winning: No knives needed so far.
  • Salt and pepper on top.
  • I whisked 5 eggs (mine were small) and poured them over the mixture.
  • Parmesan on top of that.
  • Threw it in the oven. Waited. Ate.

BAM. I’m not even gonna re-write that in recipe form. I think it took about 20 minutes in the oven, but you can poke at it occasionally if you want. (Thermo-nerds like me can test for an internal temp of 160 degrees…I was busy.)

What was I busy doing, you ask? I was chopping up a crap-ton of other veggies for a GF veggie lasagna I put in the slow cooker. I was soooo excited about it. This is gonna be great on the blog, I said. Eggplant! Bell peppers! Smoked peppers! Mushrooms! It. Will. Be. GLORIOUS.

Meh.

It may have been good a couple hours before we ate it, but let’s just say even the very freshest veggies and the best GF lasagna pasta get mushy when overcooked. After cooking all afternoon and through piano lessons, soccer and a Boy Scout meeting…Slow cooker fail. Oh well.

At least I have frittata leftovers for tomorrow’s breakfast!

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Chef James Harris Spotlights Gluten Free Cuisine at Eggshells (with Recipe for Gluten Free, Vegan, Sugar Free Chocolate Cupcakes)

26 Aug

Frosted cupcakes captionedRemember the other day when I talked about doing a cooking demonstration at the local Gluten Intolerance Group meeting? Because it was a busy day, I felt a little discombobulated and spazzy. Not my best presentation ever. 

But a good bit of my discombobulation was from being a bit nervous, due to a guest who showed up at said meeting. A chef. A “real” chef, one with years of experience specializing in gluten free cooking. (Although I have formal training, I shy away from the “chef” moniker because of my lack of restaurant experience.) 

He was gracious, not correcting me when he probably should have, and chiming in gently when I asked for his input. Only later did we find out he was Executive Sous Chef at the Pleasant Valley Country Club and former chef of the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness.

Dang. 

After the meeting, we also learned that this chef, James Harris, was holding a gluten free cooking class of his own at Eggshells Kitchen Co. the next Monday (yesterday). I had heard about this and meant to look into it further. Now I HAD to go!

I walked in the door of Eggshells, and lo and behold, a fellow culinary student was also in attendance. Ashley is now a pastry chef, working at one of the major bakeries in town. I visited with Chef Harris, joking about our earlier meeting and my less-than-stellar demo. He graciously blamed it on the low table I was using.

Somehow, during Chef Harris’ demonstration, I ended up cooking the risotto while he worked on other parts of the demonstration. Maybe it was me wildly waving my hand in the air, saying, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, let me help!” when he lamented not having an assistant. Ashley ended up helping later on — probably due to my hollering “ASHLEY WANTS TO HELP ICE THE CUPCAKES” — with the vegan, sugar free, gluten free dessert we enjoyed. (No, really; it was good!) Culinarians can be a rowdy bunch. 

Chef Harris’ risotto recipe, using shallots, mushrooms and asparagus, was an excellent example of how delicious naturally gluten-free meals can be. He also demonstrated cooking scallops and (cough) gave us a recipe for gluten-free pasta. Let’s just say live demos don’t always work out. Oh, how I know. 

Here’s the recipe for the cupcakes. This would be great for getting a “sweet fix” while on an elimination diet, or for those with multiple allergies or sensitivities. Heck, they were just good, just because. And I didn’t sugar crash after eating one. Okay, two. Sheesh.

Wanna see photos of the other food and fun? Keep scrollin’ on down, beneath the recipes. 

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Chocolate Cupcakes (Gluten Free, Vegan, Sugar Free)
Recipe provided by Chef James Harris
Makes 10

  • 1 1/2 c. gluten-free flour (recommended: Cup 4 Cup)
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. gluten-free baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. gluten-free baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 c. maple syrup (pure)
  • 1/3 c. coconut oil
  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 1/3 c. coconut milk
  • 2 tsp. gluten-free vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in a muffin pan. 

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Puree avocado in a food processor until smooth. Add maple syrup, almond milk, coconut milk, oil and vanilla and blend until creamy.

Whisk avocado mixture into the flour mixture and combine until smooth. 

Spoon batter into muffin pan and bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick that is inserted into center comes out clean.

Allow to cool before icing. 

 

Chocolate Mousse Icing
Recipe provided by Chef James Harris
Icing for 10 cupcakes

  • 1 c. raw cashews
  • 1/4 c. coconut milk
  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 T. maple syrup (pure)

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend together until very smooth. If it is too thick, add more coconut milk to thin it slightly. 

 

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