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.


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.


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. 


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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Crispy Polenta Cakes with Red Sauce and Roasted Vegetables

21 Aug

Crispy polenta cake with red sauce and roasted veggies. Oops, I forgot the parmesan here. Sue me.

Crispy polenta cake with red sauce and roasted veggies. Oops, I forgot the parmesan here. Sue me.

It was the best of times; it was the busiest of times. 

This Monday, I cheered a little (okay, a lot) when the kids went back to school. We’ve been needing a return to normalcy around here. But on that very same day, I was scheduled to do a cooking demonstration at our local Gluten Intolerance Group of Central Arkansas

Craziness prevailed all day — because, of course — so I felt a little spazzy during the demo. But, we ended up having a good conversation and a few bites of this amazing dish, which can be prepared as a main dish or an appetizer. 

Yeah, it’s a little fussy. You could cut down on the fussiness with a prepared tomato sauce and/or a prepared package of vegetables, I guess. You could also skip the whole step of cooling and shaping the polenta…it’s delicious right out of the pot; just serve the other stuff right on top. Either way, if you want to wow your family or guests with a delicious meal that NOBODY will notice is gluten-free, this is it! 

By the way, this is my favorite, simple method for making an everyday tomato sauce, seen similarly here. Sure, there are times that I use real onions (I’m slightly allergic so they have to be cooked WAY down, and the dried ones are easier), add red wine, and other upgrades. But this is the one you can throw in a pot (if you’ll be home) or in a slow cooker (I like my new pressure cooker/slow cooker, because it can vent and thicken the sauce) for hours and hours. Yummm. I’ve made it on the stove in 30 minutes, and I’ve left it for 4 hours or more. Longer is better, but however you can get it done is best. :)

For the veggies, you can use absolutely anything you want, especially what’s in season. You can just do mushrooms (my husband would die of gag), or go all out with summer squashes, root vegetables, whatever you like. Just chop it up, toss with olive oil and roast. If you have some kale or spinach laying around, you can add that, too; you’d just have to cook it separately. 

I promised the recipe, so here you go! 


Crispy Polenta Cakes with Red Sauce and Roasted Vegetables
Serves 6-8

For the Polenta:

  • Olive oil
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups Corn Grits/Dry Polenta (Rec: Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free)
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1/4 c. fresh parsley and/or basil, chopped
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan
  • Ghee or clarified butter (optional)

For the Red Sauce:

  • One 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • One 28 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1 T. dried onions
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil 
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
    OR: Use 1 T. each of fresh herbs of your choice, chopped
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

For the Roasted Vegetables:

  • 1 lb. whole white button mushrooms
  • 2 bell peppers (any color), medium dice
  • 2 medium eggplant, peeled and medium dice
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper


  • Fresh parsley (Italian or curly), chopped or torn
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Note: Ingredients and method for polenta are adapted from Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits package. 


Prepare a sheet pan (a half-sheet jelly roll style with raised sides) with a generous coating of olive oil, including the sides. 

Bring the 6 cups of water and the salt to a boil in a large pot. Pour in the grits while whisking. It will seem very watery at first, but keep whisking. It will thicken up a LOT. 

Once the grits are all in the pot, turn the heat down to medium-low and keep whisking, off and on, for up to 30 minutes, or until the mixture is VERY thick. The longer you can stretch this process, the creamier the end product will be. 

When the mixture is thickened, add the butter and mix it completely in. Look for pockets of butter and make sure they’re all mixed in. Then, add the fresh herbs and grated cheese and fold it all together. Pour the polenta (isn’t it pretty?) into the sheet pan, smooth it out, and let it sit out to cool a bit. Wrap with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least a couple hours. 


If cooking on the stovetop, cook the tomato paste in the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat for just a few minutes, until the paste starts to develop a bit of color. If using a slow cooker with a sauté function, do so in the cooker. If using a slow cooker without this function, you can brown the paste, covered, in the microwave (yeah, really!) or just use the paste raw. 

In your cooking vessel, combine all the tomato products along with your paste. Add the bay leaf, garlic, dried onions, and dried herbs if you’re using them. (If using fresh herbs, it’s better to add them a bit closer to the end, about 15 minutes before serving.) If using the stovetop, bring to a simmer, turn down to low, and cover with a spatter shield or a lid slightly askew to allow moisture to escape. For slow cookers, just start it up on low for up to four hours. If yours has a vent, set it to open. Before serving, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. 


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wash the mushrooms (no, water won’t kill them) and pop out the stems, saving them for veggie stock in your freezer. Cut into quarters. 

In a large bowl, toss the mushrooms, along with the diced bell pepper and eggplant, with a generous amount of olive oil, probably a 1/4 cup or so. The mushrooms will absorb quite a bit, and you need them to be oily to roast properly. Spread onto a sheet pan and roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until they have a bit of color. The mushrooms will steam quite a bit and shrink for most of the cooking time, only roasting when they have released most of their liquid. 

Remove from oven and sprinkle with a couple pinches of kosher salt and pepper. 


Heat 2 T. of ghee, clarified butter or olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out large rounds of the polenta from the chilled sheet and place as many in the skillet as will fit without crowding. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pan to prevent spattering. Check on it in 10 minutes for a browned, crispy bottom. When you’ve got it, turn them carefully over to crisp the other side. When finished, you can hold these in a warm oven while cooking the next batch, if necessary. (Your oven’s still warm from roasting, right?)

On each plate, place one or more rounds on each plate, depending on if this is an appetizer or entree. Top with tomato sauce and roasted vegetables, then garnish with chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese. 

Help feed 50,000 hungry Arkansans next Sunday!

16 Jul

I received an Action Alert from the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance this week that I thought many of you may be interested in. As you know, hunger is an issue that is important to me, and AHRA is doing great things to fight this ugly battle in our state.

Rather than rehash the whole thing, I’ll just forward the information to you directly:



Meal Packing Event to Feed Hungry Arkansans!

We need your help! The Alliance needs 400 volunteers to participate in a meal packaging event on Sunday, July 27th at the Statehouse Convention Center.

The Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), with legislators from 13 states, is meeting in Little Rock, July 26-30. Each year at its conference, the SLC conducts the SLC/Mark Norris Campaign Against Hunger meal packing event.The goal of this year’s event, sponsored by CenturyLink, is to pack 50,000 meals for low income Arkansans. Volunteers are needed Sunday from 8:30-11:30am,  at the Statehouse Convention Center. You will work side-by-side with legislators and other volunteers to assemble meal packets that will be distributed to hunger agencies across the state.
 If you or your organization would like to volunteer, please email Caitlin McNally at cmcnally@arhungeralliance.org.

We can end hunger. You can help!

Squash Casserole (for People Who Don’t Like Squash Casserole)

27 Jun
Amazing squash casserole. It'll make you a believer.

Amazing squash casserole. It’ll make you a believer.

It’s been nearly a week since my visit to Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market. Although I seem to be growing Hardin Farms squash out of my ears, I still had quite a bit left today.

Squash uncut

Solution: Squash casserole.

Thing is, I don’t even like squash casserole that much. It’s usually really soft and squishy. And really oniony, which doesn’t always agree with my tummy. And kinda bland.

Time for a remodel.

1. First, to tackle the squishy squash problem. Most recipes require boiling the veggie. Um, how about not. Let’s try sautéing instead, over fairly high heat. This will give the squash some nice caramelization while cooking it just a bit, not to death.

2. Next, the onion. Freshness matters, so I used one from the North Little Onions for squash casseroleRock Community Farm, also at the Bernice Gardens market. Cooking it way down helps me be able to eat it, so after a small dice I added it to the same pan in which I had sautéed the squash. (The veggies had since been moved to a buttered casserole dish.) I immediately added a half-cup of chicken broth and a good pinch of salt, both of which will help soften the onion and cook it to translucent without burning. When the onion was almost ready, I added one large clove of garlic, minced.

3. Lastly, I added flavor and creaminess using low-fat cream cheese. Borrowing from Crescent Dragonwagon’s renowned recipe for Featherbed Eggs, I cut half a block of cream cheese into cubes, 12 total, and pressed them down into the casserole dish of squash. Because, really, what can’t be improved by cream cheese?

The finished casserole, plated in all its delicious glory.

The finished casserole, plated in all its delicious glory.

For the entire recipe, see below. But know this…I don’t like squash casserole, and I just ate three plates of this stuff.


Squash Casserole for People Who Don’t Like Squash Casserole
Serves 8 (or fewer, depending on how much you end up liking it!)

  • About 6 cups diced squash, any kind (I used zucchini, Zephyr and pattypan)
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, small dice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth, divided
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (can use low-fat/Neufchatel), cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. dry bread crumbs (I used gluten free, from leftover bread)

Slice squash into approximate 1/2″ pieces. For larger squash, quarter them before slicing; halve smaller ones. Butter the inside of a large, oven-safe casserole dish.

Sauté the squash over medium-high heat with a half-teaspoon of olive oil in multiple batches, only using enough squash each time to cover the bottom of your pan. Cast iron works well for this. Place the squash in a single layer and let it sit for about a minute, then stir to turn and let sit another minute. Once the squash is sautéed, move each batch to the buttered dish. You may need to add a bit more oil with subsequent batches to prevent burning.

Next, place the diced onion, broth and a heavy pinch of kosher salt into the empty pan; no need to clean any residue from the squash. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add more water or broth as needed to avoid burning the onion when it dries out. Add the minced garlic when the onion is almost translucent and cook another minute. Stir the mixture into the squash in the casserole dish.

Press the cut cubes of cream cheese down into the casserole dish, nestling them slightly under the squash mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 c. chicken broth with three eggs. Pour the mixture over the casserole.

Top with fresh thyme, cheddar cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until the egg mixture is no longer liquid.

Browned Butter Squash Noodles with Lemon Basil Pasta and Chicken

24 Jun


Browned butter squash noodles with fettuccine, lemon thyme and chicken.

Browned butter squash noodles with fettuccine, lemon basil and chicken.

As mentioned previously, I visited the Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market on Sunday to load up on veggies. One of my wonderful finds was a huge load of Zephyr and zucchini squash from Hardin Farms.

I’ve used them a few ways already, but I think tonight’s dinner gets a special mention.

First, I cooked some gluten-free fettuccine noodles (Le Veneziane, the only kind worth using in this), just three of the six nests in a package, to al dente in salted water. I held it in a colander in the sink, tossed with a bit of olive oil, until everything else was ready.

Results of the amazing DeBuyer mandoline. Not sponsored, just true.

Results of the amazing DeBuyer mandoline. Not sponsored, just true.

I’ve had my trusty DeBuyer mandoline for years, but I’d never used it to make veggie noodles. Before I ran out to buy one of those fancy noodles machines I’ve seen lately, I decided to give it a shot. Using just the right combination of the two reversible blades, I got these babies. Amazing, crunchy, long squash noodles. I ate a quarter of them before I ever got around to cooking them or anything else. I used three largish squash, finding that the larger ones are easier to run across the mandoline.

I will tell you this: real French mandolines work great, but they often collect a penance in the form of a piece of your finger. Be wary. I even had to skip the safety shield and pusher so I could shove the whole squashes across. If you do that…may the force be with you.

Chicken cooking in the incredibly not non-stick pan

Chicken cooking in the incredibly not non-stick pan

I had a couple large chicken breasts in the freezer, so I thawed them in the fridge overnight. I sliced them into 3/4-inch slices, seasoned with salt and pepper, and tossed them with a bit of olive oil. Then I seared the slices in a large, stainless steel (as in not-nonstick) pan and cooked until they were just done, turning once. They may stick a bit, but they should turn just fine when they’re properly seared. I moved the finished pieces out of the pan and into a separate dish, covered with foil, while I did a second round. Two chicken breasts made plenty for four people!

Are you cooking along? Oh, good! DO NOT clean your pan. All those brown bits are about to make this dish amazing.

This stuff is gold, people. If you scrub it off, we can't be friends.

This stuff is gold, people. If you scrub it off, we can’t be friends.

I added a tablespoon (ahem, or more) of butter and cooked it until browned, which didn’t take long since it picked up some of the pan’s yummy goodness. Then I put in a half-cup or so of chicken broth to fully deglaze the pan (fancy terms for picking up all those yummy bits), whisking the whole time to scrape them up. The squash noodles went in next, tossed a bit with tongs. Then I added the GF noodles and half of my fresh lemon basil, tossing a bit over the heat. You can add the chicken back at this point if it needs reheating.

The whole shebang now went into a serving dish, with the chicken (if you didn’t add it earlier) and the rest of the lemon basil. Top each serving with a bit of fancy salt, if you have it.

squash noodle close

I’m not writing this one out recipe style, so if you have any further questions, just leave a comment below!

Ridiculous Roasted Marshmallow Blackberries

23 Jun
Organic blackberry by North Pulaski Farms. Marshmallow by Kraft.

Organic blackberry by North Pulaski Farms. Marshmallow by Kraft.

I went to a local farmers’ market yesterday for the first time in I-don’t-know-when, other than a couple months ago when we had the Blogger Bake Sale at the Argenta Farmers’ Market. And I didn’t get to look around that day.

Honestly, I just can’t get up that early and get presentable on Saturdays. (Yeah, yeah, the Argenta one goes until NOON. Still.)

We had just rolled in from a vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Although I cooked whenever possible, we still had eaten more than our share of road food.

I recalled that the Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market runs until 2 p.m. on Sundays, offering a chance to load up on some cleansing fruits and veggies. Usually, this is my after-church crash-nap time. But, since I had just been sitting in a moving vehicle all day, I was daisy-fresh. Ish.

It was my first time to the Bernice market. I saw some newcomers to the market scene (North Little Rock Community Farm, which I’ll write more about soon), as well as some familiar faces, including Kelly Carney, owner of the all-organic North Pulaski Farms. I came away from his booth with some special breed of cucumbers and a carton of the biggest, most amazing-looking blackberries I’d ever seen. Did I mention they were organic?

Of course, the whole purpose of the trip was to make some healthy fare. That would be on the menu all week, what with all the squash and zucchini and onions and such I had picked up. I unpacked the camping goodies from our trip while I snacked on the blackberries. Marshmallows. Toward cabinet.

Full stop.

This could be something.


Progression of inspiration.

Progression of inspiration.

I fiddled with a marshmallow. I broke it open, kind of unrolling it from one end to the other so it would be long and thin. A muse descended and guided my hand, placing a ripe berry in the middle.

Munch. Amazing.

Then the gas cooktop caught my eye.

Soon, I had pierced another marshmallow-wrapped berry with a chopstick and was roasting it. A roasted marshmallow. With a berry inside.

Munch. Even MORE amazing.

Roasted marshmallow blackberry with balsamic. Oh, how it wanted a mint leaf!

Roasted marshmallow blackberry with balsamic. Oh, how it wanted a mint leaf!

Soon, my daughter caught on to the awesome and we roasted several. I drizzled a bit of balsamic on one, and that was over.the.top. It wanted a mint leaf, but alas, I had none.

I’ve made a couple healthier things with my market finds today. But I had to share this. It’s just so ridiculous, it’s awesome.


Capital Hotel’s Guizol wins Diamond Chef 2014 (Updated)

3 Jun
Diamond Chef 2014 winner Marc Guizol (center) with sous Patrick Kelly and Adrienne Rogers.

Diamond Chef 2014 winner Marc Guizol (center) with sous Zachary Pullam and Adrienne Rogers.

Chef Marc Guizol, sous chef at the Capital Hotel, has won the 2014 Diamond Chef final competition. His competitor was Chef Dan Capello of the Chenal Country Club.

This year’s secret ingredient was lobster, and Guizol and Capello did not disappoint with their variations on the theme. However, before the ingredient was revealed, an even bigger twist: Each chef had to trade one sous chef to the opposing team. Chenal’s Patrick Kelly ended up working with Guizol, and Capital Hotel’s Zachary Pullam switched over to Capello.

Each team was given 20 minutes to prepare each course, which was then presented to the team of judges.

1st Course CollageFirst Course

Chef Capello’s team presented a lobster spring roll with a lemon sour cream sauce. Guizol’s team presented lobster tartare with a peanut butter sauce.

2nd Course Collage

Second Course

Capello presented an in-shell lobster tail with a slaw of microgreens and guacamole, and a fried zucchini flower stuffed with goat cheese. Guizol offered a coconut-milk based soup with a lobster tail and lobster mousseline, garnished with lobster roe, and a roe-garnished crisp. (Many thanks to Lennon Parker of Pulaski Tech for sharing his photos of this course.)

3rd Course CollageThird Course

Capello presented a crab claw and knuckle ragu with mushroom, tomato and bacon; a corn and lobster flan; and a celeriac, French truffle and quail egg yolk ravioli with a celeriac truffle crumble, garnished with thyme, celery and borage flowers.

Guizol presented a smoked lobster claw with roe presented caviar style, a fresh winter Australian truffle ravioli with foie gras, and porcini mushroom garnish.

Finale Diamond Chef Arkansas Score SlideScoring

Guizol won with a final total score of 83.8 out of a possible 100 points, compared to Capello’s 78.67 points.

I got to overhear some of the judges’ conversations while taking photos and getting plate descriptions, and the competition was tight. It seemed to come down to a few minor technical errors on Capello’s part and more well-executed dishes on Guizol’s side.

I don’t envy the chefs or their sous at all. This is an extremely high-pressure event, and I certainly would not want to pick apart each dish like the judges must. They are presented with near-perfect dishes from Arkansas’ best chefs, and they are forced to find what little things may have been wrong.

Once again, Diamond Chef has shown us just what amazing culinary talent we have right here in Arkansas, all benefiting Pulaski Technical College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute so they can keep adding more talent to our market.

PHOTOS: See below for candid shots and more from the event. Please do not republish without permission.

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Diamond Chef 2014 Pits Capello, Guizol this Tuesday

1 Jun

Disclaimer: Although I’ve attended for free for years as a student or volunteer, this year marks the first time I’ll be sitting at a “big kid” table at Diamond Chef. Organizers offered me a ticket in exchange for my normal coverage, so I’m telling you and the FTC powers that be. Sorry for two “sponsored” things in a row, technically.


It’s time once again for that iconic culinary throwdown, the Diamond Chef competition final, this year pitting Executive Chef Daniel Capello of Chenal Country Club against Executive Sous Chef Marc Guizol of the Capital Hotel. The ticketed event will be held this Tuesday, June 3, 6 p.m. at the Statehouse Convention Center. Tickets are still available, $200 each or $2,000 for a table of 10.

Diamond Chef is a fundraising event for the Pulaski Technical College Foundation, specifically for the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, or CAHMI (Read: “Cammie”) for short. If you know me at all, you know I’ve got quite the soft spot for CAHMI, being a graduate and now sitting on the advisory board. Every dollar raised at Diamond Chef helps students have the equipment and opportunities they need to be the well-trained workforce that Arkansas deserves.

I’ve had the privilege of covering the Diamond Chef event for several years now (excepting last year, when I was at Disney World — my bad), since my days as a culinary arts student at Pulaski Tech. Since then, the event has become even bigger, better and more fun!

Students and faculty line both sides of the doors while welcoming Diamond Chef guests.

Students and faculty line both sides of the doors while welcoming Diamond Chef guests.

The event starts with a cocktail hour in the lobby, giving attendees a chance to mingle and start bidding on the well-stocked silent auction. Later, attendees are ushered into the ballroom, flanked on both sides by CAHMI students and faculty in their white chef coats. The guests are then seated at round tables for 10 while dining on a multi-course meal. (And because I know you’re wondering, none of these meals are made by the frantically-competing chefs, just by the amazingly talented culinary staff at Statehouse.)

While you watch, the two finalists, each with two sous chefs, are presented with the one secret ingredient that must be used in every dish presented that night, and they have but 60 minutes in which to do it. At least three courses are required, but being the overachievers that they are, we often see more. A panel of expert judges will score the chefs on creativity, taste and presentation, while Chef Andre Poirot of Crowne Plaza Little Rock will serve as a technical judge, scoring the chefs on sanitation and organization. Note: I’ve seen chefs lose by a fraction of a point for sanitation. It matters!

The seated part of the event also includes a live auction, filled with fantasy prizes and trips for foodies. (I swear, one day I’ll bid on a trip to eat at the renowned French Laundry, if that auction item appears again.)

I hear you…”Wasn’t there a Diamond Chef just a few weeks ago?” Well, yes, gentle reader; I’m glad you remember. That was the preliminaries, an exciting, multi-round free event that chooses this year’s challenger to the previous year’s Diamond Chef champion. See, here’s a selfie I took with Chef Guizol just after his big win!

We were having a silly moment. He was pretty happy. He also said his out-of-town friends saw everything on Fancy Pants Foodie!

We were having a silly moment. He was pretty happy. He also said his out-of-town friends saw everything on Fancy Pants Foodie!

At this preliminary event and at other food events around town, I’ve been amazed at Chef Guizol’s skill. It’s a testament to the stacked deck of awesome over at the Capital Hotel that someone of his stature is second in command (to Executive Chef Joel Antunes) and is flanked by tournant (or roundsman, basically a chef who can do anything at any station) Arturo Solis, whose performance at last year’s AHA Culinary Classic was as astounding as any head chef in town.

Guizol came away as the winner of last year’s Arkansas Hospitality Association Iron Chef competition, so he’ll be a formidable competitor at this year’s Diamond Chef.

Meanwhile, Chef Daniel Capello is a Diamond Chef legend. He won the title last year as well as in 2010, and has long been active in culinary competitions and other events such as Wildwood’s Wine and Food Festival, CAHMI’s Chef Ball, and the March of Dimes Signature Chef event.

The main thing that stands out to me about Capello is his generosity to the local food community. If you are a culinary student or up-and-coming chef in Arkansas, chances are you’ve had the chance to visit with him and glean from his experience. His attendance at all the aforementioned events show that he’s not too busy or too good to share the culinary wealth.

I hope you’l join me this Tuesday at the Diamond Chef final event. It’s a great event for a great cause. Our students at CAHMI very much appreciate your support of their education!


Diamond Chef Final
benefiting Pulaski Technical College
Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute
Statehouse Convention Center
6-10 p.m. (Cocktails from 6-7)
$200 each / $2000 for a table of 10

Good Morning Arkansas: Citrus Glazed Salmon and Quick Portable Snacks

29 May

DISCLAIMER: I received payment for today’s television appearance to share about bistroMD meal delivery service and some other products, listed below. As usual, I would not promote anything that I didn’t think was awesome. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m currently eating frosting out of a piping bag while writing about healthy foods. Carry on. 

Finished dish as presented on Good Morning Arkansas.

Finished dish as presented on Good Morning Arkansas.

So, I’m guessing you saw me today on Good Morning Arkansas! Maybe I’m still on right now, and you’re laughing at the fact that I dropped the salmon, or I over-sauced the carrots. (Not really, I hope…I’m writing this the night before.) I do want to tell you a bit more about the dish I made and share the recipe with you.

The Citrus Glazed Salmon recipe is from bistroMD, a healthy alternative to take-out and frozen meals that comes right to your door. They can customize your menu based on your particular health needs, from diabetes to gluten-free. You can choose from tons of breakfast, lunch and dinner options, and you can do just about any combination of those you want for your weekly program. A full week program, including 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 6 dinners (they figure you’ll want to go out once) is $159.95, delivered frozen to your door each week. Not too bad!

I will say this: The recipe I presented was a little tricky. Salmon can be hard for beginners to get just right without overcooking (luckily, mine turned out mostly fine). But the real stinker was those carrots! I love, love, LOVE miso paste, but it contains a lot of sugar and protein that likes to BURN in the oven, the method used in the original recipe. I finally tweaked the recipe to make them a little less, um, smoky. I see from bistroMD’s photos that the carrots are really (properly) caramelized when they do them, but it’s hard to do that at home just right without summoning cute firefighters, so I’ll give you some options.  See the recipe below.

Or, hey, just hire bistroMD to do it for you! Win.


The snacks! I hope you were able to hear about all the snacks. (If I ran out of time, just keep reading and you’ll hear all about it!) There are some really cool things available now that you can easily carry in your purse or stick in your desk drawer. Here’s what I (hopefully) talked about today:

Carrington Farms Flax Packs: Flax seeds are extremely good for you, with Omega 3s and fiber and all kinds of good stuff. But they usually have to be refrigerated, and they have to be cut for you to absorb the nutrients. These packs are organic, portion sized and don’t need a fridge. Just put it right on your salad, yogurt or whatever. They’re available locally at Whole Foods.

I loves me some little glass iced coffees that you might see at the grocery store, but they don’t love me back…full of sugar and unnatural nasties. The new RealBeanz iced coffee is a healthy spin on these popular “ccino” drinks. There are several varieties, and they’re all 100% natural. I personally love that the “diet” one uses stevia rather than fake sweeteners! You’ll have to order this one online, either from the RealBeanz site or on Amazon.

Finally, my favorite…Perky Jerky. It’s not just a funny name, it’s actually really delicious. The “perky” part comes from the use of guarana, a plant that is energizing much like a coffee bean, in the jerky marinade. The marinade also includes pineapple juice, which tenderizes and sweetens through its natural enzymes and God-given yumminess. A jerky that isn’t tough and gross, and can actually pick me up on a long work day? Sign me up. I saw these tonight at Kroger (yay), and I hear they’re also at Target and Home Depot.

I hope you enjoyed my visit on the teevee today! Hopefully it was more educational and less laugh-at-me inducing. Either way, click the links here (I don’t benefit if you do, it’s just cool stuff) and read more about it!


Citrus Glazed Salmon (serves 4)
Courtesy of bistroMD (slightly modified in places!)



  • 1 pound of center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut into 4 portions
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste




Preheat oven to 450F.

Season the salmon fillets lightly with salt and pepper and place on a non-stick baking sheet.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until salmon is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.


Citrus Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup Mandarin Oranges, drained
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Lime Juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 2 tablespoons Orange Juice
  • 1 tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Scallions, chopped
  • Corn Starch, as needed


In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the  lime juice, lemon juice, orange juice and rice wine vinegar. Heat until it begins to boil then turn down the heat to a low simmer and allow to slightly reduce. If a thicker sauce is preferred, add corn starch to thicken to desired consistency. Just before serving, add the oranges and toss to warm through. Spoon over salmon and garnish with scallions. (Note: Original recipe cooks the oranges and scallions in the sauce the whole time, which makes more of a chunky sauce. I wanted a glaze and separate oranges, and I like the scallions to be fresh and green, hence my changes. Make it how you want!)


Miso Carrots:

  • 16oz bag, Petite-Cut Carrots
  • 4 tablespoons Miso Paste
  • 2 teaspoons Sesame Oil


Oven method:

Preheat oven to 450F.

Toss carrots, miso paste and sesame oil together in a bowl. Spread onto a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Blogger’s note: I wasn’t as happy with this method, although it looks fine. See options below.)

Stovetop method:

Steam carrots by microwaving in a covered bowl with a tablespoon of water for 3-4 minutes, or in a steamer basket over boiling water on the stovetop. Alternately, you can roast the carrots, tossed in a tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil (less likely to burn than the sesame oil) in the 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, turning frequently.

Place miso paste, sesame oil and a tablespoon of water in a nonstick sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom constantly, until the mixture becomes a thickened sauce. (This may not take much time with traditional miso paste; Kroger only has a very liquidy version that took longer to cook down.) When thickened, add your steamed or roasted carrots and toss to coat.


Ginger Snow Peas:

  • 12oz Snow Peas, fresh or frozen
  • ½ teaspoon Ginger, fresh, grated
  • ¼ teaspoon Sesame Oil

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat with the sesame oil. When oil is heated, add the ginger and sauce for 1 minute. Add the snow peas and toss to coat with the oil and ginger. Saute 2-3 minutes if using fresh. Saute 7-8 minutes if using frozen.



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