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.

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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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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! 

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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

Garnish:

  • 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. 

Polenta:

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. 

Sauce:

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. 

Vegetables:

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. 

Assembling:

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. 

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