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Cooking — Why it Matters (Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry event July 31)

9 Jul

For the past month, I’ve traveled over to the Arkansas Foodbank every Friday afternoon to teach a super-awesome group of folks how to cook.

The program is called Cooking Matters, a program of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. The goal is to help lower-income families learn to shop, cook and eat in a way that is affordable and healthy.

As is often the case with such things, I think I’ve gotten more out of it than the students have. But that’s not to say they aren’t learning, too. Each week, several participants have a “eureka” moment when they realize they like brown rice, they like the taste of foods with less salt, or they actually enjoy broccoli.

Cooking Matters is fairly new in Arkansas, only having had a few classes over the past two years as they geared up through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Mine is the first to use the “Families” curriculum, meaning we have kids and adults cooking and learning together. Now, local coordinators are seeking out new locations and instructors to place classes all over the state.

Each week, we get settled into our “kitchen” (some classes are taught in an actual kitchen, while others, like this one, are done in a meeting room) and begin with a lesson from a nutritionist. (Last week’s demonstrated the amount of fat in a fast-food meal by putting equivalent amounts of Crisco on a bun. Several haven’t had fast food since!) Then, we review topics such as knife skills, food safety or the like, and then we go over the recipe for the day.

Then it gets crazy! The room buzzes with the happy madness of several families cooking at once. I demonstrate each step from my station, and then sometimes walk around to help the students complete it. When we’re done, we all gather together at a large table, demonstrating the importance of eating together as a family. Here, we try each others’ dishes, talk about the lesson, laugh, learn from each others’ lives. Then I close with a challenge for the next week, such as choosing healthy ingredients or limiting fast food.

I’m writing this now to tell you how you can help. I’ve seen firsthand how lives are changed. Not only do I hope the program becomes funded for expansion, I want you to feel the happiness of knowing you’ve changed lives for the better — with cooking.

On Tuesday, July 31, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is holding a fundraiser event at The Oxford American that is a must-attend. The funds will stay in the state to fund Cooking Matters, as well as to help increase participation in existing programs such as WIC, SNAP and summer feeding programs. (For more info on why, read this; many hungry Arkansas kids don’t take advantage of the help that’s available.)

I seriously hope you’ll take action today to make sure you’ll be there. Tickets are $150 each, with table sponsorships available for $1,500. Ask your employer to participate, especially if you’re in the food industry.

The No Kid Hungry Dinner will be hosted by Chef Donnie Ferneau (Rocket 21) and will showcase the talents of some of Little Rock’s best chefs, including Brian DeLoney (Maddie’s Place) and Kelli Marks (Sweet Love), as well as visiting chefs John Currence (City Grocery, Oxford, MS) and Marcel Vigneron (Modern Global Tasting Inc., Los Angeles, CA).

You can buy tickets online or get more information about the event here.

P.S. Chef Donnie Ferneau has approved my schlepping in the kitchen for the event, so I’ll be live-blogging (or after-the-fact blogging, depending on how busy he keeps me) the whole thing, from the perspective of the chefs! Stay tuned.

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Bean 2 Blog at P. Allen Smith’s Farm: Soybeans, Demystified

19 Jun

That time I hung out with P. Allen Smith for the day. Oh, and a dozen other bloggers. But I think he liked me best.

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you may know that I recently had the privilege of touring P. Allen Smith’s amazing garden home in Roland. Can you say, amazing? Inspirational? I totally want a vegetable garden and my own heritage breed chickens now.

The event, called Bean 2 Blog, focused on soybeans and was a chance for the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board to chat up their wares to just shy of a dozen of us blogger types. I honestly expected to have to put on my PR shield, which is pretty savvy, having been in the field myself. (Haaa, see what I did there?) But the event was very tastefully done, and I learned a lot of useful information about the magic bean.

  •  Mulberry, Arkansas, will be the site of the U.S.’ first soybean crop developed and grown specifically for use as edamame. It’s a particular variety of soybean that makes the best edamame, and the growing, harvesting and storing practices are different than usual soybean production. The new crop will bring several hundred new jobs to the area.
  • You can totally make your own soy milk. I always knew this, but seeing it done in person got me all kinds of excited. My son and I are allergic to cow’s milk, so we go though quite a bit of those red boxes of soy milk. (He calls it “red milk.”) And it only takes about a cup of soaked dry beans to make a quart of milk. Given, I’ll probably have to add a bit of honey and calcium carbonate to reach “red milk” standards, but it would be worth it.
  • Soybeans are easy to grow yourself. I never thought of soy as something to grow in the backyard, but it’s easy, accessible and a great source of protein. You can eat the beans green as edamame or more mature as roasted or cooked beans.They gave us some seeds, which I started in the peat container they provided. My dog knocked it over in the backyard just as they were germinating. I rescued the seedlings from the ground, replanted them, and now they’re over a foot tall and ready for transplant. Maybe my thumb isn’t so black, after all…
  • Soy candles burn cleanly, last longer and are recommended for those with allergies or breathing problems. Ron and Connie Locke of LockStars Soy Candles showed us the raw products they use to make their candles, including soy wax. (I had to ask the dumb question…how do you get wax out of oil? Answer: Hydrogenation. At least we’re not eating it, right?)
  • Arkansas does indeed grow non-GMO soy, but not much; only about 2 percent of the current crop fits this description. Much of this goes overseas to Asian countries, and the rest goes to companies like Silk to make soy milk and other products.
  • Speaking of GMOs, the jury is still out within the industry, and they’re leaning heavily toward modification. While many of us foodies rail against them and demand non-GMOs at reasonable prices, this is simply not currently feasible for your average Arkansas farmer. GMO varieties have greater yield and generallyuse less herbicide, despite the “super bugs” that are coming about. Farmer margins are slim as it is, and until something changes (like a tremendous rise in demand), non-GMO crops generally aren’t profitable enough.My personal take on the solution: Continue asking for it, folks. The industry knows we’re out there. But be nice; the farmers have to make money, too.
  • Soybeans are used for all kinds of non-food products, such as paint, ink, machine lubrication, wax (for things like candles and lip balm), even a high-efficiency sprayed foam insulation for homes. It’s renewable and just downright groovy for the Arkansas economy.

I usually don’t write a bullet-point list like this, but I learned so much during this event that it’s hard to cover any one thing thoroughly. However, I’ll continue soon with more details on soy recipes and other topics, as well as a separate post about P. Allen Smith’s digs.

Did I mention that I’m totally going to buy a soy milk machine?

More soy to come.

P.S. With a gaggle of girly bloggers, this event was as much fashion as it was farm, partially to my chagrin. I’m just not girly enough to care, most days. But, thanks to Country Outfitters, I at least had some super-nifty Ariat western boots to wear, like the other girls. My first ones, ever! Disclosure: They were a gift. Additional disclosure: I LOVE them. Comfy after an entire day of tromping the grounds.

 

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PTC Culinary School Hosts Certified Master Chefs

4 Jun

If you’re a foodie, it may interest you to know that there is an elite group of chefs in the nation. Their allegiance lies in that they have all successfully completed a grueling, eight-day testing process that covers both culinary knowledge and practical skills.

There are currently only 66 people who have achieved the ranking of Certified Master Chef (CMC), and only 11 who hold the similar title in the pastry realm as a Certified Master Pastry Chef (CMPC).

This Tuesday, June 5, two of these chefs will be in Little Rock to judge the Diamond Chef Arkansas competition, taking place that night at the Statehouse Convention Center. Certified Master Chefs John Johnstone and Peter Timmins have also graciously offered to speak at Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School that morning, 10 a.m. until noon, to discuss becoming (and being) a Certified Master Chef. Students and the public are encouraged to attend.

The CMC certification comes from the American Culinary Federation, the same organization that governs accreditation of culinary schools such as Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School. Pulaski Tech gained accreditation status from the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation in 2010, giving all its students the opportunity to graduate with the ACF’s Certified Culinarian status.

The American Culinary Federation has a fascinating section of their website about becoming a CMC, with a video. It is definitely awe-inspiring.

Event details:

Certified Master Chef Presentation

Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School (South Campus)

Crain Community Room
10 a.m. – noon

Free to students and the public

Country Captain Chicken: My Last Final, Ever (With Recipe for Blanch, Shock and Awe Asparagus)

15 May

With some degree of anticlimactic huzzah, I recently made this, my last dish at Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School.

The humor was not lost on me that it was Country Captain Chicken, a sort of earthy, southern meal, to end two and a half years of mostly fine-dining training. I imagine this was because chicken is easily purchased and quickly used, things critical to a college kitchen trying to close up shop for the summer.

My last class just happened to be American Regional Cuisine, which I have really enjoyed this semester. The class was supposed to be taught by my PITA Food 4 instructor (who, incidentally, I now adore). But, due to a scheduling issue, the class was taught by a new instructor, Matthew Cooper of Lulav. No, not that guy, a new one. I imagine this one knows how to make sushi. 

We did our written and practical final on the same day, which doesn’t always happen. The test had 70 questions. I was the first to turn it in, which always makes me a little nervous… overconfident much? Not really. I only missed three.

We didn’t know what we’d be making for our practical final until just before entering the kitchen. The class was divided and assigned one of two dishes, the Country Captain and a clam chowder. I was glad I got the chicken.

I really relished my last time in the kitchen as a student. For this final, we worked individually, which I enjoy, although I’m also known for often forceful leadership of a group activity. (That’s a phlegmatic/choleric personality mix, for those who are into that sort of thing.)

I finished. It was awesome. Then I realized I forgot to add the raisins, so I scraped off the sauce, fixed the error, and re-finished. Even more awesome.

Not ever being one to leave well enough alone, I asked Chef Cooper if he would mind a bit of liberty taken with the sides. He said that would be fine, with the sides only. So, rather than sautéing the recommended side of asparagus, I broke protocol and used my favorite technique: blanch, shock and awe. (I’m seriously going to make that into a T-shirt.) See recipe below.

The chef dug the food. I got an A.

I had a moment as I walked out the back door, toward the loading dock and trash area that was near my car. Never again will I have the opportunity to learn, play, experiment and grow that I’ve had here. Never again will I be surrounded by such culinary genius, all the time. Never again will I be with this particular group of students, of all ages and talents, who have become some of my best friends.

Here’s to whatever comes next.

____________________________________________________

Blanch, Shock and Awe Asparagus 
4 servings

  • 20 stalks asparagus, woody ends trimmed/snapped off
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Lemon, zested, halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper, fresh ground

Prepare a bowl of ice water while you bring a pot of salted water to boil. Heat a grill or grill pan to high heat.

Blanch the asparagus in salted water for 10-15 seconds, or just until the color becomes a bright green. Immediately plunge asparagus in the ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Don’t leave it there too long, but remove and dry thoroughly on paper towels.

Drizzle olive oil lightly over the asparagus and rub with your hands to thoroughly coat. Season with salt and pepper, then grill for 5-10 minutes or until the asparagus acquires grill marks and the desired level of charring, if you like.

Remove asparagus from the grill and place in a shallow container. Squeeze one half of the lemon over the asparagus, then sprinkle with the zest. Serve to astounded and awed guests.

 

 

Should I be allowed to cook?

1 Mar

When I was a kid, my dad, God bless his willing heart, would take me to McDonald’s for a little outing.

This was in the days before McNuggets, so my standard fare was a cheeseburger Happy Meal. Every time, I would get about halfway through it and get “too full,” even a little sick to my stomach. This annoyed my sweet daddy to no end, as he had bought yet another perfectly good burger, and I ought to eat it.

Turns out I had a sensitivity (then called an “allergy,” although we now know that to be a misnomer) to onions, one that caused instant stomach swelling, nausea and great discomfort. After extensive testing, we discovered this along with a long list, about 20 different items, that caused some sort of reaction or another in my body.

In recent years, I’d gotten to where I can eat just about anything without a major reaction, even onions if they’re cooked really well. I got really good at cooking and decided to chase a passion at culinary school.

Then, halfway through school, I start to get sick again. Turns out that this time, it’s gluten intolerance.

I’m not going to use this post to defend gluten intolerance as a valid problem, so if you have an issue with it, read this article recently published in the Huffington Post for some insight.

Why am I dumping all this on you, after promising not to talk so much about my own health? Because some yahoos on Twitter went and got my goat last night.

A cook (who will remain nameless, because I’m charitable like that) tweeted his great displeasure that a guest in his restaurant said she was allergic to seafood, and she had a “mise en place” tattoo on her arm. (For the unwashed, that’s a term for prepping food for production. It’s a sure sign she’s a culinary student or professional.)

I replied, quite sweetly, I thought, that there were several students in our program with allergies and sensitivities, and why was that a big deal?

Here are some excerpts he rallied from his followers:

“ya I’m allergic to stupid. How can you be passionate about stuff your (sic) ‘allergic’ too (sic).”

“if you can’t/don’t taste the food your (sic) cooking, then stop wasting your time and go do something you want to do.”

And my favorite, after I asked why it’s such an offensive idea that people with food allergies/sensitivities might attend culinary school:

“poisoning them would f*** up the curve?”

I realize that these are all neanderthal folk who just like to troll up my Twitter feed, but they unearth some issues worth discussing.

It’s a fact that, for whatever reason, food sensitivities and allergies are growing at an alarming rate.  Some of these people will end up at culinary school because they’re good cooks, and they want to cook for other people.

So, some questions:

  • What good is a cook who has an allergy or sensitivity?
  • Should they be allowed to attend culinary school?
  • What accommodations are acceptable for students and cooks/chefs with allergies/sensitivities?
  • And on a slightly different tangent, but the one that started the whole conversation: Does a diner have the right to ask for an allergen-free dish, and does the restaurant have the right to refuse them? (I say yes to both, although the situation provides a great customer service opportunity.)

At school, I have never refused to cook anything. Even if I’m having a mild reaction to something, I always power through and finish, just for the sake of doing it. If I don’t feel like I should eat something that day, I get a couple tastes just for verification and move on.

Since my gluten sensitivity came on when I was halfway through school, I had already established a reputation as a hard worker and good student. I think this has allowed me some flexibility to occasionally make a gluten-free version of whatever we’re making in class, although I don’t always push the issue.

The situation may be different for those with full-blown celiac disease or what we now recognize as true allergies, which can be life threatening. The tweeting cook said I should “do my homework” to understand the difference, because sensitivities were, apparently, not worth changing one’s diet over.

I suppose if someone was so food allergic/sensitive they couldn’t eat anything but rice, then maybe they shouldn’t be in culinary school. But otherwise, I think it’s helpful to the world out there, teeming with people who are getting sick from food, to have a trained cook who gets it.

I know I’ll regret this, but let me know your comments below. I’ll probably go ahead and approve everything, stupid trolls included. Bring it on.

Meanwhile, I’m going to just keep on kicking butt in the kitchen, putting out good food. Sorry if that makes you mad.

Making Indian Food at the Rockefeller Institute (And a gluten-free naan recipe)

22 Feb

Lisa Fischer being adorable.

For the record: Lisa Gibson Fischer is adorable.

Though she is mostly known in central Arkansas as the effervescent co-host of B98.5’s morning radio show, Fischer is also an excellent cook, hosting the “Made from Scratch” series entry focusing on Indian cuisine at the Rockefeller Institute in Morrilton earlier this month.

I felt a little strange cheating on my homies over at Pulaski Tech, but this was subject matter I hadn’t learned yet. I had wanted to take International Cuisine this semester, but it didn’t fit into my mommy-schedule. I also wanted to check out the new Rockefeller Institute, a stunning educational and meeting facility seated atop Petit Jean Mountain. With culinary education all the rage these days, they built a lovely teaching kitchen, with a stadium-seating lecture hall alongside a small hands-on lab area.

In the class, we started off with naan bread (a puffy, yeasted flatbread), a chicken coconut curry soup, and a mango lassi (mango puree with yogurt).

Shall I interject: I have been SO good lately with the gluten-free thing. But this day…there was just something about making bread. I hadn’t made yeast bread of any sort since going GF. I. Couldn’t. Resist.

Another participant's lovely naan and coconut soup.

I ate at least one whole naan, maybe more. It was in pieces, to feed my self-deception that I would only eat a bite. So, by the time we’re working on the next dishes, my eyes are puffy, I’m exhausted, and my muscles, which have avoided significant pain for several months now, started to cramp and seize.

Sheesh.

Anywho, it was probably worth it. The naan is DELISH. (See below for my gluten-free version.)

While I sank into glutenized stupor, we made Saag Paneer and Coconut Shrimp Curry, both surprisingly mild and delicious.

Surprise bonus: My seating neighbor and lab partner just so happened to be Dr. Meenakshi Budhraja, a gastroenterologist who is on the cutting edge of all things relating to food and/as medicine. She and I have tried for months to get together to finish a journal article we’re co-writing on the topic, and our schedules haven’t jelled. More on that another day.

I could go on about all the details of the event, but I’ll just say you should sign up for (1) Lisa’s “repeat” coming up at KitchenCo with the same recipes, and (2) anything at the Rockefeller Institute. It’s a stellar facility with a fantastic staff, culinary and otherwise.

Back to the naan. After driving 45 minutes or so home in a glutened haze, I knew I had to come up with a gluten-free version. As of yet, I had only stockpiled GF flours, hoping to one day have the time to play. I made the time when I got home.

Enjoy!
——————————————————

Gluten Free Naan Bread 
(Inspired by Bread in Five)

  • 160g brown rice flour
  • 110g sorghum flour
  • 255g potato starch
  • 1 T. yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 T. xanthan gum
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 c. lukewarm water
  • 2 T. + 2 tsp veg or olive oil
  • 1 T. honey

Mix the flours, starch, yeast, salt, and xanthan gum REALLY (no, really) well in the bowl of your stand mixer. I am generally against sifting, so I used a whisk to mix things up thoroughly. You could also use the whisk attachment of your mixer. Now place the dough hook on your mixer and proceed.

In a separate, small bowl, break up the eggs a bit with a whisk or fork.

In yet another bowl or largish measuring cup, combine the warm water, oil, and honey.

Pour the eggs into the flour mixture and mix a few seconds. With the mixer on low, slowly add the water/oil mixture until completely emptied.

What’s left in your mixer will slosh around for a few minutes and generally look like a big, sloppy mess. Keep it up.

Depending on your local humidity and altitude, and the questionable accuracy of this, my first gluten-free baking recipe, your dough (like mine) might be a bit soft. This is to be expected, really, as GF doughs tend to come out more like batters. Don’t freak.

The sticky dough of my gluten-free naan.

Cover your dough and let it rise in a warm place for an hour or two. I have a warming drawer now, but I used to just run my dryer for a few minutes and then place the bowl inside. Instant proof box!

Now, to form our naan: If you have a Silpat, now is the time to bust it out. This stuff is sticky. Sprinkle on a fair amount of rice flour, a little more if your dough is intolerably wet and sticky. Pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of dough and place it on top of your heavy dusting of flour. Sprinkle another heavy dusting of rice flour on the top, all over, so it won’t stick to your method of flattening.

Rolling out the GF naan.

This flattening method is variable, depending on what you’ve got to work with. My awesome hubs got me a Silpat rolling pin for Christmas, which was perfect for this. If your hubs isn’t as awesome as mine, you can pat down your naan using a sheet of plastic wrap or a cut storage bag. Either way, get it down to about a 1/8″ thickness.

Use a large spatula to loosen the dough and get it off the mat, then use the mat itself (or the spatula, if it’s holding together well) to transfer your naan to a waiting, hot skillet with some oil or butter inside. Oh, yeah. Get that ready first, will ya?

GF naan all cooked up on one side, and about to flip.

I browned the naan on one side, flipped, and browned on the other, and that was enough to cook it through. If yours is thick in spots or otherwise doesn’t seem to be cooking all the way, you can cover it and let it steam a bit.

The dough is quite forgiving if you tear it on the way to the skillet. I’m certainly not advocating that you actually reach your hands down in a hot skillet to press the dough back together, but I’m just saying, I may have done so, and it may have worked.

I scarfed this stuff down with some homemade rice-noodle soup that night, and it was glorious. Hope it works out for at least one or two of you, too.

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The Marzipan Taunts Me (Dumb Luck at Making Roses)

8 Feb

It is seriously all I can do to not eat the entire bag of marzipan (a sugar-and-almond dough-like substance, used for modeling edible forms and flowers) I brought home from Cakes & Cake Decorating class.

We are supposed to practice making roses out of it, using the technique outlined in a video we watched in class. Although I can’t say my form is completely perfect, my second attempt (the first being at school) today was pretty darn okay.

Does that mean I can eat it? I. Love. Marzipan.

Here’s how I did it:

First, I rolled the marzipan into a 1″-thick or so log. I cut the following pieces with a sharp paring knife:

  • One 1.5″ piece
  • Two 1″ pieces
  • Eight 3/4″ pieces

Each of these is rolled into a sphere, then into a cone shape. The first piece will be more conical than the others.

Using a plastic dough scraper/bench knife, you gently squash the cone into a flat, large oval, which will be thicker and wider on the fat end of the cone. Hopefully.

The guy in the video did this in two strokes, both at the same 45 degree or so angle across the cone. The first time, you leave some of the fat end untouched, and the second time you get the whole thing.

Okay, so my "bench knife" was a cheesy pasta measure thing that came in the mail. My real one is...somewhere.

Still a little lumpy. I later switched to a sturdier bench knife that left fewer ridges.

 

Next, I rolled the center of the rose with this largest piece, using the thick end toward the bottom. I used the extra at the bottom to squish out a base.

 

 

 

Next, I flattened the next two petals in similar fashion, gave them a little pleat in the side (see below) and stuck them tightly around the base.

My problem with my earlier attempt at school is that I let these drape widely, making the flower look too much like a pansy or something. Roses are more tightly wound in the middle.

Now I spread, pleated and placed the next three petals, from the remaining eight pieces.

 

Pleat all one layer's petals at once and lay them face down on the work surface until you're ready.

Now, just the remaining five pieces await. These will stick on a little differently, so stay frosty.

Since these final petals will be visible from the outside, you’ll want to make sure each one tucks underneath the one before it. You know, to look all natural and junk. So before you completely press down one side, hold it open and position the next petal.

Aaaaand….voila. The finished rose. Like I said, I had some dumb luck this time, and it took a little pre-fiddling at class to get the idea. It’s worth giving it a try. You can purchase marzipan by the bucket at cake supply stores and online.

Besides, they’re delicious, whether they turn out pretty or not. So are the scraps.

I’m just saying.

Cakes and Cake Decorating Class at Pulaski Tech (with recipe for Swiss Buttercream)

31 Jan

Delish, no?

Too bad I can’t eat it. Oh well. The hubs and kids will feast after dinner tonight.

Last night was our second lab in Cakes and Cake Decorating Class, and the first time we really got to go at it on a cake. So incredibly fun!

I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to decorate, since we took so long learning the ropes of splitting and filling cakes and making Swiss buttercream frosting. It is a little wonky in places, and I had to use someone else’s vivid green rather than my own pastel just because I ran out of time to bag it up. But not too shabby for a first try.

Swiss buttercream, by the way, is so incredibly delicious, I think I’ll never make the regular kind again. It’s shiny and not too sweet. You get…well…heck. I’ll just show you the ingredient list that Chef J wrote on the board:

__________________________

Swiss Buttercream 

Ingredients for Swiss buttercream

Place the egg whites and sugar in the mixer bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir until the sugar is melted and the whole thing is just a little gooey, about 140 degrees. Then place this into your mixer with the whip attachment and kick it up to high for a while.

Conveniently, you don’t have to worry about overbeating, because the sugar acts as a stabilizer.

Once the mixture is well beaten, shiny and fluffy, check the temperature, which needs to come down closer to room temp before adding the butter. Usually the action of the mixer will do this, but some mixers add heat. If this happens, just place the mixer bowl into a bowl of ice for a minute or two and return your goo to the machine.

Now turn the mixer back on and add the butter, a room-temp chunk at a time (no need to be too pretty about cutting it up), while the mixer whips it together. Add the vanilla.

If you want to add chocolate, melt about 8 ounces of white chocolate or 12 ounces of semi-sweet, and let it cool slightly, then add. If you want to have some colors as well as chocolate, you can split up the batch and mix in the chocolate and the color bases separately, by hand.

__________________________

I want to walk you through everything else we did recipe-style, but it will take for-eh-vah. I’ll just regale you with photos of each step so you can be jealous that I actually get a grade for this sort of activity.

Meanwhile, I’ve found a recipe for a gluten-free poundcake, which I think I’ll use for our next project.

Stay tuned.

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Veggie Sushi at Home

17 Jan

If your new years’ resolutions include saving money on meals and cutting down on meat products, some veggie sushi might be just what you need. If you also want to teach your kids how to cook and appreciate healthy meals, then, booyah.

My 9-year-old has gained an appreciation for sushi, so I added it to this week’s semi-vegetarian menu. I decided it was time for her to try making something entirely on her own, so once I had made two rolls, she got to do some all by herself. She did great.

Big Kid sushi, coming to a plate near you! Or, at least, near me.

This recipe is particularly useful as a last-minute choice, given you’ve stockpiled some sticky rice and nori, because you can use just about anything in your veggie drawer. I planned ahead and bought cream cheese, but you could use tofu (as a vegan option, thx Jeff Hicks) or leave it out altogether.

Veggie Sushi

  • Sushi Rice (see recipe below)
  • 3-4 sheets nori (sushi-making seaweed paper)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin sticks, about 1/8″ square and 4″ long
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, cut into thin strips (Buy jarred or do it yourself)
  • 1/4 cucumber, cut into thin strips
  • 2 oz. cream cheese or extra firm tofu, cut similarly to above
  • Sesame seeds, toasted or not, optional

You could spend all day freaking out about technique on this one. Or, you can do like we did and just wing it based on what you think you may or may not have seen before. Either way, it will taste pretty good, even if it’s not as pretty as what you bought at the sushi joint in town.

I’ve found that breaking the full-size nori sheets in half makes a prettier roll, at least for beginners like me. Wrap your bamboo rolling mat with plastic wrap and place the half-sheet on top, near the edge closest to you.

Oh, yeah, the water. Keep a small bowl of water near your work area, or you will be, as they say in Japan, sorry.

Big Kid places her rice on the nori.

Wet your hands and get some of your finished sushi rice, then carefully spread it in a thin layer across your nori. I say carefully because it will generally STAY where you put it. If you want your rolls to be nori-side out, leave about a half-inch uncovered across the top for a seal. (If you prefer rice-side out, this isn’t necessary. Now’s the time to flip the whole thing over on your mat. Not you, nori-side-out people.)

This was our first roll of the night, with a sprinkle of bonito (dried fish) flakes. Meh. Also found it easier to place the cream cheese first.

About halfway down, lay down a solid line of your cream cheese or tofu. On top of this, start laying down your slices of veggies. Less is more, as too much will make the roll impossible to, well, roll. I use about four pieces of each item, slightly overlapped.

And now, the rolling. Don’t freak.

Okay, so Big Kid rolled hers from the top. No big deal.

Wet your fingertips and dampen the upper edge of the nori to act as a seal. Using the bamboo mat underneath, roll up your, er, roll, snugly but not with too much force. When the mat reaches all the way around, be sure to move it outward and not roll it up with your sushi! Oh, heck, just watch a video somewhere and see.

Once you’ve rolled it all the way, use the mat to give the roll a firm hug. It’s about to be your best friend! Unroll and move it to a cutting board.

With a VERY sharp, dampened knife, cut the roll exactly in half. Put the two halves against each other and do it again, so you have four equal pieces. Dampen and cut again with sets of two until you have eight equal pieces.

Serve proudly with soy sauce (use tamari if you’re gluten free) and chopsticks.

Sushi Rice

  • 2 cups sticky rice (also called sushi rice)
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2-3 T. rice wine vinegar (I like mine more tart)
  • 1 T. rice wine (mirin), optional
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 T. kosher salt

You can find sushi rice in larger grocery stores in the Asian foods area, or at Asian specialty stores. In the Little Rock area, you can’t go wrong with Sam’s Oriental on University. Just don’t use regular rice, or you will be sorely disappointed!

Check the bag of rice to see if your variety requires rinsing, as many newer ones don’t. Unless it says not to, you’ll need to rinse it in a wire colander under cold water until the water runs clear. Place the rice and the 2 cups water in a rice cooker, or in a medium saucepan brought to a boil, then a low simmer and covered until done (check your bag for cooking times, but should be about 15 minutes).

While the rice cooks, place the vinegar, rice wine (if using), sugar and kosher salt in a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. If you’re using the rice wine, cook until it simmers just a bit to cook off most of the alcohol. Otherwise, all you need is enough heat to melt the salt and sugar into the vinegar.

When the rice is fully cooked, spread it out on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice, occasionally “cutting” the rice with a butter knife or spatula to mix it in without damaging the grains. Allow the rice to cool completely on the pan. (If you want go all traditional or if you’re in a hurry, you can use a folding fan to help the cooling process along, a fun task for the kids.)

Bonus Recipe for Ghetto-Fab Fried Rice: Scramble and fry an egg, remove from pan and chop it into tiny bits. (Or finely dice some tofu, season with tamari and sauté.) Cut your leftover veggie strips into tiny cubes and sauté in a tiny bit of sesame oil or broth. Add your leftover sushi rice, the egg, and some soy sauce or tamari. Stir. If you can be bothered, add some sliced green onion. Delish.

Back in the Saddle Again…One Last Time

9 Jan

Today, I start my last semester as a student at Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School.

I specify “as a student,” because I would love to come back as a graduate assistant, or whatever iteration that becomes in the new facility. This school has become a part of me, both reflecting my passions and giving me the means to carry them to others.

I only needed two more classes to graduate: American Regional Cuisine and an elective of my choosing (I chose Cakes and Cake Decorating, mainly because I didn’t get to take as many baking courses as I would have liked). Also, these classes are both at night, which is gonna save me bazillions in childcare this semester.

I’m still not entirely sure what I’m gonna do when I “grow up,” but writing, teaching and cooking will always be a part of it. Some opportunities have drifted up here and there. This is just as I un-planned it; the more I tried to make concrete plans, the more it looked like what other folks would want/expect me to do with a degree in culinary arts. Those plans were expensive, too, usually involving some sort of storefront, staff and other junk I don’t really don’t want to deal with, at least not right now.

So.

For one last semester, I put on the white jacket and black pants, PTC/ACS black baseball cap (yecch) and skid-proof black shoes.

I feel just a little like I did at the end of high school or college (the first time). The future is bright, full of opportunity. And this time, I’m just old enough, just young enough, just experienced-in-life enough to make something really cool happen.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Okay, already…I know good and well that several email subscribers to this blog are instructors and students. So why didn’t anyone tell me that I had the start date wrong? HA! I must have written the late registration date down. Or something.

I seriously ironed my coat, got a sitter, and went to school today, only to find that it doesn’t start until NEXT WEEK. Geesh. I started to delete this, but no. Go ahead and laugh at with me. 

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