Iron Chef Arkansas! One of the coolest competitions all year. It’s time for some food photos and feats of culinary strength. If you’re unfamiliar, this competition takes place on the floor of the annual Arkansas Hospitality Association Vendor Showcase and Convention. Eight chefs of AHA member restaurants, clubs or catering operations from across the state are invited to compete. Through 40-minute heats over two days, the chefs must use the ingredients of a mystery basket and show their skills and creativity….
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.
I’m coming at you on the heels of the awesome Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged 2013 conference at the lovely Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center, right here in Little Rock. As usual, it was tremendously inspiring and the community was great (despite my tendency toward introversion). Even more so, everything was very timely, as I’m wrapping up some big changes here at Fancy Pants Foodie.
I’ll esplain that soon enough. For now, I’ll tell you about Foodie Friday, the early-bird section of the conference just for us foodies.
The first speaker was Little Rock chef Donnie Ferneau.
Ah, Donnie. He’s so pretty. (You know, in a manly sort of way.) Talented, too. Known to be a bit of a renegade in the pro community, he brought some edgy authority to the Foodie Friday portion of the conference.
The home cooks in the crowd (as well as Benton area chef Liz Bray) gasped when he suggested cooking most everything in the oven at 500 degrees. “I bake brownies at 350,” he said. “Everything else gets blasted at 500.”
He offered these additional tips to home cooks:
- Save money by buying produce in season. Take notice of when certain things are cheap because they are plentiful, especially things like cherries that have a very short harvest.
- Make accommodation friendly. If you’re serving a group of people who have a mix of special dietary needs (gluten free, vegetarian, etc.), prepare a single dish that will accommodate everyone when possible. It makes everyone feel special and well-served without singling anyone out.
- Let meat rest after cooking. He said this is the biggest mistake people make in cooking meats, cutting into them too soon. Resting allows juices to redistribute and settle into the meat.
- Save money on cuts like ribeyes by buying a rib roast and cutting it yourself. Which leads to the most important thing…
- Work on your knife skills. He mentioned the food blogger movie Julie and Julia, in which both title characters mercilessly practiced knife skills with bags of produce. And to do this, you need to…
- Find a proper chef’s knife that feels good to you, and use it. This doesn’t have to be expensive. He said he often reaches for a $20 safety knife over his more costly models.
After his departure from his namesake Ferneau (later Rocket 21), Donnie has focused on freelancing with a vengeance while he waited for the next big thing. He’s spent quite a bit of time volunteering for my favorite food nonprofit, Share Our Strength, and he’s taught cooking classes in partnership with fellow blogger Thanh Raisco of Red Kitchen Recipes. Lately, he’s been busy as a consultant for Cellar 220, which used to be Italian Kitchen, which used to be Lulav, while his own new restaurant comes together.
Repeating his well-reported disdain for adult macaroni and cheese, he said his upcoming restaurant will be “only the kind of stuff that I like.” He described creating elaborate, creative dishes at Ferneau, only to get order after order of macaroni and cheese with fried chicken, what he called “kids’ plates.” The new place will just be what he wants to make, all the time.
Oh, and tilapia. There will be NO tilapia, ever.
“I’m gonna cook with my palate and only make the food I want to eat,” he said.
He also described the upcoming restaurant as nothing like anything Little Rock currently has or has even thought about, calling it “the restaurant we don’t know we need yet.”
All that said, Donnie’s a good friend to the food community. If your palate doesn’t match his (and, by golly, that’s all he’s gonna have at the new place), he’ll be glad to teach you how to cook for yourself at home.
I’m totally down with that.
I started Fancy Pants Foodie about three years ago now, with the original intent of showing you peoples how to make some upscale food, fairly easily, at home.
Having had the journalism bug (and degree) as well, the blog soon included coverage of food events, new restaurants and stores, chefs and other food-related news. Sometimes the voice I used in these didn’t exactly match the one I used for recipes and instructional posts. Still doesn’t. One day you get snarky and fun, and the next you get inverted-pyramid-style straight journalism.
At the recent Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged conference, voice was an issue of conversation. Yeah, we needed to clarify our purpose, and then our voice. But what if we’re a little bipolar in what our blog does, like me?
What’s the purpose of this blog thing, anyway?
I’m very humbled and honored to say that this humble space has received a lot of love over the past three years. This is despite the redesign and site upgrade that I’ve threatened now for two years and still haven’t accomplished. The theme you see here (if you’re reading before said upgrade happens) is the one I randomly chose in the middle of the night when I decided to pull a blog out of my rear.
At the conference, and even more so after, I had to really think about what I’m doing in this space.
Sometimes lists help with clarity, so I made this one:
- I write the blog to teach people how to cook from a semi-pro perspective, especially upscale things that may be new to them.
- I also tell people about food news that’s going on in Arkansas.
- And occasionally, I use the blog to inspire people to participate in food-related things that are bigger than themselves, or just to mess around and have fun.
So, if you’re counting, that’s at least three different blogs. All run together.
Based on what I learned at #AWBU, here’s some ideas:
- No more straight-faced journalism pieces. I’ll save those for any outside writing gigs that use that sort of style. Even for newsy pieces like chef interviews or openings, my natural snark and wit are going to appear if it kills me. This is a blog, not a newspaper, for crying out loud.
- A blog redesign is urgent, and will include categories separating the major styles and topics of the blog. I’m thinking “Recipes,” “News & Events” and “Features,” plus a category for outside work I’d like to do. Or something like that. Opening clips of all the stories will flow on the front page, though.
- Write more freely. I tend to overthink and thereby not post as often as I should. The more I write, the more other good things happen.
- Work on developing more of a community of Arkansas food people, specifically those who want to learn more about upscale cooking at home or professionally. I get traffic from all over the world, but I’d love for more of that to come from right here in our state, and for those who visit to join me in conversation.
Other bloggers have recapped the details of our conference pretty well, so I don’t feel obligated to fill you in on every little thing. But, of course, the highlight for me was Foodie Friday, completely dedicated to food-related blog love, orchestrated by the fab Lyndi of NWAFoodie.
And the best part of Foodie Friday? Iron Chef. No lie. After some brainstorming, sensory and other writing exercises, we were assigned a group and were placed into the hands of Tina Marie Wilcox, the “Herb Lady” at the Ozark Folk Center. Of course, I bounced in my seat when this activity was announced. By the way, we’d be feeding all the other AWBU attendees who were showing up for a reception. With OUR food.
Our team was assigned its herb: Rosemary. Walkthrough of a room filled with random available ingredients. GO.
We ended up making a sautéed mushroom and herb bruschetta that wasn’t my favorite ever, due to minimal of access to the toaster oven, as well as a stellar rosemary & berry lemonade created by fellow food blogger Kat Robinson. But the winner-winner-herbal-dinner was our watermelon salad with goat cheese and a red wine vinaigrette. With rosemary. Fo reals.
We won the “Best Use of Herbs” category by judges from the local Anglers restaurant.
I’m sure I’ll write further about the conference, so stay tuned for more details, foodie and otherwise. Meanwhile, find one of the last Arkansas watermelons and make this!
Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad with Rosemary
From the Rosemary Team at #AWBU 2012 Iron Chef
- One medium watermelon
- 4 ounces goat cheese, small dice (feta works, too)
- One half medium red onion, cut thinly into strips
- 2 T. finely minced rosemary
- 1/4″ red wine vinegar
- 1/2″ extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Fresh raspberries and a clean rosemary sprig for garnish
Cut a very thin slice off one side of the watermelon, not cutting into the flesh, to create a stable bowl. If you’re chicken, or you just forget like I did, just place the watermelon on a towel to keep it stable. Cut the watermelon in half, keeping your slice in the center of the half you plan to use as a bowl.
Using a spoon or knife, remove as much flesh as possible from both watermelon halves and cut it into chunks or cubes. Remove seeds as much as possible. Place all these pieces into a large bowl and drain all the extra liquid. Carefully stir in the cheese, onion strips and rosemary. (Save a bit of rosemary for garnish.)
In a separate bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the watermelon mixture and gently toss.
Note: If you’re using the goat cheese, it will melt and get oozy. It’s what we had available. Go with it. If I were doing this at home, I’d probably go with feta, which has a known relationship with watermelon in some circles.
Fill the chosen watermelon rind with your finished salad, and sprinkle the remaining rosemary on top. Garnish the edges of the bowl with the berries, and place a sprig or two of whole rosemary in the side so folks know what’s in it.
Yes, more risotto. I’m kinda addicted.
I just got back yesterday from a whirlwind weekend at Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged. After sleeping for like 20 hours, I regained strength today with about a dozen cups of coffee and a healthy load of carbs.
The flow of awesome home-grown produce continues from my husband’s co-workers, with another (probably last-of-the-season) recent delivery of beautiful baby tomatoes. I mention this to explain why two risotto photos in a row have them. I don’t even care if it’s redundant, because they’re so darn delicious this way.
Inspired by a video I watched today by the luscious (at least, during his Top Chef days) Fabio Viviani, I decided it was a good day to make risotto again. I already had the rice and broth, and even some decent parmesan and a lemon. And I do NOT plan on going to the grocery store this week.
What I didn’t have was pancetta, which Fabio used in his version. I did, however, have a crap-ton of bacon in the freezer, a remnant of the last time I let the husband buy groceries on his own.
After the fresh basil went in my version, I remembered the tomatoes. There was already bacon. The fresh basil kinda represented lettuce. Clever recipe nirvana: BLT Risotto!
Over the next few days, I’ll tell you more about what went down at #AWBU, especially the stuff from Foodie Friday. We did an Iron Chef competition with herbs. It was awesome. Our team won “Best Use of Herbs.” Recipe later.
For now, carb up with me and recover from whatever mayhem you encountered this weekend!
Serves 4 hungry peoples
(Inspired ever-so-slightly by Fabio Viviani’s Pancetta Risotto)
- 6 slices bacon (Petit Jean would be fab)
- 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
- 2 qts. (8 cups) chicken broth
- One lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 T. Italian seasoning blend
and/or chili flakes (optional)
- 1/2 cup freshly-shredded parmesan
- 10 large leaves fresh sweet basil
- 10 baby tomatoes, quartered
Cut the bacon into narrow strips. Heat up a large sauté pan and add the bacon. Add the olive oil to help the bacon brown without burning or sticking (at least, not terribly bad). Cook the bacon until crispy, giving it a little stir every so often.
Remove the bacon, leaving the grease behind. I used the slotted spoon from an old Fry Daddy. Carefully pour off all but about 4 T. of the grease.
Over medium-high heat, place the rice into the grease, then stir to coat. Toast the rice in the pan for a couple minutes, then start adding the broth, a ladle or two at a time. (Honestly, this time I just poured it right from a can. I usually make my own and have it hot on the stove while making risotto. Here’s proof it works the lazy way.) Add the juice from your lemon here, but I suggest you zest it first and hang on to the zest for later.
Stir constantly, making sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom. Don’t answer the phone, rescue kids from disasters or otherwise remove your attention. It will burn. And if you turn off the heat, the outside will turn mushy before the inside is cooked. You’ve been warned.
When the rice is pretty dry, add another ladle or two of broth. Stir. Repeat. When the rice starts to look soft and pillowy, start tasting it to see if it’s done. Some folks like it “al dente” like pasta (still a little firm). I like it super soft. Your call.
When the rice is maybe halfway done, stir in the seasoning blend and/or chili flakes, if you’re using them. I don’t use dry herbs very much anymore, but I am currently hooked on a mix my mother-in-law gave me. It’s a combination of dried tomatoes, red bell pepper and other veggies, as well as thyme, basil, oregano and chili flakes.
When the rice is done to your liking, turn off the heat and fold in the cheese. Be sure to work it in so you don’t have clumps. Now, chiffonade (roll up and cut into ribbons) the basil leaves. Fold in most of them, leaving a few for garnish. Stir in the bacon, again leaving a bit for garnish. And at the very end, so the heat doesn’t turn them to mush, fold in the tomatoes…you guessed it…saving a few for garnish.
P.S. Here’s an old post with some basics on how to make risotto, from the day we made it in culinary school.
P.P.S. I’m still offering cooking classes in your home or other meeting place, and I start with risotto. Interested? Let me know below.
P.P.P.S. AWBU ladies, what food did you crave/make/etc. when you got home?