Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lobster Mac & Cheese for Eat Arkansas

If you enjoy this picture, please, click here now and give it a vote on Facebook!  (Just like the picture.)  This was my entry for the Arkansas Times Eat Arkansas food photo contest.  Last year, there was a similar Totino's pizza challenge.  This year, the challenge was to utilize a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Original to make a dish for the contest.  Not that anyone would do anything as simple as the original.....

I decided to compete with some of my buddies (the usual suspects) when friend, writer of Eat Arkansas, Daniel Walker announced the challenge this year.  I'll admit that it took 3 tries before I was happy with my entry.  Even on the Facebook private message board, one of the contestants said he would need to back out because "It didn't work."  True story:  mine didn't work the first 2 times!  Yes, it took some time to get a quality Mac & Cheese creation that would merit enough likes on the Eat Arkansas Facebook page.  I immediately developed an idea in my mind that would be a new way to make the mac and cheese as soon as the contest was announced.  I'm sure the others did as well.  Luckily, the third time was a charm to make my idea into a reality.

I'll post details on how I made this soon.  For now, how about giving me a vote by clicking here?  Then, like the picture on Facebook.  Thank you!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Grilled Cheese with Asiago, Pesto, & Nduja for Gianna

I feel so fortunate to have an 11 year old daughter who loves to try new food, who has exquisite taste, and loves for me to create new things for her nutrition and survival.  I owe a lot to her actually.  She knows me well.  She knows when I've picked her up from school, she's telling me something that happened with her friends, and when I hardly respond, I'm still thinking about something I need to do for work when we get home.  She says, "Nevermind.  I'll tell you later.  I can tell you're not listening."  So of course I tell her just repeat please!!

When Gianna was 9 months old, I sacrificed 18 days away from her to train for a pharmaceutical job in Bristol, TN.  (I have a very supportive husband who kicked in and held down the fort!)  On the day I flew out, for some reason, I had to go from Little Rock up to Ohio and back down to get to the small, well known NASCAR town.  We were delayed about 6 hours, and many of us from around the country waiting for the same connection to Tennessee got together and bonded over drinks about what we heard training would be like.  My Arkansas counterpart Brian was pretty mad I'd made him give up his seat on the plane and wait with me while I did nothing but engage in girl talk with my new friends!  Oops, my bad.  Such good teamwork on his part, though!

By the time I arrived to the Courtyard Marriott in Bristol, TN, there were flowers in my room from my new manager Marie.  She'd hired me just 2 months ago and we knew very little about each other aside from the fact that it would be hard for me to be away from my family for 18 days.  The card read, "Thinking of you."  I burst into tears, and my roommate Kerri from Las Vegas came in at that very moment, a complete stranger, consoling me because she had a little baby one year old boy back home too.  Marie had mentioned we would be paired with people that they thought would match well.

I learned from some of the more seasoned, travelled reps during that time that a 9 month old baby might be somewhat reluctant to welcome a mom home back with open arms after an extensive time away.  I learned that lesson the hard way.  I'll never forget returning home, wanting nothing more than to hold my baby, and she refused to let me have her.  She cried and turned away.  She was mad at me for having been away.  My heart broke.  I was crying in the airport, and our good friends the Rogers just happened to also be returning from a trip as well.  So awkward.   

Eventually Gianna gave in, of course.  The years went by.  I'd had a 5 year goal that I achieved in 3, and I didn't want to slow down on the momentum.  I was doing so well in my new job that I had the opportunity to move into a specialty position, a part of my 5 year goal.  I'd built my dream house in my dream neighborhood.  Marie even said that I needed to consider the larger territory that came with the promotion.  Consider the evenings I would sacrifice away from my new house for the promotion.  At this point, she knew me REALLY, REALLY well.  But I went for it and got it.

Gianna was in Kindergarten at Baker Elementary.  I'll never forget the day.  I was practically kicking her out of my car at 7:30 a.m. so I could get to a breakfast where I could see a large group of high decile prescribers.  From the age of 3, she's acted like an adult.  You can ask the PTA president at the time who said, "Talking to Gianna is like talking to an adult."  But that day I was reminded she was just a kid.  I heard her say, "MY MOM!"

Those two words haunted me all day.  So much for work!  That year, I met one of the top cardiologists in the state.  In regards to our jobs taking us away from our kids so much, he said to me, "Sometimes I wish I could just make my money and get out."  Later that year his 2 year old toddler died of cancer.  This doc was a favorite of all the drug reps.  We were all hurting for him.  The next year, I signed up to be Room Mom in Gianna's class, I volunteered at every event at her school to spend as much time as possible with her, and I joined her for lunch on a weekly basis.  Now she's 11 and I know that another  7 years will fly by and she'll be leaving the house to head to college.  

I hope she'll continue to spread the word about the food blog that she once convinced her mom to start when she was only 8 years old!  She's had such a profound effect on my life in such short years, I know she has great things awaiting her in her own future.  I plan to nourish her the best way I can while I still can.  I hope she'll have great memories of the new grilled cheese that we created together and remember how Eat Arkansas once mentioned her taco ring too!  For those of you with new or young kids who try your patience, take it from me.  Before you know it, they'll be all grown up!  Treasure the younger years, I would love to go back now that they're such big kids!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Green Beans and Prosciutto Bundles

I got a great deal on some green beans at the Little Rock Farmers Market this past week, so I decided to try them with one of my favorite things ever: La Quercia prosciutto that you can find at Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Little Rock.  (H.A.M.)  The traditional method found here is prepared with bacon.  We'll call this version the no - bake method.  

  • 1 pound of fresh green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1/2 pound of thinly sliced La Quercia prosciutto
  • 1/2 stick of butter (real butter)
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar 
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
  1. Start with a couple tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat.
  2. Add the green beans, tossing until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining butter, brown sugar, and garlic.
  4. Stir well to dissolve and incorporate the flavors into the green beans.
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. Take 2 or 3 green beans, wrap with a half slice of prosciutto, and continue until all are gone.
  7. Serve as a side item or snack.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms

You can find these fresh, local shrooms at Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Little Rock.  They were so perfectly made by nature, you don't need to do much to them when you cook them.
They came from Sweden Creek Farm in Kingston, Arkansas.  Just grab a brown bag and fill it up with as many mushrooms as you'd like!  I love the earthy aroma that they possess.  These shiitakes make a great snack or side item.  I can't describe how superior the flavor is.  When you compare fresh, local food from Arkansas farms to produce that you get in some of the large chain stores, you taste the difference, and there's no going back.

  • Handful of shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • chopped shallot
  • chopped chives
  • dash of dry white wine    

  1. Clean the mushrooms by wiping off any dirt if present - these didn't require much cleaning at all.
  2. Snip off the coarse stem with kitchen scissors.
  3. Continue using the scissors and cut each mushroom cap into thirds or fourths.
  4. Heat a large saute pan, add the butter, the shallot, and the chives.
  5. Add the mushrooms and stir around the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.  I used my daughter's baby tongs.
  6. Add a splash of wine.  Stir a little more, then serve.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Farm2Home at Moss Mountain Farm

Just last Tuesday, I was so excited to arrive to the traditional sight of a huge tractor and red - roofed building at Moss Mountain Farm in Roland, Arkansas, just about 30 minutes from my home in West Little Rock.  I'd heard from several reliable friends that the place was a must see, so I was delighted when I received an invitation from the P. Allen Smith team to join a group of other well known bloggers from around the state for the Farm2Home 2014 event.  The event focused on the benefits of eating and choosing Arkansas grown and Arkansas made products.  Made possible by the Arkansas Agriculture Department, it was a great opportunity to tour the farm, learn more about farming, and hear from advocates of the Arkansas Grown program about why everyone in Arkansas should eat local.  
Mr. Smith was quite the hospitable host as he addressed us all under his sprawling 300 year old oak tree and shared the background of his 650+ acres of land which overlooks the beautiful Arkansas River Valley.  As we followed him into his home, we all divided up to tour, someone mentioning that of course the foodies went to the kitchen first.  So true! 
Allen is a well - known expert in categories such as gardening, decor, and sustainable living.  His contributions have been shared in many publications such as People, The New York Times, Southern Living, and The Dallas Morning News.  The interior of his residence is warm and reflective of his love of nature.   
The scenic drive to Moss Mountain brought us to even more beautiful scenery all around the farm.
Farmers markets are always enjoyable because of the sight of many bountiful baskets of fruit and vegetables.  But it's even better to see the vegetables at the farm on the tree or vine!  If you enjoy farmers markets, I encourage you to get to know a farmer and visit their farm...
The gardens of Moss Mountain were full of wonderful produce including these blackberries that we were able to pick and sample along our tour.
We enjoyed the tour of the farm on a glorious, sunny day.  I imagined it must take a huge team of people to keep up this beauty!  Farming sounded like hard work, and as I followed along, I began to appreciate farmers even more that day.
I enjoyed the result of the hard work put into Moss Mountain.  Gorgeous, fragrant flowers and interesting eye - catching structures helped take my mind away, because a day at the farm for me involved nothing but the enjoyment of walking and taking in the view.
The rose garden was quite a sight to see!  On the left and right of the octagonal mini castle there were also similar square brick structures that matched.  Wouldn't you love to walk through that iron gate in a wedding gown if you're not already married?  What a great place for a wedding!  You can see some beautiful wedding photography against this backdrop here.
The view of floating lily pads and the rock fountain added to the tranquility of our walk around the area.
As we returned to our meeting area, we were greeted by some of the heritage poultry that resides on the farm.  I believe we were told that there were 18 different breeds there.  Poultry conservation is another one of the many great projects happening on the farm.
For lunch, we were treated to the US Foods 2013 Next Top Product winner: the Black Bean Burger, created by Chef Jerrmy Gawthrop, co-owner of Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville, AR.  The burger was comprised of a Greek yogurt bun, citrus slaw, pepper jack cheese, and avocado aioli.  We love aioli!  What a great burger!
Chef Jerrmy along with co-owner Clayton Suttle will open Wood Stone Craft Pizza and Bar next to Greenhouse Grille in July this year.  Later on in December, they also plan to construct an actual greenhouse on the premises as well.  Chef Jerrmy is one of the many thought leaders in the state who utilizes as much locally grown food as possible on his menu in his restaurant.  He has won multiple awards in various categories in the Arkansas Times Readers Choice survey over the years that Greenhouse Grille has been open.   
We also received a sampling of the P. Allen Smith Green Goddess Cole Slaw, some of the best I've ever eaten in my life.  I am making that recipe!  We just saw the abundance of cabbage on our tour, and Allen said that there was so much cabbage on the farm, they decided to make cole slaw.
We also enjoyed a wonderful Greek yogurt cheesecake!  Thanks to US Foods for sponsoring and preparing our lunch.
Farm2Home 2014 was sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department in partnership with the P. Allen Smith team.  We all learned more about the AAD's Arkansas Grown program which helps identify locally grown food, farms, and farmers markets across the state.  The goal is to get more Arkansas grown products on plates, whether at home or in a restaurant.  I believe that among the 25 of us bloggers that attended the event, every one of us agreed with all the great reasons to eat local.  Benefits include taste, economic growth, better soil health, good nutrition, and food safety.  I'd consider us all proponents for the cause!

I have many more pictures and additional information to share in another post.  In the meantime, if you'd like to continue reading about the event, here are some other resources from the Farm2Home 2014 event.  

Arkansas Food & Farm:  http://www.arkansasfoodandfarm.com/

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lookin Good Lamb Chop!

Check out my post for Arkansas Women Bloggers and follow them along to read all about the wonderful state of Arkansas!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Diamond Chef 2014 Highlights

Diamond Chef 2014 resulted in a celebratory evening for my friends at The Capital Hotel as their Sous Chef Marc Guizol won the competition against three time Diamond Chef Arkansas winner Chef Dan Capello of the Chenal Country Club.  I developed admiration for Chef Capello recently when I read where he named Vietnamese fish sauce his "essential."  No wonder he has won this 3 times!!!  Thanks Chef, I agree on your essential!  You're clearly a genius in food matters.  Congrats to Guizol for the win also!  I'm a huge fan of The Capital Hotel and everyone on the culinary team there.

I was fortunate to enjoy the evening with some of what I consider Little Rock's most informative food, event, & current events writers.  Pictured above is Kat Robinson of Tie Dye Travels, Greg Henderson of Rock City Times, Christie Ison of Fancy Pants Foodie, and Debbie Arnold of Dining with Debbie.  If you click on their links, you'll see the posts they wrote for the Diamond Chef Arkansas event this year.  Also in attendance but not pictured was Joel DiPippa of Southern Ash, and he also wrote a wonderful post about the Diamond Chef event too.
The Statehouse Convention Center was a fantastic venue for the event.  The stage was lit well with the same sighting of videographers that you see on the set of Iron Chef on Food Network.  Large screens were prominently displayed throughout the ball room with closer zoomed in viewing for those of us in the back of the room.  The intensity level in the Little Rock Diamond Chef event to me matched moments that I've also watched with eyes glued to the screen on Food Network when the Iron chef competitors were Chuck Hughes, Bobby Flay, Alex Guarnaschelli, or Cat Cora.  I'm equally fascinated by Little Rock's own talented chefs!
As a spectator, I enjoyed a delicious tomato caprese for my first course.  I enjoyed the banter around the table so much as we caught up with each other.  These events are always fun to me because we get to get dressed up, enjoy excellent food, and watch an enjoyable show!
One of the highlights of the event for our table was when the emcee mentioned Greg's Rock City Times post stating that the chefs of the Diamond Chef finale met earlier on, and a Surf & Turf fight broke out with the chefs striking each other with lobster and filet.  When Joel went to refill Greg's wine for him, Monika posted it as his duty for losing in the illegal gambling ring planned by Rock City Times.  When you're friends with the state's second most unreliable news source, there's always something to laugh about.
As we dined on Creekstone Farms filet, crispy potato gratin, and green beans, the chefs battled it out on the stage with the surprise ingredient: lobster.  In addition to the mystery ingredient, there had been a surprise twist in the event.  The chefs had to trade sous chefs with each other!
The Diamond Chef event was attended by many regulars in the food scene in Little Rock.  The Capital Hotel team, folks from Ben E. Keith, and friends from O'Looneys were among therm.  I enjoyed stopping by friends' tables to visit, although some were so intensely involved in watching the entire thing without missing a second!   At the end of the evening, the dessert of fresh berries with champagne sabayon was truly my kind of dessert, if I ever choose to have one.  I love fruit with just a little something else to accompany it.

Thanks to the Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute for letting me be a part of this event! I'm glad to hear that over 540 people were in attendance and the great amount of money raised will go towards the students at the institute.  Diamond Chef really is one of the best events of the year in Little Rock!