kiss my grits

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Hello, WordPress world. My but I’ve missed you. Offline life has completely taken over for me and it’s been nearly a year between posts. Never my intention to let things go so long. But here we are (thank you that … Continue reading

rock star food with the dames

Last week, I attended the national Les Dames d’Escoffier conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and found myself surrounded by so many amazing and accomplished women. And lots of food. Because this blog is all about the food, I’ll focus on the edibles but the women at this conference were inspirations to me as a female business owner and I was honored to be a part of their four-day gathering.

The first night I enjoyed a meal at Araka, a restaurant across from the hotel that had been recommended by the St. Louis native sitting next to me on my flight. My dining companions and I ordered up drinks, then split an appetizer (lobster sliders), flatbread (braised short ribs, horseradish, gorgonzola, arugula), entree (arctic char with polenta, sun-dried tomato pesto, shaved Brussels sprouts), and dessert (bourbon peach cobbler). I was already developing camera fatigue, so only shot the sliders.

Araka’s lobster sliders

Sponsored in part by California Figs, the conference boasted mounds of these heart-healthy fruits. Breakfast and lunch often included bowls spilling over with more types of figs than I knew existed. (I’m from Minnesota, remember? Our figs are imported and usually of the Black Mission variety.)

striped tiger, brown turkey, calimyrna–figs figs figs

Also seen often at conference meals was platter after platter of cheeses. They ranged from robust to mild, salty to slightly sweet, creamy to dry, but all were divine. The slivers of dried mango (under left tongs in photo) were the perfect complement and I’ve already purchased a package of these dried fruits myself.

wedges and wheels, cubes and crumbles, slabs and slices of cheese

Especially fun for me (as I’m new on the ice cream-making trail), was the soy sauce ice cream à la Kikkoman. It was dusted with ground hazelnuts and could easily pass for a slightly smoky version of salted caramel.

Soy sauce ice cream–who knew? It really was lovely.

There was also high-end fancy fare. The food was pretty and tasty, for sure, though my favorite meals were those with the bowls of figs, platters of cheese, and a fantastic African couscous breakfast dish (keep reading!).

strikingly beautiful (and artistic) dinner–roasted veg, parsnip puree, onion-crusted beef

fancy dessert–tres leches cake, deconstructed

That couscous breakfast dish? It was magnificently simple (couscous, dried fruits, nuts) and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. Quick to make, easily stored, offering good-for you proteins, carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals–an ideal breakfast, whether hot or cold. I’d bet that a dusting of cinnamon and drizzle of honey would make it even more appealing.

Tunisian Mesfouf, a.k.a. Sweet Breakfast Couscous

A smaller group of attendees toured a number of local food finds, one a chocolate factory called Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate. I loved it for its name alone, though the chocolate was over-the-top rich, sweet, and creamy, too.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate display

Another tour involved a brewery, where I enjoyed an oatmeal stout float with vanilla ice cream (yum) and a beer flight of 4 Hands Brewery pours.

4 Hands blond ale, oatmeal stout, red ale, rye IPA

All this food and drink called for morning visits to the hotel’s fitness center. In addition to their pyramids of bottled water and fresh fruit, they offered fruit-infused water. The apple-berry version on the right was a huge wow. I’m making it at home for sure. (And so should you.)

refreshing fruit-flavored waters

I’m glad to be home, though I enjoyed food magically appearing at seemingly all times at the conference. It’s up to me to put meals together now, though I’ve had plenty of inspiration. I’ll put figs on my grocery list, apples in my water, and couscous on my breakfast table. Here’s hoping you’ve been inspired to try something new as well.

easy cheesy DIY

Doing It Yourself is all the rage these days. Reality TV is ripe with programming devoted to folks doing their own pretty much everything. I’m not a fan of reality TV and you’ll never catch me sewing my own clothes, making my own (or anyone else’s) jewelry, or refurbishing anything in my house. I’m just not crafty like that.

But I have always been a fan of cooking and baking from scratch. Homemade bread? DIY. A batch of cookies? DIY. A pot of soup or broth? DIY.

With the proliferation of do-it-yourselfers, the bar has been raised for what can be done in the kitchen. The food section of this week’s local paper headlined with a piece on grinding your own meat. I’ve also been seeing more about homemade butter (it’s as simple as overwhipping cream), yogurt, and cheese. And then there’s the wave of home brewers and wine makers.

A new cookbook that speaks exactly to this point was also featured in a recent newspaper story. The Homemade Pantry: 101 Things You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila got my attention. This is my kind of book. Make your own foods so 1) you know exactly what’s in them and 2) you aren’t spending hard-earned dollars on foods you can easily make yourself.

I made the recipe offered alongside the newspaper article as it mimicked one of my oldest daughter’s favorite snacks–cheese crackers. I buy them occasionally, but consider them little more than junk food. If I made my own (and they passed her taste test), I could offer her my version of Cheez-Its. They’d contain “real food” ingredients–no additives, preservatives, etc. Also, I’d be paying for ingredients, but not the manufacture, packaging, and marketing that goes into processed foods.

My Cheez-It fan and I whipped up these crackers tonight. The dough took only a few minutes to make and I froze it for only 10 minutes instead of refrigerating for 2 hours. It still rolled out perfectly. I cut the crackers with a crinkle-cutter, but a knife or biscuit cutter would have done just as well. The dough baked up beautifully and the resulting crackers were pretty and tasty–salty, rich, savory, exploding with cheese flavor. I used the Cheddar called for in the recipe, but it’d be fun to change it up depending on your mood or your family’s preferences: mozzarella for pizza lovers, pepper-Jack for those who like it spicy, sharp Cheddar for an extra punch. A teaspoon of dried herbs would also add distinction.

Though these crackers aren’t as crispy as what you find in that red box (might need to fry ’em up for that), my daughter gave them a rating of “good to great” which is high praise from her. I’ll probably buy the book as I’d love a collection of such recipes all in one place. The article mentioned homemade pop-tarts which sounds like a delicious project. Definitely a DIY I would Do.

Homemade Cheese Crackers

adapted only slightly from The Homemade Pantry: 101 Things You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila

  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces grated Cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1 ice cube

In mixing bowl, use paddle attachment to beat together butter, flour, mustard, and salt 30 seconds or just until crumbly. Add cheese; beat on low speed 30 seconds longer or just until mixed.

In small bowl, combine water, vinegar, and ice cube; let stand briefly to chill. Add 6 tablespoons vinegar mixture to cheese mixture; beat on low speed until liquid is absorbed. Beat in vinegar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, just until dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 hours. (I froze the dough for 10 minutes.)

Remove frozen dough to counter 15 minutes before baking.

Heat oven to 325°F. On lightly floured surface, roll dough 1/8-inch-thick. Cut into small squares or rounds. Place on baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 40 (2-inch) crackers. (I cut them smaller, so got about 60 (1 1/2-inch) crackers.)

crinkle-cut dough

ready to bake

in the oven

cup o’ DIY cheese crackers