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.

peach. bourbon. ice cream. tarts.

Next Monday I’ll attend the annual business meeting of Les Dames d’Escoffier. I’ve written of this group before, and always look forward to being a part of their events. The company is good for sure and the conversation almost always revolves around food. And then there’s the food itself: always spectacular. Often the group meets at a restaurant or has a meal catered in, but the September meeting is traditionally potluck.

Because Les Dames membership is made up of those who enjoy being in the kitchen, you’ll never find a bag of chips and storebought dip at their potluck. This is a group of women who will make their own chips and dip or, better yet, offer up a whole-grain salad, basket of homemade biscuits and jam, or an amazing fruit-and-cheese platter. Because of the high bar that’s been set, I admit to being intimidated when bringing that “dish to share.”

It’s not that I don’t think I can turn out decent fare, but I tend toward basic (the biscuits and jam mentioned above? mine) while many of the Dames kick it up a notch and bring dishes that wow. Today I’ve given a test run to what I hope will pass muster at Monday’s meeting.

With the help of my new ice cream maker, I made a batch of Bourbon Peach Brown Sugar Ice Cream (again, thanks, Accidental Locavore for passing on the link!). With so many fun ingredients, it seemed appropriate for this group. But ice cream isn’t made for a potluck spread, so to turn it into a servable dessert, I started by pressing graham cracker crumbs that had been mixed with enough melted butter to moisten into mini muffin cups. Next in was a small spoonful of homemade cajeta sauce that was leftover from another project. A small scoop of the softened ice cream went on top after which the “tarts” were frozen until solid. Before serving, a dollop of bourbon-kissed whipped cream went on each along with a dusting of graham cracker crumbs. They turned out prettier and tastier than I’d hoped. Yay! They’ll go well with whatever wonderful dishes the Dames bring.

bourbon-peach-brown sugar tart shells with bourbon whipped cream

pretty, tasty, heavenly!

let the good times roll

I went to a Les Dames d’Escoffier meeting tonight. The group is, according to its website, “a world wide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality.” More simply put, it’s a group of women who work in and are passionate about the food industry and all things food. To me, it’s a group of women who share my passions. As supportive as my family is, they’re not going to listen to me go on and on (and on and on and on) about food. This group will. We don’t always talk food, though we often do, but we always support each other in professional endeavors. Some say it’s all about networking, but I’d argue that it’s about the friendships that form.

Tonight, we enjoyed a Fat Tuesday meal of rich man’s jambalaya (chicken, shrimp, and sausage), a lightly dressed mixed green salad, and an amazing pear-cherry bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce. Knowing the party theme, I brought bourbon balls. The meal was followed by a nutrition-professor member talking about what makes a real-world healthy diet. The group thought it was wonderfully ironic that we followed an extravagant and lavish meal with a presentation on nutrition. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Kentucky Bourbon Balls

  • 2 cups vanilla wafer cookies, finely crushed
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (can use Dutch-process or regular unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • Additional confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and/or crushed pecans for coating

In food processor, finely chop cookies. Add pecans; pulse just until nuts are ground. Transfer mixture to large bowl; add confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder. Stir to mix well. Stir in bourbon and corn syrup. Refrigerate until chilled.

Shape chilled mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll bourbon balls in confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, or finely chopped nuts to coat. Store in airtight container up to 2 weeks. Makes about 36 bourbon balls.