food blog south 2013 – a recap

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Food Blog South 2013

Surprising Amanda Fact: I don’t really mingle.  Frankly, I really hate it.  On the Myers-Briggs test, I test in squarely in the introvert section.  So going to a conference all alone where mingling is expected is a quite daunting proposition.

Many months back, I signed up to go to Food Blog South 2013 in Birmingham, Ala.  I was excited at first, but the closer to Saturday I got the more unsure I became.  But on Friday, I put on my big girl pants and drove down to Birmingham.

Thankfully fate brought me a lovely present.  Sitting alone near the back of the main ballroom, I looked to the side and saw my friend, Elise.  She was at the event for work, and neither of us knew the other would be there.  Hazzah – I had a buddy!

Knowing that I wouldn’t have to eat alone lunch, I relaxed and settled into a day of speakers talking my favorite subject. :)

I bookended my day with two of my favorite bloggers – Adam from the Amateur Gourmet and Kenji the Chief Creative Officer for Serious Eats.  While I won’t bore you all with the details of each session – You’ll have to pay your own way for that.  I will say how inspiring it was to meet so many people who have the same passion as I do.

The folks at Food Blog South put on a great day – very organized, very professional.  This conference was a blast.  While I didn’t go out of my way to mix and mingle like I probably needed to, I was able to meet several people and hand out a few business cards.  I hope that when I return next year, I’ll feel a little more confident with this fledgling food blog.

stuffed peppers, part dos – southwest style

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Southwest Stuffed Peppers

I am a glutton for stuffed green peppers.  I think that a bell pepper is just begging to be filled with a delicious mixture of ground meat and vegetables.  And while I love a traditional stuffed pepper with tomatoes, beef and rice, this time I wanted to mix it up a bit.  So I took inspiration from the Southwest.

This dish is also pretty light, and if you’re looking for a healthy, low carb option – this might be it.  Instead of using a grain like rice, I chose to use black beans and corn instead.  I also substituted the ground beef with 93% fat free ground turkey.  I figured I could go pretty lean on the protein because eventually it will be mixed diced tomatoes and cheese which will add moisture and a little fat.

If you want to feed more folks – have no fear, just add in some brown rice or quinoa, more seasoning and a little moisture – water, chicken stock, more tomatoes.  Don’t forget about the freezer too!  This dish would be a great freezer meal.  Just make a double batch or extend the stuffing with rice, and put half in the freezer.  Perfect for single serve meals straight from the freezer.

Ingredients

8 oz ground turkey1 small white onion chopped
1 garlic clove minced
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp coriander
salt and pepper
1 can black beans, drained and rinced
1 cup yellow corn, frozen
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for the top
4 whole large bell peppers, tops and seeds removed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a skillet, heat the olive oil then brown the ground turkey, onions and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper. When the turkey is cooked, add the spices and cook for 30 seconds.  In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, drained black beans, corn, diced tomatoes and cheese.

To prepare the bell peppers, remove the stems and seeds, leaving as much of the whole pepper as possible.  If your peppers are uneven and don’t stand on their own, just slice off a small bit of the bottom “feet” to stabilize.  Make sure that you don’t cut too much or you’ll create a whole in the bottom.

Stuff each pepper with quarter of the mixture, and place in a baking dish.  Cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil, add a sprinkle of cheese to the top and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes.

pb&j sorbet

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PB&J Sorbet

It turns out that I have gained the Freshman 15.  No, I didn’t jump into my trusty DeLorean (Great Scott!) to re-experience the fall of 2000 and my freshman year of college (believe me, it wouldn’t be pretty).

Nope – apparently it’s common among food bloggers to gain weight in the first year, and I have been no exception.  Between trying new restaurants, testing new recipes and entertaining, those pounds magically appeared.

As I’ve worked to shed those pesky pounds, I’ve really taken a keen eye to what I’m eating and have been trying to just eat better.  For me – that means more fruits and veggies, fewer simple carbs (hello sugar and white flour) and more lean protein.  Yes, that means that on occasion, my dinner might be tuna salad and steamed broccoli.  And Yes, that doesn’t seem very blog worthy.  Hence the lack of recipes lately.

Before you start to worry that I’m turning this blog into a health blog – I’m not, and I don’t want to.  I firmly believe that just as eating a fancy dinner is an adventure with food, so is trying to make better every day choices.  But in the same vein of making fancy food, yummy and delicious – I’m figuring out ways to apply the same rules to healthier options.  It’s all about balance and moderation.

That’s why I had to share this “sorbet” with you all.  Last night I had a SERIOUS sweet craving, and after reading several recipes on Pinterest (of course), I had to try this magical frozen banana “ice cream.”  Thankfully a couple of weeks ago I threw some almost-turned bananas in the freezer, so last night I got them out to try this mythical recipe.

First of all – Someone might need to enlighten me on the art of peeling frozen bananas – cause I almost got frostbite.  Maybe next time I’ll peel first, freeze second.  After I managed to peel two bananas, I remembered I also had some frozen strawberries too, so I threw them together with a little bit of peanut butter in the food processor.

That is when the magic happened.  After several minutes of pulsing, the texture went from big chucks to smaller ones to perfectly smooth.  I had to scrape the sides several times, but after a couple of minutes it was ready.

I didn’t want to initially add the peanut butter (Simply JIF – all the way), but it did help smooth out the texture of the fruit a bit.  Once I tasted the “sorbet,” I realized it tasted just like a PB & J with strawberry jam.  So delicious.

I’ve seen several recipes for this – Banana, Peanut Butter and Cocoa is the most common – and I’m sure it’s amazing.  The common ingredient is always frozen banana.  Bananas don’t have high water concentration, so when they are frozen the texture doesn’t crystallize like many fruits.  That means when you blend a frozen banana it just gets super smooth – not grainy.

Perfect for those moments when you’re dying for something sweet, but don’t want to sacrifice the extra calories.  Added bonus?  Extra serving of whole fruit.  Take that food pyramid!

Ingredients

2 medium sized bananas, frozen, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 cup frozen whole strawberries
1 tbsp creamy peanut butter

In a food processor, first add the fruit and pulse until small, pea-sized chunks.  Then add the peanut butter.  Continue pulsing and scraping the sides until the mixture is smooth.

Serves 2 if you’re generous.

going too far?

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My Fellow Americans:

Please don’t eat this crap.  If you stop eating it, the lovely folks over at Tony’s will stop making it.  Save yourself $5 and a heart attack, and go eat an apple.

photo credit: Memphis Flyer

My friend Jenny posted this earlier – and I couldn’t stop myself from commenting. Now – I will completely admit, that I love junk food.  Love it.  But this is just gross.

If you REALLY, REALLY want to go on a carb binder – at least do yourself a favor and do it right – at a good restaurant that makes good food.  Don’t let Tony’s Frozen pizza kill you…

And with that I’m stepping down from my soapbox…

For today…

vote for memphis

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So Southern Living is taking a reader poll for the tastiest towns, and Memphis is in third place behind Asheville and Durham.  Get out there and vote people.

We all know that Memphis has some great restaurants, but here’s my list of why you should vote Memphis as the tastiest town.

  1. Memphis-style BBQ.  Love it/hate it doesn’t matter there isn’t Ashville-style BBQ or Durham-style BBQ.  No but we do.  Memphis-style.
  2. Gus’s Fried Chicken.  Constantly named the best fried chicken in the country.  When I crave fried chicken – there is only one place that I want to go – Gus’s.
  3. Memphis’s Fine Dining Scene.  Restaurant Iris, Andrew/Michael Kitchen, Sweet Grass, Tsunami, Erling Jensen, just to name a few of the restaurants that grace the national scene on the regular.
  4. Memphis’s Casual Dining Scene.  Doesn’t matter what part of town you’re in.  You are guaranteed to find a local restaurant serving up delicious food for cheap.  For Memphians, eating local has never been better.
  5. Farmers Markets. Everywhere. All year long.  Even through many of our largest farmer’s markets are seasonal, there are still a few that offer fresh produce even in the dead of winter.

So those are my top 5.  I think they’re pretty solid reasons, so come on Memphis get out there vote and show Southern Living why we are the tastiest.

meet, greet, eat

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Some times this little blog has some perks.  Tonight was one of those times.  The very, very lovely folks over at Alchemy sent me an email several weeks ago, and invited me to a meet and greet with their new chef, Nick Seabergh.

Now, I have been a big fan of Alchemy since they opened last November.  I find myself there on a regular basis enjoying a small plate (or four) with friends and coworkers – heck we even celebrated Mother’s Day there last year. I love the concept, the food, the drinks  – Alchemy just does it right.

So when I heard about this new chef, my ears perked.  All I really knew about him was that he was most recently the Executive Chef at Giardina’s in the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, Miss. For those who aren’t food nerds like me – The Alluvian is home to the Viking Cooking School and is on my vacation bucket list.  So I figured that this guy might know how a thing or two about cooking a dish. Most likely, right?

Eager to see what Chef Nick had in store for Alchemy, I grabbed my bestie Katie to check it out.

Let’s talk about the plate that you see above, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we actually ate.  Of course I forgot to take photos of everything, so when my friend and fellow food blogger, Thomas, posts his much better photos – I’ll share that.

So above left to right.

  1. Herb Roasted Mississippi Shiitake Mushrooms with Parmesan and sherry vinegar.  Yes, you do remember correctly that I usually run far, far away from mushrooms, but these were really good – salty, meaty, un-mushroomy.  Maybe? Could I be turning a corner on my mushroom-phobia? Maybe it’s just these.
  2. House cured smoked salmon with a yummy caper cream sauce. Of course I didn’t take great notes to tell you exactly what the sauce was – but trust me – Yum.  The salmon was salty and smokey and tender. This was not your Sunday brunch lox – but a hot smoked salmon with a great smokey flavor.  Can I have lots more?
  3. Truffle deviled egg. He had me at deviled egg. Stop me before I go off on a tangent about my love for deviled eggs…
  4. Hangar steak carpaccio with a grapefruit vinaigrette. I love it when chef’s pair ingredients that I just can’t imagine. This is one of those dishes.  The steak was barely seared on each side, then cut thin.  This dish shows how important really good ingredients are for simple dishes.  With a great cut of beef that is nicely marbled, the fat in the beef is in perfect contrast to the acid in the grapefruit.  I really wish I had gotten seconds on this one.

IMG_2431Then all of a sudden more food just started pouring out of the kitchen. Before I knew it there were 4 more plates and I only snapped this one picture of the Gulf Shrimp on a charred green onion grit cake with jalapeno butter. Essentially – his version of shrimp and grits.

I believe that Chef said that the tasso ham in the sauce was house made.  The shrimp was nicely cooked from the gulf.  But I really couldn’t stop thinking about the grit cake – crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. So delicious.

I’m really bummed out that I didn’t get a picture of the roasted asparagus with parmesan cheese, crispy Benton’s bacon and a fried poached egg.  Yes, you read that correctly, Chef Nick takes a perfectly poached egg, breads it and fries it – perfectly runny yolk while crispy outside.  That’s my kind of poached egg.  This dish was like the perfect breakfast on a plate, and I am convinced that there is nothing better than a runny yolk covering asparagus and bacon – nope, nothing.

While we were stuffing ourselves silly, Chef Nick came by to say hi and asked if there is anything else that we wanted to try.  Of course we flipped the question back to him and said – what should we try?  Well, this is when Chef started to describe the flattened fingerling potatoes that they fry in the leftover duck fat from making duck confit.

A little background here – Once upon a time at my office, my coworkers and I read a recipe that called for “your favorite fat.” When described that way – everyone was a little grossed out except for me.  Without a blink of an eye – I said “Duck Fat. No question, duck fat.”

Now understanding that my appreciation for duck fat runs deep, I looked at Chef trying to play it cool and said – “yeah…we could try that.” One bite and all I can say is…Oh. My. Word. The best part of these potatoes (other than the duck fat) is that they immediately took me back to my trip to Spain.  Chef serves the potatoes with a smoked paprika aioli, and with one bite, I was back in Barcelona. The potatoes are served with a seared hangar steak that is simply seasoned with salt and pepper.  But as far as I’m concerned – gimme a plate of the potatoes and I’m a happy girl.

Other highlights that we tried were the beef sliders with pimento cheese on rolls made by bread making genius Chef Jason Doty and the redfish tacos with a radish and cabbage slaw.

Part of the reason tonight was so much fun, was that I got to hang out and talk food with food people.  Chef Jason came by and said hi and told us about his plans for expanding Bluff City Coffee and a new bakery.  High fives for a real bakery in town! Can’t wait for fresh bread from a guy who knows how to do it right.

EatLocalMemphis.org’s Thomas and I have been talking and tweeting about grabbing lunch for months, and tonight we were finally able to hang out, catch up, talk food, and plan our next lunch.  Sometimes ya just got to keep kindred spirits close by, and Thomas is definitely a kindred spirit when it comes to food.

So in case you didn’t deduce from this post – I am giving Chef Nick at Alchemy rave reviews. He took a menu and concept that I already loved, and put his unique name on it.  Staples like mac and cheese and tomato soup with grilled cheese are still there – but his new dishes are great additions.  Can’t wait to come back and try some more dishes and have some more potatoes. (yes, they really were that good. :P)

Save the date! Alchemy has a couple special dinners planned.

  1. February 27 – New Belgium Brewery Beer Dinner with Special Guest Todd Dudley of the New Belgium Brewery
  2. April 16 – Bourbon Dinner with Sazerac Family Master Distiller Harlan Wheatley

Thank you to Bert, John and Shantih for a great night!!!

duck eggs

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Dear blogesphere – You love duck eggs.  I am continually surprised the number of people who hit this blog in search of recipes on how to cook duck eggs.  By far – my solitary post on soft boiled duck eggs and soldiers has gotten the most views to date.

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While I would love to assume it’s the photography – I mean look at the composition in that shot…

But I am just curious – is it just duck eggs?  Are we that unfamiliar with eggs of any sort besides chicken?  Interesting idea, and probably true since I had never had a duck egg until this summer.

Tell me blog readers – have you tried duck eggs?  While not what I was used to them (though – I’ve had a REALLY hard time mastering hard boiled chicken eggs), I loved these duck eggs.  And knowing that soft-boiling them provided me all of the gooey yolks that I love with buttered toast and the protein that I need, without frying eggs.

Shall we make a New Year’s Resolution to seek out duck eggs and report back? Tell me what you love, hate, find different, find the same. Either way, just report back.

dreaming of sushi

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I haven’t been feeling great the last couple of days, so I this weekend I took it easy and watched movies.  Upon recommendation from my dear friend Amy, I settled in to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Even if you’re not a huge sushi lover, you’ll love this documentary following the life of Japan’s most famous sushi maker and his two sons.  I loved this film’s insight to Japan’s culture with food and family.

a little organization, part 2

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Remember WAYYYYYYY back when I asked for some organization tips?  Well I decided that I really wanted Oxo’s Pop Containers like these:

They are air-tight, light weight, non-breakable and dish-washer safe.  Since I needed something to store baking products like flour and sugar in the cabinet above the stove, this was key (especially the non-breakable part).

But the problem is – Have you checked out the price tag on these things?!?! Youch.  At Target, a 5-piece set will cost ya about $50.  And I knew that 5 was just not  enough.

Thankfully my birthday was a few days ago, and my mom, dad and I were walking through Sam’s Club and found a set of TWELVE – yes 12! – for only $75!  Yes, I squealed and asked if they could be my birthday present.

The moment I got home and unpacked, I got to work.  And Viola!!

This is two shelves – baking supplies and pantry staples. Since this, I have gotten three more containers for pastas and quinoa (thank you Williams Sonoma Outlet).  As you can see on the bottom shelf the tall containers don’t fit completely upright on my pantry shelf, so I stacked them on their side.  It works perfectly.

I still haven’t touched my spice cabinet, but at least I can check one thing off my list.

What organization project do you want to tackle in 2013?

it’s new years, let’s get fancy.

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Have you recovered from your New Year’s Eve celebrations? I THINK I have (yes, I know it’s Jan. 3). Before I put December 31, 2012 in the record books, I wanted to share some super easy (and FANCY) appetizers or hor d’oeuvres (again – we’re FANCY) for your next party.

I am a big fan of the house party for New Year’s Eve.  I absolutely hate fighting crowds at bars and drunks driving the streets, so this year, I continued my tradition of having a house party.  We’ve had lots of themes in the past (including an 80’s workout theme complete with Michael Jackson’s Wii Dance Game – it was as amazing as your picturing), but this year, I just wanted to get fancy.  Lots of sparkle, lots of glitter, silver and gold.

And as far as food is concerned – there are a couple things that scream fancy, but are so easy to throw together in the midst of decorating and some last minute cleaning – puff pastry and phyllo.  What is it about these two ingredients that have guests ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing?  It probably has a lot to do with butter, and I’m ok with that.

First up – Spinach Pinwheels featuring Puff Pastry.

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Thanks to Alex for hand modeling this one…

For this appetizer, I mixed together the following ingredients until well combined:

2 boxes of chopped spinach, thawed and drained
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Unfold two thawed puff pastry sheets, and evenly divide the spinach mixture between the sheets and spread evenly.  Then, simply roll the sheet of puff pastry up like a jelly roll.  (For smaller pinwheels cut the sheets in half – they’re perfectly bite sized that way.)  Then when you have a roll of puff pastry and spinach goodness, cut 1/4 inch slices, and place the pinwheels on a greased (or parchement-lined) baking sheet cut side up.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Either serve warm or at room temperature.

And now for Brie Cups with Fig Jam

Sorry it's a little blurry.  It was NYE after all...

Sorry it’s a little blurry. It was NYE after all…

Ok – this one doesn’t get any easier and more delicious than this.  I took one disk of brie, removed the rind and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes (errr. rectangles).  Then, here’s the really easy part – I bought those precooked, phyllo cups from the freezer section and lined them up on a baking sheet.  (As many as you can cram on the pan – no need for spreading or spilling.) Then place a cube of brie and a dollop of fig jam in each cup. I used Stonewall Kitchen’s Fig and Ginger Jam. Yum.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until melty and bubbly – 15-20 minutes.  I actually had these all prepped and sitting on the oven waiting for guests to arrive. Then baked them quickly when guests started to arrive.

Both of these dishes are easy to prepare, and were huge crowd pleasers.  See – fancy food doesn’t necessarily mean that you spend all day in the kitchen.

What are some of your favorite go to fancy hor d’oeuvres?

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