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Foodie Friday: Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

4795656116_a13ca04fc3_bEvery year, no matter what kind of wonderful parties and other festivities are going on, at some point there is a slump. Maybe it’s a friend or family member, co-worker, or yourself that goes through a rough patch during the dark, cold winter months. This, unfortunately, is something people tend to ignore and muscle through instead of confronting.

There is a delicious solution for your winter time blues, and it turns out it’s been there all along. Food is the great healer and always has been in every culture on the planet. Chicken soup when you have a cold, a glass of orange juice to get your vitamin C, it’s different for everyone. Many foods have been scientifically proven to have health benefits not the least of which is chocolate. This is not only coming from a long time chocoholic. Ask around, heck, ask your doctor! In fact studies have found dark chocolate in particular to be beneficial to your body and also can help to melt away the stress of your commute.

Now just because chocolate is good for you in moderation does not mean ganache dipped cupcakes are. However if you feel like you deserve a treat (and you most likely do) don’t go half way and eat a snickers bar, get some quality therapy. The kind only chocolate cake can provide, and don’t forget to share. Be well!
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Foodie Friday: Creole Style Gumbo

7783272480_bf8671b2ca_kIn the Southern states there are more speciality dishes than you can shake a stick at, and they are all amazing. Folks have been perfecting their local cuisines since the first settlers moved to the area, passing secret recipes down through the generations. In Southern cooking there are certainly techniques and methods exclusive to the region, and that’s where things get interesting. Barbecue alone has at least eight different distinctive styles that separate Texas style from what you will get in the Carolinas and so on. If you went to an accredited culinary school and graduated, you may not walk away with the knowledge for preparing Southern food unless you took a specific course. Basically, things happen a little differently in the South.

For one, food takes longer to cook and the ingredients are more specific and specialized. Creole cuisine, for example, is exclusive to Louisiana and is influenced by Spanish, African, Italian, French, Portuguese and other international cuisines. Creole cooking is a close reflection of classic French cuisine in that is sources ingredients from the immediate area. You might find alligator in your jambalaya and crawdads in your gumbo. These critters are indigenous and therefore, as in any culture, end up in the soup pot. In French cooking, you might find a mirepoix (equal parts celery, carrot, and onion) in a dish. Similarly, Creole cooking would use the holy trinity of celery, green bell pepper, and onion in equal ratio.

Cajun cooking is closely related to Creole cuisine however more rustic. Basically Cajun food is country food and Creole is city food. You also won’t find tomatoes in Cajun food. Although it is easy to confuse the two, if you ask a local they will definitely let you know. This week I wanted to share a Creole recipe that has been on both country and city tables since the 18th century. Cooking a dish like gumbo may seem intimidating to someone from, let’s say California, but it is no more complicated than a nice mole. Remember, when making this dish for the first time: with big flavors come big responsibilities. So, take your time and don’t forget to add lots of love.
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Foodie Friday: Fresh Baked Bread

2104039823_b47da37172_bOne of the most comforting and inviting smells on a cold winter afternoon is freshly baked bread. The smell grabs right onto your olfactory senses and magically transports you to a very cozy place. Making your own bread may seem intimidating if you haven’t ever tried it, but I am here to tell you that it’s easy. With a little elbow grease and some pretty basic ingredients you can impress your family with fresh baked bread all winter long.

Now, the most important thing to remember when making bread is to relax and find a nice clean surface large enough to make your bread while not making a huge mess. I clear my counter completely whenever I make bread so I have plenty of room to work. Make sure you have measuring cups and spoons a large mixing bowl and a heavy wooden spoon. Having these items on hand will definitely make the process easier. I also recommend getting all of the ingredients out and in a spot that is easy to access. Once you start mixing, your hands will be messy so measuring your ingredients ahead of time is highly recommended.

When choosing a recipe, remember that baking is science. Therefore sometimes a formula (recipe) may not be perfectly written. Variables such as the water and your oven will change the way your bread turns out. Nothing to fear. The worst thing that will happen is your bread isn’t perfect. Adapt your recipe or try a different one until you find something you love. If your bread turns out perfect the first time you attempt it, way to go! If not, try try again and I promise you will get the hang of it. You may even want to take your own notes and re-write a recipe as you go.

Replacing liquids, and types of flour or fat will allow you to experiment and find something that works for you. Try almond milk in place of cow’s milk and olive oil in place of melted butter for a vegan bread recipe. If you are gluten-free there are a number of options available to replace the flour with. The most important things to consider when adapting a bread recipe are not to overheat the yeast, follow the steps in the same order, and work your dough to consistency without being afraid to add more flour if needed.

Here is a very basic bread recipe for you to use as a canvas. Enjoy!
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Foodie Friday: Wild Mushroom Risotto

6703097183_e537063c3d_bThe earth has provided a bounty of edible mushrooms that people have been harvesting since before the dawn of mass agriculture. Through trial and error we have been able to distinguish certain delectable species as safe for our consumption. Though there’s an astounding variety of mushroom species on our planet, only a select few have been selected to be included in our recipes.

Mushrooms are complex creatures with even more complex flavors and textures. When properly prepared, these wondrous fungi can provide your palate with a rich and powerful experience. For those of you out there that are a little intimidated by cooking certain types of wild mushrooms, this post might help set your mind at ease. There are a couple of different species that do require specific preparation but once you got the basics down you might surprise yourself.

Choosing the right fungi for the job is the first step in the path to culinary enlightenment. If you are making a salad or something with light delicate broth you might select oyster mushrooms. When braising rabbit however chantrelle or morel mushrooms are a little more appropriate for the job, since they are heartier and more suitable for rich complex dishes.

The next thing to consider once you have selected the types of mushrooms you want to include in your dish would be the various preparations and cooking times for each of your specimens. When cooking with tougher mushrooms such as shitake you will want to remove the stem and cut them a little smaller prior to cooking for example. I have chosen some tips for preparing commonly used wild mushrooms, and a recipe for a great wild mushroom risotto. Please make sure if you are foraging for mushrooms that you do so with a professional. Some species of mushrooms can cause illness or even death, so either go with a  pro or hit your local market. Dig it!
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Foodie Friday: Spicy Pickled Veggies

pickled-vegetablesFor those of you that have a green thumb, this time of year can be very busy. As your bounty of summer vegetables and tomatoes are ripening in front of your eyes, you’re probably frantically looking recipes in order to put all these delicious, fresh veggies to use. You have been nurturing them for months, and now it’s time to reap the rewards of what you had sewn.

Salads and gazpacho account for a great deal of the veggies in my garden, but I also like to trade and go to local farms.

What do I do with all of the goodies I find there? Why pickle them of course!

Pickling is a quick and easy way to savor the flavor of summer while doing something interesting with your afternoon. You can use just about any veggie you want in place of the ones I have decided on, as long as you keep them about the same size and blanch the harder ones so they don’t break your teeth. Wax beans, baby carrots, cauliflower florets, okra pods, sliced sweet bell pepper, sliced cucumber, whole button mushrooms, peppers, or radishes all make for tasty tart treats in the summer heat. Enjoy!
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Foodie Friday: Gravlax

The Slow Food movement has had a huge impact on what we include on our plates in the last several years. Slow foodies prefer locally-made specialty items lovingly grown, raised or made by families that love their craft and respect their ingredients.

While it’s easy to pop into the local super market and grab some packaged goods, slice them and throw them on a tray for your guests, it is far more satisfying to hear the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs of your guests as they sample your homemade slow cured delicacies. Creating your own specialty foods may take more work and time, but the difference will amaze you.

Along with making your own cured meats and fish there are a number of other great homemade specialty items that are easy to make and sure to impress. This week I am sharing a recipe for curing Gravlax, an item that many of you may love to eat but are intimidated to try making yourself. I am here to assure you that it’s not that hard and the results may surprise you. With a caring spirit and a little patience you can be serving this succulent delicacy at your next brunch. Enjoy!
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Foodie Friday: Cowboy Beans

The bean dates back to the very beginnings of our civilization. They have been found buried in tombs in Egypt and also, deep inside ancient caves in Peru.

It has been at dinner tables just about as far back as we can tell and with good reason. With an average of nine and a half grams of protein per serving the bean makes for a very healthy way to get that “full” feeling that comes at the end of a satisfying meal.

There are thousands of varieties of beans in the world, so naturally there are limitless possibilities for preparation. This weeks recipe is from an era when beans were invaluable because of their nutrients and shelf life when dried. This could easily be just about any era in the history of beans but I am specifically thinking about the westward wagon trains of the early United States.

Here is my recipe for “Cowboy Beans.” Enjoy!
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Foodie Friday: Simple Curry Recipe

I love the fall and the great food that comes along with it; so many opportunities to create wonderful soups, stews and curries. Since the cold weather brings larger appetites, large batches are a must.

Making large quantities of things more often than not means left overs and plenty of them in my house. Leftovers are a great way to make your life easier. It allows you the freedom to take a night off from cooking once in a while or have a hearty lunch at work with out having to order take-out. When I make beef stew, chicken soup or curry I know they will freeze well so that’s exactly what I do. Taking aside enough for a meal and freezing it helps keep a variety of healthy and affordable quick dinner options at the ready and I recommend trying it if you don’t already do so.

This week I made an easy chicken curry and rice dish that my whole family enjoyed. Since it takes so long to cook this dish I was sure to freeze a portion. I feel good knowing it’s in my freezer for that cold fall evening when we are busy and tired. Remember a recipe is only a guideline, you can always sub in vegetables for chicken if you have preferences or dietary restrictions. Please enjoy!
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Foodie Friday: Caribbean Jerked Chicken

As a heat wave rolls across the country I find myself fantasizing about sitting on a tropical beach in Jamaica: the spicy smell of Jerked Chicken grilling, the soothing lull of the ocean washing my cares away as I sip on a cool tropical beverage. Then, the light turns green, the car behind me honks their horn and I am once again moving toward home, dinner, family and friends. Well, if I can’t afford to go to Jamaica I am the type of foodie that says “heck, why not bring a little bit of the Caribbean home.”

That, my friends is what I recommend for you and yours and that’s why for this week’s Foodie Friday, I’m bringing the heat. This recipe is a great way to transform your backyard into a white sandy beach for a day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the years.
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Foodie Friday: Sunset Supper in the Market and a Cantaloupe Cooler recipe

Working as a chef for fifteen years, I can remember working all summer long in a hot kitchen. Barely seeing the sunlight while my friends and family were out enjoying the Pacific Northwest’s all too brief summer. So naturally any time we got a chance to work an outside catering event we would jump at the chance. One such event I had the privilege of working was the Sunset Supper in the Pike Place Market, a great event that supports a great cause.

Well it just so happens Brown Paper Tickets is selling tickets for this years installment which takes place on Friday, August 17. Sunset Supper in the Market has all of the important elements of a great summer event: food, libations, contests, music, and dancing. On top of all of that the proceeds support the work of the Pike Market Medical Clinic, Senior Center, Child Care & Preschool and Food Bank – vital services utilized by thousands of Seattle’s low-income and elderly residents.

If you aren’t able to attend this event or are not in the area don’t be sad; there are tons of great events happening this summer all over the place. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Sunday, July 29 I Carts and a Cold OneEugene, Oregon

Friday, August 3 I 3rd Annual Paella in the ParkTraverse City, Michigan

Friday, August 3 I Summer Fruit Desserts 2.0 – Now We’re Cookin’Evanston, Illinois

Saturday, August 4 I Endless SummerPortland, Oregon

Wednesday, August 8 I Summer BBQ SeriesCarlsbad, California

Sunday, August 12 I Farm Table Dinners @ Green Dirt FarmWeston, Missouri

Friday, August 17 I Sunset Supper at the Market – Seattle, Washington

Now don’t think for one minute I forgot you hard-working kitchen types or those of you that are putting on your own events. I have included a recipe for one of my favorite things to drink in the heat or really, anytime for that matter. Remember, a recipe is just a guideline so feel free to make it yours by adding a few of your favorite berries, substituting sweeteners, or adding your favorite liquor or sparkling wine. There is an infinite number of combinations to try. I hope you enjoy!
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