Culinary Fight Club by Kiley Fields

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club…
…unless it’s a different kind of Fight Club…a Culinary Fight Club.

25 champions from 14 cities came together this past Sunday to compete in the 2019 Annual Culinary Fight Club Championship in Chicago.

Culinary Fight Club is a national organization that hosts live cooking competitions. Attendees watch while three teams race for 45 seconds to choose 15 ingredients from the ‘pantry’. Teams then have 60 minutes to create a dish that represents their take on the theme. Attendees and judges vote and choose a winning dish and a Culinary Fight Club champion is named. These 25 champions came out strong this past Sunday.

From home cooks to executive chefs, competitors highlighted different cultures, ingredients, and cooking techniques – all tempting the taste buds of ticket holders and judges. And let me tell you…it was delicious!

This was the first time I attended a Culinary Fight Club event and it will not be my last. As the season culminating event, this Fight Club took on a bit of a different format. The event started with the Culinary Fight Fest (CFF). The goal of the CFF was for attendees to taste all the bites the chefs had to offer in an effort to pick the top four favorites. For three hours my husband, myself and a few other friends, ate and drank our way through 25 different bite-size masterpieces while chefs described their dish, their cooking background, and what made their culinary heart tick. At the end of the three hours, the CFF concluded, tasting stopped, and ballots were cast. The four winning bites of the Culinary Fight Fest were announced, and these chefs advanced on to The Final Plate, the crowning competition of the night…

Best Bite Wins…
First Place: Kris Schoenberger (BBQ’d Productions Bar and Grill, Third Lake, IL) – Kansas City Wagyu Surf n’ Turf Slider
Second Place: Chris Allen (City Winery Restaurant, Nashville, TN) – Boston Scallop and Shrimp Aglio E Olio with Pancetta and Yukon Puree
Tied for Third/Fourth: Cory Hinton (Private Chef, Chattanooga, TN) – Romance of Eden, an elevated Shrimp Po’ Boy
Tied for Third/Fourth: Jamie Bisioulis (Private Chef, Glenview, IL) – Chicken Kiev Croquette with Candied Pork Belly

Pumped with a Best Bite win under their belt Kris, Chris, Cory and Jamie proceeded to the 45-minute quick fire challenge in the style of “Chopped” – creating one final dish for the judges to critique. It was an intense 45 minutes of concepting, creating, and plating while the audience watched and the clock ticked down. The buzzer rang and the cooking stopped.

All four chefs did a stellar job pulling together their dishes, but only one chef could prevail. The 2019 Culinary Fight Club Champion title was awarded to Kris Schoenberger. Chef Schoenberger was definitely a crowd favorite with his emotion (tears were shed), passion, and love for food and how it brings people together. This was his third year competing and advancing to The Final Plate Championship and his first win. He said “Three is my lucky number,” and I would say ‘Third time’s a charm’ definitely holds true for Kris.

To learn more about upcoming Culinary Fight Club events check them out here. You can also learn about the great way they are giving back by partnering with Fight2Feed, a non-profit organization with the mission to eliminate hunger in Chicago by utilizing leftovers from restaurants and food trucks.

In honor of the 2019 champion, Kris Schoenberger, here is my own spin on a Surf n’ Turf Slider.

Korean-Inspired Surf n' Turf Sliders with Daikon Carrot Pickle
Yields 8
  1. Daikon Carrot Pickle
  2. 5 ounces daikon, julienned or thinly sliced
  3. 5 ounces carrot, julienned or thinly sliced
  4. 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  5. 1/2 cup water
  6. 1/2 cup sugar, granulated
  7. 1 teaspoon salt
  8. Bulgogi Sauce
  9. 1/3 cup soy sauce
  10. 1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
  11. 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  12. 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
  13. 2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  14. 3 tablespoon brown sugar
  15. 2 teaspoon sesame oil
  16. Sliders
  17. 1 pound ground chuck
  18. 3 ounces bacon, ground or finely chopped in food processor
  19. 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  20. 1 teaspoon salt
  21. 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  22. Lobster
  23. 8 ounces cooked lobster meat, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
  24. 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  25. 1/2 lemon, zested
  26. 2 teaspoon lemon juice, plus more tt
  27. 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  28. salt and pepper, to taste
  29. 8 slider buns, for assembly
  30. Mayonnaise, for assembly
  1. For pickle, add daikon and carrot to pint size mason jar or other heat proof container with tight fitting lid. Bring vinegar and water to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Add salt and sugar and simmer until both dissolve, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes. Carefully pour hot pickling liquid into mason jar with daikon and carrot. You can discard any extra pickling liquid. Let sit, uncovered, until room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover and keep at room temperature if using within a few hours. If making in advance, seal container and store in refrigerator until ready to use. Pickles can hold in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
  2. To a small saucepan add all bulgogi sauce ingredients, except sesame oil. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat and whisk to combine ingredients. Reduce heat and continue cooking until sauce thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in sesame oil. Set aside.
  3. For sliders, gently combine ground chuck, bacon, garlic powder, salt and pepper in large bowl. Form in to 8 equal sized sliders and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to refrigerator to allow sliders to re-chill, about 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours.
  4. While sliders are chilling combine lobster, mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, and chives in a small bowl. Season to taste with additional lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. Preheat gas grill to medium-high heat or light a charcoal grill and let coals burn until hot and covered in white ash. You want to achieve a cooking temperature of approximately 400 degrees.
  6. When grill is preheated, place sliders directly on grill grates and let cook about 3 minutes on the first side until nice grill marks appear. Flip burgers and brush bulgogi sauce on top of burger. Continue cooking on second side, about 3 more minutes. Flip and brush sauce on second side. Remove sliders from grill and toast buns for just a minute or two. Assemble sliders – spread bottom of buns with mayonnaise, top with slider patty and brush with additional bulgogi sauce. Divide lobster mixture evenly between sliders. Finish with a fork full of daikon carrot pickle. Close sliders and serve immediately.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

You Say Tomato by Paul Lindemuth

When I was a kid growing up in northern Wisconsin, every spring I watched my parents carefully planting our vegetable garden with even rows of seeds going into the freshly tilled soil. It was great to see the plants pop to life and mature. We always had an assortment of vegetables…string beans, peppers, lettuce.  But my mother’s pride were her tomatoes.  I still remember how we watched with anticipation as they grew larger and turned bright red.  I also remember heading to the garden to pick one, rinse it quickly under the outdoor faucet and eat it out of hand, still warm from the sun…succulent, sweet and juicy.

That brief window from early August to early September gives a bounty of tomatoes, and no other tomato comes close to those fresh from the garden or farmer’s market.  Once the season is over they are a fond memory.

This is the perfect time to enjoy a simply prepared and fresh Caprese Salad.  The best ingredients to adorn those beautiful tomatoes include fresh basil and basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, the best quality olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic and a flourish of flaky Maldon sea salt.

The Best Caprese Salad
  1. 3 to 4 medium heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  2. 1 eight-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
  3. Fresh basil leaves
  4. Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  5. Flaky sea salt
  6. Freshly ground black pepper
  7. Balsamic vinegar to drizzling
  8. Dollops of basil pesto
  1. Arrange the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves on a platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the top. Top with dollops of basil pesto. Serve right away.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Eat A Peach by Robin Nathan

It is peach season, indeed.  Everywhere you look, peaches and stone fruits are spilling from bins and stacked shoulder high in crates.  Nectarines, plums, pluots, plumcots – juicy, ripe and swoon-worthy.  Unless, of course, they’re not.  There’s nothing worse than choosing a fragrant peach and biting in to discover mealy mushy yuck.  How is a girl (or guy) to know which peach is good and which needs to be composted??

Don’t go for size, unless the fruit has been tree-ripened.  Often, especially at major grocery markets, the larger fruits get mealy before they have time to fully ripen. Check the weight. The heavier a fruit is for its size, the more juice it contains.  A large fruit that seems surprisingly light is past its prime. Lastly, breathe deeply.  A fruit that smells like nothing will taste like nothing.

It’s a crazy position for a chef, I know, but when fruit is perfect, I’d rather eat it as-is than cook it.  Slice up perfectly ripened peaches, nectarines, and plums, pit and slice a few cherries and toss them on top of bitter greens like arugula or radicchio.  Crumble over some fabulous Marché Bleu d’ Auvergne or Feta cheese, add some warm sliced grilled steak or chicken and call it dinner!

If you have an over-abundance of lovely peaches or nectarines, try this wonderful, French style peach cake that bakes with its own sugar crust.  It’s lovely for breakfast or brunch, or topped with ice cream for dessert.  Now, go eat a peach!

French Country Peach Cake with Chantilly “Sour” Cream
Serves 8
  1. 2 cups all purpose flour
  2. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  3. ½ teaspoon salt
  4. 1 cup unsalted butter in pieces at room temperature
  5. 1 1/3 cup + 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  6. 4 eggs
  7. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  8. 3 tablespoons peach liqueur
  9. 2-3 firm-ripe peaches or nectarines, peeled and diced
  1. 1 cup heavy cream
  2. 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  3. ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  4. ¼ cup full fat sour cream
  1. Prepare a 9” springform pan: Spray the pan with baking spray, place a sheet of parchment on the bottom and spray the sheet.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Using a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and cup of sugar until soft and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until incorporated, then the vanilla and brandy. Beat a little longer on low speed to incorporate, but the mixture will look grainy. That’s fine. Add the dry mixture and blend to combine.
  4. Scrape a third of the batter into the springform pan. Arrange a single layer of fruit wedges on top of the batter and sprinkle with half of the remaining sugar. Scrape the remaining batter on top of the peaches, spreading as needed to completely cover the fruit. Sprinkle the last 2 tablespoons of sugar evenly on top of the cake.
  5. Place into preheated 350 degree oven and bake 45-55 minutes until golden and a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Let cool and remove the springform sides and bottom. Serve with the Chantilly cream.
  1. Beat the cream and confectioner’s sugar on low speed with a hand held mixer to blend, then increase speed to high. Just after soft peaks form, add the sour cream and continue to beat until firmer peaks begin to form. Do not over-beat! Refrigerate for up to 3 hours, or use right away.
  1. “Chantilly” refers to heavy cream whipped with sugar and vanilla. The addition of sour cream adds refreshing tartness and has the additional benefit of stabilizing the cream.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Summer Sauce Sensation: Spanish Romesco by Brandy Fernow

I love when that last bell of school rings and summer rushes into our house. We quickly go from school, sports and meetings, to pool and beach time, hiking and exploring nature, and of course cook-outs and backyard parties. 
Spending the entire day outdoors and lingering into the night is a happy summer routine for my family. What it doesn’t leave is a lot of time in the kitchen prepping long meals. My solution is keeping it simple and fresh, and leaning on items I can re-configure throughout the week. My summer go-to sauce is a Spanish-style Romesco. 
Romesco is a rich sauce made with charred peppers, pureed and thickened with nuts. I add chipotle pepper with a bit of adobo sauce for warm heat, as well as lemon juice and parsley for brightness and balance. It is a gorgeous hue that not only tastes fantastic but looks amazing on just about anything. 
I always make at least a double batch (it freezes beautifully), and most often enjoy it on a simply seasoned white fish. However it is also great drizzled over shrimp, chicken, pork or a roasted cauliflower steak. Later in the week I will toss it into cooked pasta or roasted potatoes. With my kids on the go, it will be packed into a snack with pita chips and veggies for dipping. Those summer nights when the neighbors all end up in our driveway or backyard, I will pull it out with sliced baguette to share with a great summer wine. If you try it, you will find even more fabulous ways to work it into your go-to summer repertoire.
We can all take a nod from the Spanish on not only this great sauce, but also around enjoying great food and friends as an art. I hope we all find ourselves doing the same all summer long.
Chipotle Romesco Sauce
  1. 2 red bell peppers
  2. 1/2 cup blanched hazelnuts
  3. 1 chipotle in adobo, seeds removed
  4. 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
  5. 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  6. ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, leaves only
  7. Zest of a lemon
  8. Juice of ½ a lemon
  9. 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt
  1. Roast the bell peppers over a gas burner (or broil) until skins have blackened and blistered. Remove and place in a bowl. Cover with plastic film and let steam for 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scrape off skin. Discard the seeds and stems.
  2. In a dry sauté pan, toast the hazelnuts for a few minutes, until fragrant and starting to brown. Remove and let cool.
  3. In a food processor, add the peppers, nuts, chipotle, adobo sauce and garlic. Pulse to combine. Add the parsley, lemon zest, juice and salt and process until smooth. Serve over just about anything!
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

A Spice Shop in Nazareth by Lynn Dugan

A few months ago, I experienced great culinary inspiration in a teeny tiny shop in Nazareth, Israel. I was beckoned by the enticing scent of spices before I even recognized the shop’s entrance. Following the scent, I found a small wooden door with stone steps leading me to the shop below street level. Once inside, the inspiration began. Big sacks of spices covered the entrance. Large bins of spices were displayed side by side on tables throughout the remaining square footage. Some spices were names found in my own kitchen: varieties of cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Others were less familiar to me…sumac, saffron, and spice blends like za’tar and Baharat. There were many I had never cooked with like amber, whole cardamon pods, and turmeric. I also discovered enticing teas, a large variety of salts from regions in the Middle East and Mediterranean, and an overwhelming variety of peppercorns too.

I came home with almost all of the spices listed above, and I began trying to cook with my new spices even before unpacking from my 10-day trip. In less than an hour of walking through my front door, I had fragrant saffron rice steaming on my stove while I also enjoyed a new cup of herbal tea. A day later, I had recreated a salad recipe that I had tasted on the trip. Since then, I have had fun in my kitchen creating the flavors of the Holy land: Beef and Lamb Meatballs in Tahini Sauce featuring cumin, lentil and rice with turmeric, Bethlehem hummus (not yet mastered) garnished with sumac, persimmon and fennel salad with black Mediterranean sea salt, and Shakshuka with cumin and paprika. I hope to bring these flavors to a Marcel’s class later this year entitled “Taste of the Holy Land”. Look for it on the 4th quarter calendar! In the meantime, I do have some of these recipes already posted on my website. Please check it out!

Today I am sharing one of my new favorites: Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Dip. I serve it with lightly toasted pita bread cut into triangles for easy dipping. Enjoy!

Roasted Eggplant Dip
  1. 2 eggplants
  2. 6 cloves garlic
  3. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  4. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  5. 5 medium tomatoes
  6. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  7. ½ teaspoon sumac
  8. pinch of ground cayenne
  9. 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  10. 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  1. Preheat broiler with oven rack 6 inches below heating element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease with cooking spray. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and place cut side down on baking sheet. Broil for 20 minutes, until blackened and collapsed. Remove from oven and allow to rest until cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh from eggplants. Place in a colander to drain. Discard skin and any large pockets of seeds. Squeeze out extra juices and chop eggplant.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan with boiling water, blanch tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and allow to rest until cool enough to handle. Skin should peel easily from tomato. Slice peeled tomato in half and remove seed pockets. Chop remaining tomato flesh.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add tomatoes, garlic, cumin, sumac, salt and cayenne. Cook for about 20 minutes until tomatoes have created a sauce and most of the moisture has evaporated. Add eggplant. Using the back of a spoon, crush any large lumps. Stir in cilantro and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until a moist thick mixture has formed. Fold in lemon juice (and a little extra olive oil, if desired, for consistency). Season with salt, to taste, as needed. Serve at room temperature with toasted pita bread. Enjoy!
  1. This dip can be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container for 2-3 days.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

In Between by Kelly Sears

I was in search of a recipe the other day: something seasonal, fresh, inspirational. A struggle! We may have sprung forward on the clock, but in the market, we are in limbo. It’s the time of year when you can’t bear to roast another squash, and we wait for the soil to make way for the sprouts pushing their shoots up from below.

It’s the time of year when you’re not sure which coat to wear; has wool’s time passed? Can I take the snow brush out of my car? Is it too early to trade out the snow blower for the lawn mower? On Monday it’s 33 degrees and sleeting, by Wednesday, it’s 60 and sunny, and by Friday it’s gloomy and 38 again. Ah the Midwest!

The seasonal changes come at us in runners’ distances. Fall is a short 5K into winter and winter is a long grueling, 13.1-week half-marathon. Spring jogs a nice paced 10k into summer and summer is a wind sprint until the whole race starts all over again. We clutch the seasons and the farm bounty they yield.

As summer nears to a close, we spend weekends in the hot sun picking berries for freezing; we simmer peaches gently into jam. We pickle, we preserve, we eat too many tomatoes, all in hopes of hanging on to summer. By fall, we start snatching apples off the orchard’s trees; we harvest fall squash in too many varieties to count. We wear socks again.

By winter, we bundle up. It takes longer to get ready to go outside than the time we are actually outside, we roast brussels sprouts by the dozens, and include pumpkin in everything from coffee to desserts. We long braise pot roasts and Dutch oven day-long stews.

By mid to late March, the daylight is longer, the sun a little bit warmer. Stalks of tender asparagus, early spring peas, the sweet juice of the first strawberries, and the tart in red rhubarb are on our minds, not yet our plates. It’s funny that this time of year is Spring Break. We don’t need a break from spring, we need a break from winter as we long for spring!

There is one bright spot in winter, citrus. Mother Nature’s reward to dark and gloomy are the sunny globes of sweetness. Spicy, red-fleshed blood oranges, “eating orange” navels, ruby-red Cara Cara, best juice making Valencia, and the lemon and tangerine hybrid, Meyer Lemons are all seasonal during the coldest months of the year.

We think nothing of saving other seasons as they rush to their finale; blueberry jam, garden-fresh sauce, applesauce, pureed squash, why not save a bit of sunshine so rare to winter. Orange marmalade is bright, fresh and almost sunny when sitting on a shelf or in the refrigerator.

The most classic of all marmalades is made from bitter Seville oranges, a bit harder to come by than other varieties. I prefer to make mine with a mix of orange varieties and toss a couple of lemons in for good pucker.

What to do with this delightful batch of marmalade? Winter’s jam is more than just a slather on toast. Paired with golden honey, dried fruits, mustards, charcuterie and tangy blue, marmalade finishes a cheese board with the perfect combination of sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. A feast for the senses!

Jazz up your yogurt, swirl into oatmeal, bake it with brie. Add a splash to your pan sauce for chicken, add a spoonful to vinaigrette. Top your pancakes or waffles, stuff French toast. Melt it into a glaze for your Easter ham, spread a thin layer in a crepe, or dollop a spoonful on panna cotta.

Personally, I love marmalade on a grilled cheese. Buttery sourdough grilled just enough to crisp the exterior, melt the cheese, and warm the spread yielding the perfect ooze when pulled apart or sliced in half.

As we take our break from winter and anticipate spring, capture orange goodness. This recipe yields enough for you to enjoy and enough share. Spread a jar of sunshine.

You can marmalade quickly, and just as tasty in the pressure cooker or instant pot. Here are recipes for both cooking methods:

Even Chefs Make Mistakes In The Kitchen by Jamie Bordoshuk

 My first attempt at making Focaccia di Recco was a colossal disaster. And it wasn’t because I used sugar instead of salt, or set the oven to broil instead of bake (yes, I’ve done both).  No, this disaster was 100% because of a pan. More specifically, my favorite pizza pan with the little holes on the bottom.

After mixing all of the ingredients together and rolling out the dough, I popped my masterpiece into the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. Halfway through, I opened the door to spin the pan when a waft of thick smoke sailed from the oven and straight to the smoke alarm. After quickly slamming the oven door and crazily fanning the alarm with a dish towel, I decided to take my chances and just wait out the remaining 15 minutes. Unfortunately, my focaccia was not having it. The smoke was now seeping out of my CLOSED oven door.  

Opening the door again, I was blasted with a full-on bellow of smoke so thick that I couldn’t even see across the room. And right on cue, my trusty smoke alarm began blaring it’s familiar song. Turns out I had nicked the bottom of the dough and created a cheese “escape-hatch” through (you guessed it) those little holes in my pan. I was left with an empty shell of a crust and 8 oz. of cheese on the bottom of my oven. I shut off the oven and ordered take-out.

As they say, if you don’t succeed, try try again.

Recipe Card

Focaccia di Recco
  2. 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  3. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  4. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for greasing pan and brushing on focaccia
  5. 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water.
  7. 12 ounces Crescenza cheese, in small clumps (comes in 7 1/2 ounce packages)
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Brush a 15 × 12 inch pan with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Mix all the dough ingredients until a ball is formed and knead until smooth then let rest covered for 30 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a thin 16 inch round. Line the pan with one sheet of dough and allow the excess to overhang the edges. Place tablespoon size dabs of cheese evenly on the dough. Cover with second sheet of dough allowing the excess to overhang the edges. Trim the edge of the pan and turn the dough in on itself to seal the edges. Make small holes randomly in the dough to allow steam to escape. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with coarse salt. Bake until golden brown and puffed, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Inspired Continuing Education by Kiley Fields

In any profession there is continuing education. Sometimes it is required, other times it is inspired. Inspiration to learn something…just because. I often have these moments of inspiration in the kitchen. Sometimes I immerse myself in a unique cuisine or an underutilized ingredient. But I recently had a very unexpected inspiration to educate myself. There were a couple interactions that inspired me…

My husband came home from work a few weeks ago and told me about a colleague who has been replacing his meals with a nutritionally packed drink instead of food. Soylent. Have you heard of this stuff? I will let you do your own research and make your own judgements. His colleague’s take was that consuming this cylinder bottle of “liquid food” increased his productivity in the office. What? He voluntarily consumes this stuff?

Another friend shared with me his morning breakfast. A fruit and vegetable packed smoothie – which sounded delicious – until he threw in the 24g protein packed scoop of snickerdoodle flavored whey protein. Stop there!

And finally, a girlfriend who is constantly on the run with five kids. She is a self-described “clean” eater. A go to protein for her might be boneless, skinless chicken breast cooked with olive oil cooking spray and no salt. Bad idea for so many reasons. When I saw her last she gave me a cute little “protein ball.” Protein balls are her thing. Just pop a bunch of nutritionally balanced ingredients in a food processor, pulse away, roll into balls, and you have an on-the-go nutritional snack. Quick, easy and no baking. Generally speaking I like the idea of these “protein balls”. Finally, we are using “real” food – not engineered liquid food or snickerdoodle flavored powder. But, how can we make them taste better, have better texture? Hence, my inspiration for continuing education!

  I spent a Saturday afternoon educating myself. My challenge was to develop a nutritional high protein convenience snack made with “real” food that tasted good. I needed variation in texture and depth in flavor. I tried sweet, I tried savory. I tried TVP – that’s where I drew the line. TVP, textured vegetable protein. This is the main ingredient in dishes like vegan “chicken nuggets” and vegan “beef tacos.”  It provides the protein and texture without the meat. Uh, really? Not sure this qualifies as “real” food.

After many trials and an entire pantry of ingredients utilized, I finally landed on a snack I was pleased with. High protein, lactose-free, and no refined sugar mini muffin bites. Nice texture and good flavor. I sampled them to a few of my best critics. Thumbs up all around. Most importantly, my girlfriend with five kids loved them. Then she asked if she could leave out the egg and throw all the ingredients in a food processor to make them into “protein balls.” Nooooooo! Enough with the protein balls!

My self-written course on high protein convenience snacks began and ended on that Saturday afternoon. I will make the mini muffins again, they were good. But until I get around to it, my go-to high protein snack will be a simple and nostalgic one: a fresh cut apple with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter.

High Protein Mini Muffins Made With “Real” Food That Tastes Good
Yields 24
  1. 1 ripe banana, mashed
  2. 1 egg, lightly beaten
  3. 1/2 cup peanut butter
  4. 4 tablespoons ghee, plus more for preparing muffin pan (can substitute butter, but will no longer be lactose-free)
  5. 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1/2 cup teff flour (look for Bob’s Red Mill brand)
  8. 1 cup rolled oats
  9. 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  10. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  11. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  12. 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  13. 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  14. 1/3 cup dried blueberries
  1. Lightly grease mini muffin tin wells with ghee, set aside. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl stir to combine banana, egg, peanut butter, four tablespoons ghee, coconut sugar and vanilla extract. In separate medium bowl whisk together teff flour, oats, cinnamon, salt and baking powder.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in walnuts, flaked coconut and blueberries. Batter will be quite dense.
  4. Using spring loaded portion scoop or tablespoon fill each muffin well with 1.5 tablespoons of batter. Push down in to well slightly with back of tablespoon.
  5. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until puffed, golden, and cooked through.
  1. 3 mini muffins have 9 grams of protein. need more protein? eat more muffins.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Tasting Tuscany by Paul Lindemuth

I’m freshly back and still unpacking from two glorious weeks in Florence and Tuscany.  What an amazing destination for someone that loves wine and food!

My first full day in Florence was an immersion into the food culture of that city.  I had the privilege of sharing the day with Sharon Oddson Gargani, author of “Once Upon a Tuscan Table”, in the kitchen at her restaurant Trattoria Garga.

We began the day with a tour of Florence’s Mercato Centrale, a feast for the senses, filled with scents, a riot of color and every imaginable cheese, meat and vegetable possible.  We purchased the ingredients for our class and then returned to the restaurant where I worked alongside Sharon, one on one, to prepare a delicious lunch which we shared with my partner Michael and our friend Lynn, washed down with bottles of white and red Italian wine.

Working with the ingredients from the mercato brought a whole new meaning of “farm to table”, since we were so close to the farms and purveyors that sell their local products there.

The culinary traditions in Tuscany run deep.  We tasted the traditional Florentine dish peposo in several restaurants.  The rich history of this dish goes back to the construction of the Duomo.  Workers at the kilns in Imprunetta were producing the terra cotta tiles that cover the beautiful dome.  Hunger was satiated with a hearty stew made from inexpensive cuts of beef that had been heavily peppered for preservation, thus the name peposo, derived from “pepe” or pepper. More pepper was added to help keep the stew even longer.  The stew was cooked in massive clay pots in the same furnaces that produced the tiles. The labors ate the stew with plenty of bread and washed it all down with watered-down red wine.

In Florence and Tuscany today, peposo is served in virtually every restaurant. Rather than inexpensive beef, it is now prepared with much more luxurious cuts like beef short ribs or veal cheek, aromatic vegetables and plenty of good Chianti wine, served with a large bowl of Tuscan white beans and olive oil.

Serves 6
  1. 6 bone in beef short ribs, 8 to 10 ounces each
  2. 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  3. 8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  4. 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  5. 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  6. 3 sage leaves
  7. 3 small sprigs fresh rosemary
  8. 2 bay leaves
  9. 2 cups Chianti
  10. salt to taste
  11. cooked white beans
  12. olive oil
  1. Place the meat in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle all sides generously with 1 tablespoon kosher salt.
  2. Place the chopped garlic and a pinch of salt in a mortar and mash with pestle until it forms a paste. Add the tomato paste and mash until blended. Transfer the mixture into the bowl with the beef and rub onto all sides of the meat. Add the ground black pepper. Distribute evenly over all sides of the beef.
  3. Transfer the meat to a deep skillet or Dutch oven bone side down. Tuck the sage leaves, rosemary, and bay leaves between pieces of meat. Carefully add wine along the side of the pan to avoid washing over the top of the meat.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Place the pan over high heat and bring to a simmer. Cover tightly. Place the pan into the preheated oven and cook until the meat is fork tender, turning pieces every 30 minutes or so, about 3 1/2 hours. Transfer the pieces of meat to a warm bowl.
  6. Return the pan to the stovetop over heat to high and bring the braising liquid to a boil. Simmer until liquid is reduced by about half or until slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bones from the meat.
  7. When the sauce is thickened, transfer the meat back to the skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low and spoon the sauce over meat. Cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  8. Spoon the stew into bowls and serve with the white beans, drizzled with olive oil.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

The Other Girl and the Goat by Robin Nathan

With the first chill of fall in the morning air, twelve or so other food adventurers and I boarded a small tour bus yesterday morning – courtesy of Marche – for the drive to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Champaign.

Owners Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband have created a dairy and creamery oasis in Central Illinois, the first ever goat cheese producing farm in the state, while practicing core principals of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

We toured their busy, working farm, got up-close-and-personal with the goats, and were served a lovely lunch under the trees with foods that were grown, harvested and created within yards of where we sat. Pretty freaking cool.

A stop in their farm market at the end of the day means that I have some of their fabulous, brie-style goat cheese in my refrigerator right now, just waiting to be tempered and enjoyed in some, delicious, creative way that truly pays homage to Prairie Fruits Farm and their mission. For the past two years, I’ve taught many classes at Marcel’s that feature Marche cheese in every course. The next class, celebrating autumn flavors is running October 10 (shameless plug, a few seats are still available!) Honoring small farmers and producers who respect our planet, and bringing attention to their efforts is a one of the most important things a chef can do. All you need to do to try some of Prairie Farm’s product is pop into Marche!

 I plan to pay my respects to that small wheel of “Little Bloom on the Prairie” goat cheese in my refrigerator with white wine poached pears for a delicious salad!rd

White Wine & Rosemary Poached Pear Salad with Goat Cheese
Serves 4
  1. 2 firm-ripe pears, preferably Bosc or Bartlett (note: Bartlett pears turn from green to yellow as they ripen)
  2. 3 cups dry, fruity white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier)
  3. 1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar
  4. 1 large bay leaf
  5. 2” fresh lemon zest
  6. ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  7. 4 tablespoons whole rosemary leaves
  8. 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  9. ¼ cup fruity olive oil
  10. 6 ounces mixed baby greens (be sure to use some bitter greens, too)
  11. 4 ounces Prairie Fruit Farms Goat Cheese, at room temperature, cut into small wedges (or try their fresh goat cheese in crumbles)
  1. Peel the pears and cut them in half from stem to blossom end. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds and use a small knife to trim out the tough strip extending from the stem down to the seeds.
  2. Combine the wine, sugar, bay leaf, lemon zest, peppercorns and rosemary leaves in a deep saucepan (the pears should all be submerged). Taste and add more sugar if the mixture is very tart. Bring to a quick simmer. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes to allow the flavors to really combine. Add the pears to the simmering mixture. Return the pot to a slow simmer until the pears are just tender, about 12-15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pears to a cutting surface to cool.
  3. Ladle out ¼ cup of the mixture from the pot, put it into a small bowl and add the balsamic vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil to emulsify and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Arrange the baby greens on individual salad plates and chill. When the pears are cooled, thinly slice them horizontally and using the knife as an aid, lift from the cutting board and gently fan onto the salad greens. Place a wedge of the cheese (or crumbles if using the fresh cheese) on top of the salad and spoon the vinaigrette over. Finish with a tiny crumble of flaked sea salt and serve immediately.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/