News From the Fancy Food Show & Tahini Noodles Recipe

Tahini Noodles with Green Beans and CarrotsPlant Food
In what has become an annual tradition, I spent my Martin Luther King holiday walking the aisles at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco looking for and tasting the latest and greatest that the culinary world has to offer. As per usual there was plenty of gorgeous chocolate and cheese from around the world—including a guacamole cheese that was divine despite being a dark green not usually associated with cheese in a positive way.

There were teas, there were coffees and there was an extraordinary number of waffles, both of the regular and of the Stroop variety. I like waffles as much as the next gal. But, do we really need that many? And there was bottled pickle juice…because, of course, there would be bottled pickle juice. (I brought one home for my kids to try. My pickle loving son tried it and said it was too intense yet he keeps going back for another sip. Kind of like a bad accident. You can’t help but look.)

There was no missing the one big take away from this show: The future of food is plant-based.

From beverages to snacks, to frozen foods, each and every grocery category had multiple vendors showing their plant-based products. There were plant-based frozen desserts being offered down every aisle either by the pint or as bars. Plant-based meat alternatives have grown way beyond the Impossible Burger. The snack category was huge including puffs made out of avocado that were a big hit at my home, as were the butternut squash pretzels. While I expected to see more plant-based noodles than I did, they were still well represented as were the Asian cuisines they support.

Staunch carnivores should not fret too much, though, as there were still plenty of offerings for them. Duck Sausage anyone? Small family-owned ranches held their own amongst the plant-based surge by offering natural, humanely-raised alternatives to beef like venison, bison, elk, and even wild boar. And while the jerky revolution has died down some, there were still plenty of meat and salami sticks to be sampled.

While plant-based foods comprised a large percentage of the products being shown this year, it was very obvious that we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to plant-based innovation. This is not a food trend that will just fizzle out. The possibilities are endless and the masterminds are just getting started…

Tahini Noodles with Green Beans and Carrots 
Adapted from Food 52
Yields 4 to 6 servings Read more…

Amy’s Hearty Bean Soup

Amy’s Hearty Bean SoupSo, How’ve You Bean?
I have had an Instant pot for a little over a year now. And, while I love it, I really hadn’t been using it more than one or two times a month. (I have friends who say they use theirs constantly. But, I always wondered what they were making because I always seemed to be making the same recipes over and over, mainly pulled pork or some sort of stew.) During the summer months, I didn’t use it at all figuring it was just as fast to grill and the whole point of the Instant Pot is to make stuff faster.

Lately, I have been leaving my Instant Pot out on my counter because I feel like I am using it every other night. Probably because I AM using it every other night…

My daughter gave me a couple of Instant Pot cookbooks for Christmas and I have been having a great time going through them and making all of the recipes that appeal to me. It is a testament to the power of a good cookbook because I have a number of Instant Pot cookbooks and none of them have lit a fire under me like these two. They have even inspired me to do my own experimenting. You can find them here is you are interested:

Most of my experiments have involved dried beans. I love cooking with dried beans but I really haven’t done much in the past because the old fashioned way is kind of a pain. First, you have to soak ‘em overnight then you have to cook them for long periods of time. That’s time I don’t always have and can be a roadblock when you’re craving a good bean soup for dinner. But, by playing around with new recipes, I have figured out how to make my own bean-filled creations happen in the span of an hour. Until recently, I was a bit intimidated by cooking beans in a pot because I didn’t have a recipe with beans intriguing enough to try it. I found one for a barley side dish with mushrooms that was great and that was all it took to get me going crazy with beans.

For example, I had a bag of the Zürsun Paris Bistro Beans that we sell here in the store in my pantry and I had been wanting to use them for a while. So, I got a ham shank from our Meat Department and threw it in the Instant pot with the dried beans, some sautéed onions, diced carrots, and fresh thyme along with a few cups of chicken stock. After about 30 minutes of cooking using the Multigrain setting, I had a very hearty hot bean soup that was fantastic. The meat on the shank fell off the bone and added some protein to the mix as well as great flavor. Served with some crusty French bread, it was exactly what I wanted for dinner on a chilly night.

I didn’t really follow a recipe but if you are interested in trying it out here’s the rough idea of what I did…

Amy’s Hearty Bean Soup
Yields 6 Servings Read more…

Refrigerator Soup

Refrigerator SoupI don’t know what it looks like in your fridge after the holidays—but I can tell you there are a lot of leftovers in mine. Some are starting to show signs of becoming a science experiment and are ready to be thrown out. But, others are the remnants of a very tasty week-and-a-half. This is when I need to get creative.

At the end of the holidays, I always have a lot of random leftovers. A carrot or two here, a parmesan rind there, or that last handful of Blue Lake beans that we didn’t use. Occasionally, there are bones left over which I use for making stock. Sometimes it’s beef, sometimes it’s chicken, and if I am really lucky there’s a ham bone. And always there are leftover herbs because inevitably you only needed half of the bunch of parsley that you bought.

These are the days for what I call “refrigerator soup”. There is no set recipe. The only requirement is that you use up what you have. If you are lucky enough to have beef or chicken bones, make some stock. If you don’t have bones, the second carton of chicken or beef stock that you bought and didn’t use would be perfect right now. If you have a leftover ham bone, I would throw it directly in the pot with the veggies and then add water.

As for what goes in the stock, I generally start with onions that I always have on hand. I dice them up and sweat them in some olive oil. After that, it’s whatever strikes your fancy. Got carrots? Chop ’em up and throw them in. Same with any other veggies like potatoes and celery or green beans. Bell Peppers work well here too. Add some chopped garlic if you like and any fresh or dried herbs you think would taste good. Found can of diced tomatoes? Why not drain it and throw them in too?

Add your stock, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for an hour or so. At this point, you can add a can of beans, or some cooked pasta, or rice. Alternatively, you could put it all together in a blender and make a blended soup. It’s totally up to you, but in the end, you have a warming bowl of goodness for lunch or dinner. And, you used up what was left in your fridge. Probably the best part is you didn’t have to leave the comfort of your home…

Mini Frittatas

Mini FrittatasEasy Like Christmas Morning
Christmas morning is a time of magic, wonder, and barely-controlled chaos. Sometimes it can be a challenge just to get the coffee pot going. Though for most people, that is priority one especially if your children woke you at the crack of dawn because they just couldn’t stand it anymore.

By the way, this doesn’t end just because they hit their teenage years. Mine still do it. It’s harder to have the family snuggle in our bed though when the 15 year olds are both 6 feet tall or above…but they still try!

Making breakfast amongst all of this activity can be difficult. For one, there are too many excited people running around in your kitchen. At least that is how it is for me. For another, who wants to be in the kitchen all morning and miss out on all of the fun. Lastly, sometimes you just don’t think about it until the last minute. In the rush to make sure you have gifts for everyone including the dog, forgetting that your family would like to eat breakfast has been known to happen. Something easy and tasty for Christmas morning with ingredients you probably have on hand is the answer.

Sure you could go the tried and true pancakes or waffles route. Those are always a hit. Personally, I like these little guys listed below. They’re quick and easy and you can pretty much put whatever you have on hand in them. No ham? No worries. How ‘bout a little jack cheese and chilies? Or sausage? Or diced green onion and red pepper? No matter what you decide to put in them, you could easily serve them alongside the pancakes and waffles. Because it’s Christmas…you get to live a little and have both…

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Mini Frittatas
Adapted from Giada De Laurentis and the Food Network
Yields servings
Read more…

Amy’s Hummus

Amy's HummusTo eat, or not to eat? 
The decision on whether to eat before Thanksgiving or not is a difficult one. Breakfast is a no-brainer if only for the coffee infusion. I mean how’re ya gonna handle the semi-controlled chaos of Thanksgiving without a strong cup o’ joe? It’s the hours after breakfast and before the main event that can be difficult to navigate calorie-wise.

The decision to eat or not to eat is incredibly personal. There are a number of issues to consider, the first one being what time will you be eating your Thanksgiving meal? The later you eat, the more the challenge. Some see it as blasphemous to eat anything other than Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving. If it ain’t a bird and sweet potatoes, it ain’t goin’ in their mouth. And still, others don’t want to eat anything so that when the time comes, they are ensured of the maximum amount of room to fit all of their favorites. My son is this person. He can eat a frightening amount on any given day but Thanksgiving is a source of pride for him. He weighs himself before and after the meal. There’s this whole ceremony… It’s weird, but I still love him.

Personally, I have to have something to tide me over or risk getting a headache. It doesn’t have to be a big meal it just has to be something grab and go that I can snack on from time to time. This is why I like to make my homemade hummus and serve it with cut veggies. It’s a healthy snack and gets a few more veggies in you before the wave of carbs hits your plate. It’s quick to make the day before and you can put it out on a platter for the rest of the folks. Then you can walk away to attend to the cooking while the rest of ‘em watch football or calibrate the bathroom scale or whatever!

No matter what you choose, to nosh or not, have a very happy Thanksgiving and a magical holiday season.

Amy’s Hummus Recipe
Yields about 3 cups
Read more…