Helping the Hungry with Rice Depot

Imagine that you’re a kid, and you’re going to bed hungry tonight.  Even if your school provides you with a free or reduced breakfast and lunch, there are still a lot of hours between the end of one school day and the beginning of the next – and those can be some incredibly hungry hours for a growing child.  This situation is more prevalent in Arkansas than most of us would like to admit, and since 1982, the Rice Depot has been fighting to help not just those kids in need, but also their families.  Rice Depot distributes over 8 million pounds of food to hungry children, families, seniors, and disaster victims every year – and they need our help to keep doing it.

Arkansas Foodies, along with several other Arkansas food blogs is taking part in the Rice Depot “Delete Hunger” fundraising drive, and we’re asking all of our readers to donate any amount they can.  This is one of our favorite charities around, and 98 cents out of every dollar you donate is guaranteed to go directly to purchasing and distributing food to the people who need it most.  We urge you to help if you can, and help delete hunger in Arkansas.

If you’d like to make a donation, please click here.  All donations go directly to the Rice Depot – we’re just providing the link and urging you to help.  Thanks to all of you, and thanks for supporting such a good charity.

2011 World Cheese Dip Championship

Well, it might not have been the best day for our beloved Razorbacks, but Saturday was a great day for cheese dip.  Jess and I headed down to War Memorial Stadium on a perfect fall day for this year’s World Cheese Dip Championship, a celebration of all things melted, gooey, and perfect to dip a chip into.  We had a great time visiting with all the folks serving up their cheese dip, and everybody seemed to be having a great time.  The booths were lined up all around the field at War Memorial, and wide open space was a nice change from the crowded concourse at Dickey-Stephens park where the event was held last year.  The volunteers and event staff were very friendly, and they deserve a great deal of praise for their efforts in making this event a yearly tradition in Little Rock.  It’s certainly become a must-do event for us, and our write-up of the event last year still brings in traffic.

Jess and I split once again on which professional dip we liked the most – and it was the same split we had last year.  Jess’ pick for best professional again this year was the offering from Ferneau, a lobster and sweet corn dip that I thought was tasty but not as good as their blackened crawfish tail dip last year.  As for me, I still didn’t think anybody there outdid Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro – their rich, creamy dip is wonderful by itself, but the dollop of fresh salsa that they put on top just makes it stand out for me.  Dizzy’s would go on to win the People’s Choice for best dip, which makes them the undefeated cheese dip champs.  We were also excited to see one of our favorite amateur groups from last year, the ladies of Meadors, Adams, and Lee insurance – they had a good dip last year (a spinach dip) but I thought they really outdid themselves this year with a spicy, rich dip with just the right amount of smoky bacon.  They were my vote for best amateur, although the Team Roberts dip that won the People’s Choice award was also tasty.

Although queso is generally associated with Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants, our local pizza restaurants were well represented at the Championship.  Entries from U.S. Pizza, American Pie Pizza, and Pizza D’Action were all very tasty, and the buttery, smooth dip from American Pie was one of the best dips I tried all day – even though by that time we were about ready to hit the cheese dip wall.  I don’t ever really think about ordering chips and cheese dip at a pizza place, but it’s something that I’ll definitely consider in the future at any of those three places, especially with one of U.S. Pizza’s tasty sandwiches.  I think this year’s festival had better white cheese dips than yellow this year – with Bar Louie serving up an oddly pink-colored dip that tasted a lot like pimento-cheese to me (which was a good thing).  There were several attempts to mimic the cumin-inflected yellow cheese dip that Mexico Chiquito (who sat out this year) made famous, with varying degrees of success.  I hope that the event keeps growing – I’d like to see dip booths on all sides of the field next year!  And since everybody loves seeing pictures, we’ll post a few more of our favorites below.

Here’s everyone lined up waiting to get in.

JR’s Game Time Dip from Yell County.  Very good, creamy dip with a lot of spice.

My favorite dip, from Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro.

Obligatory crock pot shot.

The stadium, all ready to go!

Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies

When I was a child, there were four types of cookies that my mom made: chocolate chip (from the recipe on the Nestle Tollhouse Morsels bag), oatmeal-raisin, spice cookies for Christmas decorating, and these chocolate oatmeal no-bake cookies.  So even though this recipe isn’t anything new or challenging, and most of you have probably made a version of it at some point, I think these cookies are worth a post because of the feelings of nostalgia they elicit from me.  I have a lot of fond memories of watching these cook up in a saucepan and then waiting impatiently for them to get cool enough to eat (and to be honest, some of them were always consumed long before that point).  This is a fun recipe to make when you’re in the mood for something sweet, and since it’s chock full of oatmeal, you can even pretend they’re good for you.

Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups oatmeal

In a saucepan, bring the milk, butter, sugar, and cocoa to a boil, gently stirring.  Boil for one minute.  Add the peanut butter, vanilla, and oatmeal and mix until well-blended.  Drop batter onto waxed paper in spoonfuls and let cool until hardened.  Enjoy!

Pâté de Campagne (Country Pâté)

When we first got our stand mixer, the meat grinding attachment was one of the first accessories I wanted to buy for it.  In addition to being able to grind my own ground beef mixtures and sausage, I really wanted to make a good country pate.  I’ve spoken about my love for well-made pate before, but I’ve never actually tried to make it myself.  There are hundreds of versions of this dish out there, so I read a few and came up with this recipe based on things I like to taste.  It was a lot of work to grind the meat, mix it up, then cook it, but when I finally got that first taste of pate on toasted sourdough with just a dollop of mustard and a bite of cornichon it was all well worth it.  This isn’t a dish that many people make around here, and it’s so rich that I don’t see myself making it very often – but when I want to treat myself, this is what I’m making.

Pâté de Campagne (Country Pâté)

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder
  • 1/2 pound pork belly.  In most stores around Arkansas, all you’re going to find is salt pork.  This can work just fine as long as you soak the pork overnight before using it, then blanch it for 10 minutes to remove excess salt.
  • 1/4-1/2 pound pork or beef liver.  Liver here is used more as a flavoring than as a main ingredient, so feel free to adjust how much you want to use based on taste.  The recipe works with no liver whatsoever, but I feel that it needs some for that essential pate taste.
  • 1/2 cup cognac
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed thyme
  • 1 teaspoon powdered allspice
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 14 strips bacon

Preheat your oven to 350.  Grind your pork shoulder, pork belly, and liver and mix together in a large bowl.  Add the dry spices, mixing thoroughly.  Add the eggs, cream, and cognac; blend until mixed thoroughly.  Line a loaf pan with the bacon, with eight overlapping strips along the long ends of the pan and three pieces each on the ends, overlapping the edge of the pan with the bacon.  Pack the ground meat mixture into the bacon-lined pan, pushing down with your fingers or the back of a spoon so that the mixture is firmly packed.  Fold the bacon slices over, covering the pate.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place into a larger pan of hot water so that the water comes up about half-way on the loaf pan.  Place both pans into the oven and bake for about two hours and fifteen minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155.

Remove the pate from the oven and drain the fat that has accumulated.  Cover with foil, then weigh the pate down with a brick or some cans in another loaf pan.  Let rest in the refrigerator overnight, then serve chilled or at room temperature with good bread, Dijon mustard, and cornichons.  Enjoy!

Chicken and Egg Taco Salad

Any of you who have read this blog for any amount of time will know two things: we love eggs and we love taco salads – and I’ve been thinking to myself for awhile how I might combine these two loves of mine into one delicious dish.  A play on the classic huevos rancheros seemed in order, but I have to admit that fried eggs are easily my least favorite way to make eggs – and most versions of huevos rancheros you find come with the eggs fried.  I prefer my eggs poached, and so the solution was simple: make a slow-cooked homemade spicy salsa and use that to poach my egg, and instead of the traditional corn tortillas and chili sauce, serve it over grilled chicken and black beans in a crispy flour tortilla bowl with just a smattering of mixed greens and cheese.  The resulting dish looks rather messy but it’s very delicious, and the poached egg’s creamy texture blends well with the beans and chicken.

For the salsa, you can go as simple or as labor-intensive as you’d like.  Regular bottled salsa works just fine for this, or you can cook down onions, tomatoes, and peppers and flavor it any way you like.  For the salsa at the right, I did a bit of both – I used the last little bit of a jar of Pace picante sauce, and added tomato sauce, jalapeno peppers, diced onion, lime juice, and cilantro.  You want to get a nice balance of thin and chunky – thin enough so that you can achieve a proper simmer, but chunky enough that the salsa will support the egg.  To poach, bring your salsa to a light simmer, then crack an egg into a measuring cup and gently slip it in, creating a pocket to hold the egg (see above left).  Keep the salsa simmering, and soon enough you’ll see the egg white start to solidify (see above right).  The egg is done when the white is completely opaque and set and the yolk is thickened but not solid.

To build your salad, make a shell by spraying a burrito-sized flour tortilla with non-fat cooking spray.  Place the tortilla between two ceramic bowls and microwave for 3-4 minutes until the bowl is crisp.  Be careful, though, those bowls will get very hot!  Layer black beans, mixed salad greens, grilled chicken, and cheese in the bowl and top with the poached egg and as much of the salsa as you’d like.  Once you break the yolk and mix all this good stuff together you’ll have a very unique and delicious taco salad.  Eggs are too often relegated to breakfast, but I think they’re an every-meal food item, and they’re very good for you to boot.  Poaching eggs can take some practice, but it really is one of the most delicious ways to eat eggs and a skill worth learning. Enjoy!

College Football is Back: How About a Beer?

Rainbow Wheat from Vino's

With memories still fresh of a season that saw the Arkansas Razorbacks make their first appearance in a BCS game, excitement is high all around the state for the 2011 college football season.  With the first weekend of games in the record books (and the Razorbacks sitting at an expected 1-0), we thought we’d talk about a subject that’s just as important as wins and losses, top 25 standings, and team stats: the sort of beer you’re drinking while you watch the game.  And because we’re big fans of our local Arkansas brewers, we’ve got some recommendations for you that will help support local business – because if you’re going to cheer for the local team, you might as well do it while drinking the local beer.  Drinking local beer is a good way to get around state prohibition laws that keep liquor stores closed on Sundays, too: you can get a growler (1/2 gallon) of beer fresh from the keg at any of our three local brewers (Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub, Diamond Bear, and Bosco’s) on Sunday, and you can even get packaged bottles of beer on Sundays from Diamond Bear.  Besides, why show up to watch the game with your usual 12-pack of crappy American lager? Everybody loves fresh beer, so put a little effort into it and get something that’s tasty and as unique to Arkansas as calling the Hogs.

English Pale Ale from Diamond Bear

We’ve talked about Diamond Bear Brewing before, and they’ve got a beer to please any taste.  My two favorite varieties are their award-winning English Pale Ale, a full-bodied, hoppy brew with just enough malt richness on the back end to give a nice, round flavor profile, and the Presidential IPA, which has a nice balance between the astringent flavor that overpowers too many IPAs and a more subtle sweetness.  Fans of darker beers won’t be disappointed by Diamond Bear’s Paradise Porter, a chocolatey brew with a smooth finish, and the guys who crave something more like Bud or Coors Light will enjoy Diamond Bear’s Southern Blonde, a light, crisp lager with just enough hops flavor to assert itself, but smooth and easy-drinking enough to compliment any game day food and appeal to those who don’t like beers that are overly bitter or floral.  It’s a well-rounded stable of beers that Diamond Bear fields, and Russ Melton and crew have really been impressive in their attempt to bring quality craft beer to Little Rock.

Lazy Boy Stout from Vino's

Of course, if you want to bring along some food with your local beer, there’s no better place to do it than Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub.  Vino’s is very near and dear to Jess and me, from all the music we’ve listened to over the years out back to the afternoons we’ve spent over pints and pizza, talking and enjoying the atmosphere.  I’ll admit that Vino’s beer has swung back and forth over the years between good, mediocre, and great, but it beats another can of Busch any day.  Dark beer lovers will love Vino’s for their Lazy Boy and Oatmeal Stouts, not to mention a wonderful Scotch Ale that they have on tap from time to time.  Wheat beer fans can enjoy the Rainbow Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer with a full flavor that’s just sweet enough without being cloying.  The Firehouse Pale Ale is perfect for anyone who likes a good, solid full-flavored amber beer, and the Six Bridges Cream Ale is a wonderful light beer with a smooth, slightly creamy mouth feel.  And although this post is about beer, we have to mention that Vino’s has (in our opinion) the best pizza and calzones in town.  They’re usually showing the game, too, so if you need to take your watch party on the road, you could do worse than heading to 7th and Chester.

Hook Slide Ale from Bosco's in the River Market

There’s a bit of argument about whether our last local brewer should be considered local or not.  After all, Bosco’s Restaurant and Brewing Company is a miniature chain of restaurants that originated in Tennessee – but when we found out that Bosco’s in the River Market had brewed up a beer just for the Arkansas Travelers baseball team, we decided that was good enough for us.  The Hook Slide Ale is brewed to be a ballgame beer, and I loved its bright, crisp flavor from the first swallow.  This is the beer to bring your brother-in-law who refuses to touch anything but Miller Lite – the flavor is subtle but far more flavorful than a typical mass produced pilsner.  Bosco’s Famous Flaming Stone Beer is a good beer with a slight caramel flavor, and I’ve always found their Oatmeal Stout and Isle of Skye Scottish Ale to be good representatives of the style.  Bosco’s has samples available for $1.00 per 3 oz. glass, so it shouldn’t be hard (or expensive) to decide on which brew is perfect for your crew.

While Arkansas isn’t known for being a hotbed of craft brewing and local beer, there are still some great options for getting your game-day brew and keeping the money in the community.  Do what we did – put your deposit down for a growler from each of these places so it’s just a quick trip for a refill any time you need good beer.  And try this, the next time you’re headed out to watch the big game with friends: show up with a growler or two of beer fresh from the keg and see how much more popular you are than if you’d showed up with the same old cans of your normal brew.  We don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Enjoy – and Woo Pig Sooiee!

Oeufs en Cocotte (Eggs Baked in Ramekins)

About once a year I read Julia Child’s autobiographical book My Life in France, and I’m always struck by the sincere and exuberant way with which she approaches France, French cooking, and life in general.  I’ve probably read it three or four times by now, flipping back and forth to favorite scenes or descriptions, trying to imagine what it must have been like to be abroad for the first time in a France that was only just coming back to life after the horrors of the second world war.  Usually when I read My Life in France, I have my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking nearby, and I’ll turn to it often to see how a certain dish she describes is made.  After doing this for awhile, my eye usually lights on something I want to cook, which is how I came to this recipe, a rich dish of eggs and cream baked in a ramekin until just set.  I’ve mentioned before how much I love eggs, and this is one of my favorite ways to eat them.

Oeufs en Cocotte (Eggs Baked in Ramekins)
(from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle)

  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • Herbs (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375.  Fill a pan safe for both stove-top and oven with about 3/4 an inch of water and bring it to a simmer.  Butter the ramekin, saving just a dot of butter for later, then pour in one tablespoon of the cream and add a pinch of salt.  If using herbs such as parsley, chives, chervil, or tarragon, add them to the cream.  Place the ramekin into the simmering water.  Once the cream has gotten hot, crack the eggs into the ramekins and pour on the remaining tablespoon of cream; place the dot of butter on top.  Bake for 7-10 minutes until the whites are just set (they will still tremble slightly in the ramekins).  Season to taste with salt and pepper – and Enjoy!