Farm Fresh: Welcome Spring with Snow Peas

We’re sharing our favorite veggie-centric recipes featuring the produce that’s in season right now in north Florida, and available at local farmers markets, produce stands and Community Supported Agriculture programs.

These fresh snow peas soon will meet their stir-fried destiny in the wok.

Bite into a snow pea, and you will experience everything that is most wonderful about spring. A just-picked snow pea tastes crisp and green, delicate enough not to overwhelm your senses but robust enough to be memorable.

We’ve been fortunate to receive locally grown snow peas in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share for the past two weeks. Last week, we ate them fresh, in handfuls as a snack and tossed into salads.

This week, we decided to put our snow peas at the center of a dinner entrée. Nothing elaborate, of course, since produce this fresh requires very little adornment and, besides, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when the weather is so lovely?

The folks at Full Earth Farm, who grow our CSA share, offered up the perfect suggestion. Their weekly email, in which they list the produce we’ll be receiving and update us on what’s new at the Quincy farm, also included a recipe for a snow pea stir fry.

I’ve tweaked the simple recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart’s website, so it will be spicy enough for my chile-loving household. Feel free to use 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, as per Ms. Stewart’s original recipe, instead of the serrano chili and Vietnamese chili garlic sauce I’ve added, if you don’t like your meals quite as fiery. We love to serve our stir fries on top of Asian noodles, such as soba or rice noodles; brown rice would be a great addition, as well.

Shrimp, Shiitake and Snow Pea Stir Fry
Recipe adapted from MarthaStewart.com

Ingredients
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (Thai sriracha sauce also would work well)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved (large ones quartered)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 ounces (2 cups) snow peas, trimmed
1 serrano chili, cut into thin slices (you could use a jalapeno instead)
2 scallions (green parts only), chopped

Directions
1. In a small bowl, combine garlic, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, and Vietnamese chili garlic sauce.

2. In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium-high. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, just until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic mixture and cook until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp, snow peas and serrano chili and cook, stirring, until shrimp are opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes. To serve, top with scallions.

Best Bites: Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week Edition

Here at Tallahassee Bite By Bite, we’re excited about the first Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week, which kicks off today and runs through April 22. (Yeah, that’s a full week and then some). We’re planning to check out several of the special prix fixe menus offered by the local restaurants participating in the event. Look for our report on what we ate. We’d love to hear about your Restaurant Week experiences, too!

Here’s the full announcement about Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week from Visit Tallahassee:

Inaugural Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week Showcases Local Tallahassee Delicacies

Tallahassee, Fla. — Celebrating the diverse selection of culinary delights available in the Capital City, Visit Tallahassee is proud to announce the inaugural Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week, April 12 – 22, 2012. Participating restaurants will offer specially selected prix fixe menus during both lunch and dinner, featuring two to three course meals priced at $15 or $25.

During the culinary extravaganza, patrons will dine their way through Tallahassee, exploring the tastes of the area’s most popular neighborhood eateries from casual fare pizza and fresh seafood to farm-to-table and white tablecloth venues. As varied as Tallahassee’s ever-changing landscape — from rolling hills to the 78 miles of Spanish moss-draped canopied roads — is the diverse menu of authentic regional cuisine, fine dining and international fare.

“Tallahassee’s restaurant scene is evolving and we are proud to highlight the incredible dining options available to residents and visitors alike,” said Lee Daniel, Visit Tallahassee’s executive director. “The region has an array of local delicacies and we look forward to showcasing the world class food available in Tallahassee.

Capital Cuisine is part of Visit Tallahassee’s Natural Tallahassee campaign, which highlights the outdoors, culinary delights and numerous events and celebrations taking place in the region March through May. The restaurant week will span 10 days, giving diners opportunities to take advantage of Capital Cuisine deals and bring exposure to the area’s restaurants and locally produced foods.

Participating restaurants range from the casual and fun Momo’s Pizza, Po’Boys Creole Café and Barnacle Bill’s to the intricate menus and sophisticated ambiance of A la Provence, Georgio’s and Avenue Eat & Drink, just to name a few.

A fusion of cosmopolitan flair and charming personality defines the spirit of Tallahassee, Florida’s Capital City — where it all comes together for visitors. Situated just off Florida’s northern I-10 corridor, stretching along the state’s Panhandle, Tallahassee is a place where college town meets cultural center, politics meets performing arts and history meets nature — a place where the vibrancy of what to do is matched only by the city’s inviting hospitality.

For more information on Capital Cuisine Restaurant Week and a complete list of participating restaurants, visit www.NaturalTallahassee.com or call Visit Tallahassee toll free at (800) 628-2866.

Santa Hat Brownies Are a Holiday Hit

Four days before Christmas, a friend told me about Santa Hat Brownies and I instantly went on a search for the recipe and directions! The holidays are my favorite time for baking because I have a reason to make ridiculously cute desserts like Santa Hat Brownies and  there are enough people around to eat the stuff I bake. After a quick Google search I came across Erica’s Sweet Tooth. Her blog is totally cute, great for amateur bakers like myself, and she had just posted a recipe and directions for Santa Hat Brownies!

The Santa Hat Brownies were super easy to make and everyone loved them! All you do is bake brownies, top with strawberries, and melt white chocolate to decorate. On Christmas Eve I made the brownies, then on Christmas morning my dad, yes my dad is awesome, helped me get the Santa hats assembled.

Santa Hat Brownies are a huge hit at holiday gatherings and very easy to make.

Santa Hat Brownies
Recipe adapted from Erica’s Sweet Tooth

Ingredients
1 box brownie mix (I used Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix)
24 small strawberries
1 cup white chocolate chips

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease one mini-muffin pan.
Prepare brownie mix according to box’s instructions and fill muffin cavities 3/4 of the way full.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Let brownies cool, then cut into squares.
Place one strawberry upside down onto each brownie.
Melt white chocolate chips in a double boiler and transfer into a piping bag.
Pipe a ring around the base of each strawberry and add a small dot on top. Work quickly, the white chocolate can dry fast and clog up your tip!

Happy Holidays!

Nosh News: The Best of Everything Edition

Anthony Bourdain vs. Paula Deen: Two celebrity chefs enter, one leaves (possibly slathered in butter).

’Tis the season for Top 10 lists. Here’s a rundown of 10 of the most entertaining best-of-the-year roundups I’ve found around the Web, in no particular order:

1. Top 10 Food Trends of 2011 by TIME. A wide-ranging overview of the year’s highs and lows. Thumbs up to #3: The New Vegetarians and #10: Regional Food, thumbs down to #9: Texting at the Table.

2. Top 10 New Foods at the 2011 State Fairs by Endless Simmer. Check out which state nabs the dubious honor of #1 fair-food innovation.

3. Top 10 Food-Related Lawsuits of 2011 by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog. A big thank you to the plaintiff behind lawsuit #3 for ruining late-night Taco Bell runs for the rest of us.

4. Travelers’ Choice 2011 Top 10 Food & Wine Destinations in the United States by TripAdvisor. I visited four of the 10 cities on this list in 2011 (and, in previous years, I’ve dined in three more). While #3 Chicago, will always be my favorite place on the planet to eat because it’s my hometown, my introduction this year to the dining scene in #1 New Orleans landed that city high on my own list of the most enticing food destinations.

5. The Best Cocktails of 2011 by Tasting Table. Blame it on Mad Men. In 2011, classic cocktails edged out other alcoholic beverages, prompting home mixologists to begin experimenting with bitters, shakers and garnishes. If you’ve already perfected your take on the French 75, this list offers 10 fresh recipes to test-drive.

6. Top 10 Food-World Spats of 2011 by CHOW. My personal favorite smackdown? Anthony Bourdain, who seems to despise everyone in the culinary world but himself (and his dudebro David Chang, of course), vs. the equally unctuous Paula Deen.

7. Ten Best Vegan Cookbooks of 2011 by VegNews. A great resource for everyone who wants to add more meatless dishes to their cooking and baking repertoires. As a lifelong diner devotee, I need to add a copy of “Vegan Diner: Classic Comfort Food for the Body & Soul” by Portland, Ore., chef Julie Hasson to my cookbook collection.

8. Top 10 Food-Related Apps by the Washington Post. Perfect for foodies who received a shiny new iPad or smartphone for the holidays. I’m eager to explore Chefs Feed, which features prominent chefs’ picks for great dining experiences in a handful of U.S. cities, with more locales to be added in 2012.

9. Top 10 Food Trends for 2012 by Epicurious (via Yahoo! Shine). An intriguing look ahead at the forces that will shape how we eat in 2012. I’ll be watching to see how these trends play out in Tallahassee in the coming year. We’re already got several excellent artisan cheesemakers in the area, and I hear that there’s a new churro purveyor in town, but I have yet to spot fennel pollen on a local menu.

10. Top 10 Simpsons Food Episodes by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog. OK, so this list isn’t limited to 2011 episodes, but it’s way too much fun to miss. Whether you’re fantasizing about a colossal donut or a mug filled with Skittlebrau — or perhaps something slightly less Homeric — here’s hoping that 2012 serves up an array of edible delights.

Chili Cook-off Victory is Sweet … and Spicy

On December 3, Ryan (my boyfriend) and I won first place at Andrew and Heather’s 2nd Annual Chili Cook-Off! Our friends Andrew and Heather have a serious chili cook-off every year, so we were prepared to compete. They decked their house out in chili decorations, had t-shirts made and gave out chili-themed prizes. Last year, Ryan and I came in second place, so we felt the pressure, and wanted to beat it! *Side note: Ryan and I are both really competitive.

Our first-place pot of chili.

There were eight different types of chili entered into the contest. Everyone left the kitchen and each pot of chili was given a number. Heather, the host, handed out small cups of every chili and all the guests tasted them, then ranked each chili from 1 to 10 (10 being the best) on their scorecards. After each chili was tasted and ranked, Heather tallied up the rankings. The results are as follows:

3rd place: Chris Lowery

2nd place: Manuel Bermudez, Rachel Henry, and Alberto Bermudez

1st place: Amanda Doumanian and Ryan Reeves

After the contest, everyone enjoyed chili, chili dogs and chili cupcakes. The sweet and spicy chili cupcakes were made by Candace aka Cakes by Candace. This fun night ended with a win and has left us pondering what to do for next year.

Chili cupcakes made by the local baker behind Cakes by Candace.

If you want to learn more about hosting a chili cook-off of your own, email me at tlhbitebybiteAD@gmail.com for more details. If you want to know our chili recipe, too bad — it’s top secret ;)

Nosh News: I Made It Out of Potatoes Edition

Happy Hanukkah!

Time to make the latkes! Hanukkah (otherwise known as my annual excuse to go Pac-man on potato pancakes) begins tonight at sunset. This year, I’m determined to perfect my latke-making technique. In my quest to eat fried potatoes as often as possible during the next eight days, I’m going to give two recipes from Smitten Kitchen a try: Classic Potato Pancakes and a spicy twist on the dish, Indian-Spiced Vegetable Fritters with Curry-Lime Yogurt.

Since I like to live on the culinary edge, I haven’t yet decided exactly what I’ll be making for Christmas dinner. But I know that the menu will, of course, include potatoes. If the Pioneer Woman’s Duchess Potatoes taste half as good as they look, they might just outshine whatever main dish I end up putting on my holiday plate.

Since I’ll be busier than usual in the kitchen, wrestling a towering pile of potatoes into submission, posting on the blog will be light during the next couple of weeks. May you all enjoy a delicious holiday season and a fruitful new year!

Sweet Caroline’s Bakery is So Much More Than Sweet

Sweet Caroline’s Bakery in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Whether you live in Palm Harbor, Fla., or not, you need to go to Sweet Caroline’s!

Sweet Caroline’s does everything from wedding cakes to bread, and it’s all amazing. In October, I traveled down to Palm Harbor for my future sister-in-law’s baby shower. This is the first baby of our family, so both soon-to-be grandmas and I had so much fun planning the shower —which of course included getting a cake!

My Mom knows my desire to shop local, so she did some research and found Sweet Caroline’s. The entire experience from start to finish was great. Not only was the cake delicious and gorgeous, the service was impeccable! Executive Pastry Chef Michael Ostrander worked with my Mom on the design, flavors and fillings. Chef Michael has more than 40 years of professional baking experience, and he truly cares about his customers. Plus he uses all natural ingredients!

On the day of the shower, I couldn’t wait to see this cake. My Mom had really been talking this place up, so I had high expectations. Upon our arrival, the store smelled and looked amazing! Chef Michael personally came out to greet me and took me in the back to show me the cake! It was gorgeous! He cared so much that my mom was pleased with it that he asked me for permission to put gold spray on it. (He wanted to get my permission since my Mom hadn’t requested that). I figured gold makes everything better, so I gave him the okay. This was not your typical baby shower cake —it was a three-layer, chocolate-and-vanilla, raspberry-filled cake, topped with gold spray, and DELICIOUS!!!

The baby shower cake made by Sweet Caroline’s Bakery.

After our amazing experience with the cake, we ordered rolls from Sweet Caroline’s for our Thanksgiving dinner. These rolls were awesome. The first thing my Dad told me to do when I walked into our house in Palm Harbor was to eat a roll. Ha!

Sweat Caroline’s also offers baking classes on Sundays. You can learn how to make everything from bread to pies to cupcakes. For a full class schedule and more information, visit the Sweet Caroline’s Bakery website.

Just the facts
Sweet Caroline’s Bakery
3347 Tampa Rd., Palm Harbor, Fla.
(727) 781-1888