Wrapping Up the Great American Bake Sale


I had a month to plan.

I signed up as a team captain, without first asking if anyone else was interested in helping.

I reached out to the farmer’s market near my home to hold it there (and after a week of “pestering” got a firm yes).

I asked my foodie friends if anyone would be willing to bake for the sale.

And, on Saturday, WE raised $216 for Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

Great American Bake Sale table

Of the 4 folks who offered to bake, 3 came through. Several friends came out on Sunday to help man the table/keep us company. We had 110 “units” when we started and only brought 19 home. My fears of what to do with the leftovers were greatly unneeded.

(Especially since most of the leftovers were my double chocolate muffins–they’re great with vanilla ice cream!)

What shocked me, though, was how much use the Donations jar got!

We put out a mason jar with a simple sitcker-dot label on it and Todd “primed” it with $1. Before long it was half full, and not just with singles. I don’t know that we ever really mentioned it by name, it just sat in the middle of the table and people fed it! A third of the funds came directly from that jar.

Pretty awesome, huh?

Great American Bake Sale donation

One of the surprise hits of the day were my Spinach Puffs. True, I figured with a venue like the farmer’s market, something savory might have a better chance than not, but people really responded well to them in general. Because they are so super simple and so wonderful for parties, here’s the recipe:

Spinach Puffs

10 oz frozen spinach, thawed
1/2 cup diced onion
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup blue cheese salad dressing
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1 package corn bread mix

Squeeze the liquid out of the spinach and combine it with the rest of the ingredients, mixing well. Chill the batter at least 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350° F and line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Drop by rounded spoonful (I like to use a cookie scoop) onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between each. Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges of each puff are golden brown.

They’re great room temperature or warmed, can be frozen for long storage. And a even more delicious dipped in a bit of spicy brown mustard.

27th Annual Chef’s Sampler–Stuffed in Tallahassee



Two years ago we attended and left with, pun intended, a bad taste in our mouth. Did things improve in the interim?

I think they did.

I attended my first Chef’s Sampler in 1997–pre-Culinary School–and looking back over that year’s program I see the highlights were the lavash at a now-defunct local Italian place, the char-grilled octopus from Angelo’s, and the bacon-wrapped shrimp from local steak-house favorite, Marie Livingston’s.

Back then, more than half of the attending restaurants were strictly local affairs.

That last visit, in 2010, seemed to be weighted much more in favor of chains, and was also a more casual affair with scads of kids running around.

I’m happy to report that after skipping a year, the Chef’s Sampler is back on our list of fun, foodie events once more.

With just about half of the 40 vendors present representing the strictly-local market (down from 1997’s total of 58), I’m happy to see the chains haven’t totally outnumbered the locals-only establishments, and this year was a return to the event I remember from my earlier, easier to impress days. They still had the live band I bemoaned from last time (live music in that space means you can’t hear yourself think, much less digest!), but there were more people a little dressed up and far fewer kids running amok.

Since Graphateria was a sponsor, this year, Todd and I were able to attend the VIP Reception hosted by Shula’s 347 Grill and Hotel Duval. They had the fabulous foresight to provide us with a cocktail party must have: plates with built in cup-holders and the stemware to go in them. (And for those not at the VIP Reception, they were selling the sets elsewhere along the grazing route.)


We knew not a soul at the Reception, but close quarters make new friends in no time and a lovely couple with, wouldn’t you know it, some acquaintances in common shared our little cocktail table for the rest of the pre-party.

Overall the food was what we’ve come to expect from Tallahassee’s restaurants: good quality and a lot of common elements. Everyone and their cousin has their own version of Spinach-Artichoke Dip and any place that had any ties to southern cuisine has a shrimp and grits offering they like to trot out for these things. One surprisingly nice touch was the presence of smoothies and snow balls available in a couple different locations. You might think a syrupy snow-ball might be overkill in the middle of small-plate heaven, but it acted as an amazing palate cleanser.


Some stand-outs of the night were the Fried Chicken Soup from Andrew’s 228/Andrew’s Bar and Grill,


the sushi from Masa,


and Jim and Milt’s mix of pulled beef and pork


But, by far, we saved the best for last–accidentally. We got to start the grazing about 30 minutes before the event officially opened (again, thanks to that VIP early entry) and some places were still getting set-up. On what was our beginning route, one of the local food truck’s that we’ve not had a chance to try, Mobi, were in that boat and we made the point of looking for them on our way out.


What you’re looking at, here, is Barbecue Pork Rangoon over Siracha cole slaw. Folks, even after all the rich food we’d eaten (and the 3 glasses of red wine that went with them), the flavor of this stuffed wanton were amazing. The richness of the pork cut by the cream cheese inside a very well-fried (crispy, but not greasy or heavy) wanton skin were amazing. On any other day I’d love a plate of these for supper.

Which means I’ll have to track them down at one of the Food Truck Thursday events and hope they’re serving it that night.

See the full photo gallery in my Chef’s Sampler 2012 Flickr Set.

Pumpkinfest, Unexpected Muffuletta, and the Splits


There was a metric ton of fun things going on this past weekend in the Tallahassee area–wine events, local festivals and farm tours abound.

After weighing our options we finally settled on nearby Havana’s Pumpkinfest.

Pumpkin Patch Barn Photo Op at Havana Pumpkinfest

This little barn made a cute photo op for families on the hunt for pumpkins and the perfect fall picture of little ones.

A great thing about small towns is that they go all-out for their festivals. The Pumpkinfest may have been small but Main Street is also lined with all manner of antique stores providing ample browsing opportunities along with the craft booths, festival food booths and people watching these sorts of events provide.

Instead of availing ourselves of the food vendors on the streets we opted to stop into Joanie’s Gourmet Market and Fabulous Cafe. Now, normally I’d snark about setting yourself up pretty high for putting Fabulous in your name but in this case I just can’t do it: they are pretty Fabulous.

Joann's Gourmet Market and Fabulous Cafe

Not only do they have a charming selection of gourmet food items and wines, they have a short and sweet menu that was so tasty, I wish I lived a little closer. Todd ordered the Chicken Quesadilla and I had the Muffuletta Wedge. In fact, seeing Muffuletta on the menu posted at the front door was what sold us on stopping in for a late lunch.

Chicken Quesadilla from Joanies' Gourmet Market Muffuletta Wedge

The key to a good Muffuletta is the olive salad. Their house olive salad isn’t the same as what you’d get in New Orleans, but it’s very good on it’s own and certainly made for a good sandwich–it featured capers, which is not something I would normally include but it was an interesting choice. And there was so much olive salad on there that it was falling out of the pressed sandwich. Not that that’s a bad thing–you can be sure I didn’t let it go to waste.

They also had fabulous old-fashioned bottled sodas. Todd enjoyed his Vanilla Cream soda and I could have taken a nap in my Root Beer, it was that wonderful. Oh, sorry: Fabulous!

On the way home we started to crave something a little sweet. So I suggested a stop into Lofty Pursuits for some delicious ice cream. We were happy to see they were in the midst of a mid-afternoon rush (always good to see your favorite places busy) and happily perused the extensive menu to decide what we wanted to top off an already fun day.

Chocolate Banana Split from Lofty Pursuits

That, my friends, is a Chocolate Banana Split. Wanna know what’s in it?

  • 3 scoops of Deep Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
  • the requisite banana
  • chocolate, marshmallow and butter caramel sauces
  • chocolate whipped cream
  • chocolate sprinkles, chocolate chips, a waffle-cone sail
  • and a trio of cherries on top! (there’s another one hiding behind the sail)

It was perfect for 2; might have been a bit too much to try and tackle singly.

Did you do anything fabulously foodie this weekend?

A Day at the Faire


Renaissance Faire EntertainmentA couple weeks ago Todd and I, along with our new friend Andrea, traveled over to Pensacola to check out the Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire for the day. Thanks to a convenient time-zone crossing we made it to the Faire-grounds (a 3-hour journey) in just over 2. Talk about time travel!

First we happened on a talkative blacksmith demonstrating her process of making a simple bar of steel into something useful and lovely. There were several vendors throughout the central area of the Faire and we spent most of the first hour or more perusing their wares. It reminded me of a cross between a craft fair and Merchant’s row at an SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism) event.

In addition to various retailers, there were five stages set up for entertainment. There were continuous belly-dance performances in Arabia, variety acts on several stages and a field with fencing demonstrations and, yes, actually jousting by riders on horseback.

Reminiscent of a trip to Medieval Times, the spectators were divided into cheering sections for each of the combatants as the riders jousted and then competed in a series of skill exercises for points. It was quite breathtaking to watch–the charving hooves, the splitting of wood upon steel armor. Whew!

There was also a display of falcons and other birds of prey, including a hawk that chose to go on a little side adventure of his own.

It was quite a day.

But, of course, the question you may be asking yourselves is: what did we eat?

Ringing the Faire were all manner of food carts, most of which you’d see at any carnival or local festival: corn dogs, funnel cakes, burgers and fries, chicken sandwiches, popcorn, slushies, etc. Kebabs were available at many stands and they were, at best, the most close-to-authentic food available.

We, however, opted to order from Phil’s Mediterranean–they at least didn’t have your standard carnival truck but were sporting some inventive decorations and atmosphere. Granted, the gyro-meat that I ordered on my “gypsy plate” (brown rice and lentils seasoned with almonds and cranberries and topped with Greek-style salad) was of a style invented in the 19th century–well after the end of the Middle Ages; the most authentic ingredients of the dish were almonds and lentils.

And the turkey leg that Todd just had to order? Turkeys weren’t introduced to Europe until the late 1500s–kinda pushing it for a common Medieval food.

Renaissance Faire Food

What IS Medieval Food?

Trade was big business in the Middle Ages, but even with a relatively colder climate than we have now, long-distance trade of meats and vegetables wasn’t very efficient. Folks ate incredibly local, very little went to waste, and even though basic preservation skills like smoking, drying and salting were known and used, food was fresh more often than not. Spices, however, traveled well and were very expensive so were perfect for rich houses to show off their wealth to guests. Vegetables were not as uncommon as many think, though they were boiled or roasted more times than not.

Strangely enough, turducken is incredibly close–in theory, at least–to a lot of the medieval food I’ve made and studied. The cooks of the Middle Ages (those of the wealthy houses, of course) really liked the idea of stuffing a large animal with all sorts of smaller foods and roasting them all together. One of my most well-received lamb dishes is based (and by that I mean scaled down to a normal kitchen’s demands) on an Andalusian recipe that called for an entire ram to be stuffed with stuffed small poultry, meatballs and sauce of almonds.

This experience got me thinking: how much fun would it be to have a Medieval Cooking Challenge like the Indian one I participate in each month? So I’ve started one! If you’re curious about Medieval food and want to try out authentic recipes from long ago, check out the Medieval Cooking Challenge page and sign up! I’ll be sending out the first recipe for the challenge on April 1st!

Our First Festa


This past weekend Tallahassee saw it’s first (annual? only the future will tell) Italian Family Festa out at the John Paul II Catholic High School. I found out about the Festa through Groupon, which turns out to be a fabulous resource for learning about local businesses and events, not just saving money at them.

With the Greek Food Festival an annual event that we dearly love, we hoped the Italian Family Festa would come close to that ideal.

Italian Family Festa

As a first-year festival there were some expected hiccups. The website, for instance, was a little sparse on details (it would have been nice to know what sorts of foods would be there, not just a list of Italian foods that might be there, and a price-list is always helpful for folks who don’t carry cash as a habit) and, once we arrived it took being sent to 3 different tables/locations just to find out where to sign up for the wine tasting.

Italian Family Fest Wine

Those bumps aside, we had a good time. The wine tasting (at $10 a person) was more a class than just a taste-for-all, featuring 6 Italian wines and a very good presenter–he had personality to spare and plenty of ways to make wine relatable, always a good pairing. It was held in the school’s gymnasium, though, and was not the only activity going on in the space, making a little hard to hear.

Various entertainment was scheduled throughout the weekend and we had fun listening to the singer perform pop hits. Funny, we didn’t know songs like Firework and Seasons of Love were inherently Italian 😉

But, wait, what about the food?

There was a stand selling meatball subs and sausages–we each chose the latter with peppers and onions. Lots of fennel and very tasty. There was a local New York-style pizza place with a stand and, finally, a stand selling Fried Doughnuts (zeppole? though I’m not sure how authentic they were), calamari (they were out by the time we tried to order some), mozzarella sticks (pass), funnel cakes and steamed mussels. There were also cannoli available at a table, inside. The cannoli were the best things we ate, that day, and gone so quickly that I failed to snap a photo!

Italian Family Festa Food

Ices and a variety of coffee and tea were available from booths as well as bottled water, beer and wine (the latter required the purchase of tickets). Even after the wines we’d taste in the seminar, earlier, we each got a glass of Prosecco to eat with our zeppole before calling it a day.

Thankfully the Groupon offer meant I paid slightly less for weekend passes what it would have cost us just to enter the one day ($5 per person entrance fee). We opted not to return on Sunday.

I hope that they do try again, next year, and are able to add to the cultural options in our little southern town.