What’s Meant To Be

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I thought I came to Orange Beach, Alabama to represent my sponsor, Saucy Mama, in the World Food Championships. Leading up to the competition I struggled with my recipes trying to fit them into the parameters of the contest and I actually had a feeling of dread. My goal was to present my flavors, cook to the best of my ability and hopefully make Saucy Mama proud. The pressure was on like a panini in a sandwich press.

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Cuban Fusion

Saucy Mama is a family owned company that prides itself on supporting home cooks. They love nothing more than gathering folks around a table to enjoy good food. While I did not bring them into the winner’s circle I sure felt loved. It was obvious that they were proud of what I had brought to the table. I accomplished my cooking goals and truly had the most wonderful time amongst many friends and my Saucy Mama family.

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Fontina Stuffed Chicken and Mushroom Meatball with Parmesan Frico

However, I am writing this morning because I have another story to tell. It’s not about cooking. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about a chance meeting. It’s about a simple glance through a restaurant window and how that moment changes your life. It’s a story of a young Navy Corpsman who reached out because he thought he might have recognized, Will’s mom. A story about why I was meant to compete in Orange Beach.

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Meet Brandon. Brandon and William became brothers while stationed in San Diego. He caught a glimpse of me through a window as I passed by a restaurant he just happened to be working in. The following morning I wake up to a FB message:

Brandon: Mrs. Keys are you in Orange Beach

Me: Yes. I am cooking at The Wharf. Sandwich competition

Brandon: I saw you last night. I was bartending at the boat bar and I told myself that  couldn’t be you and then I saw FB.

Me: You are giving me the chills

Brandon: I’m upset I did not say something last night. Do you have any plans for breakfast?

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Brandon helped Will land this shark

Meeting Brandon is the highlight of my time in Orange Beach. He loves my son and shares many “Will” stories I haven’t heard before. We laugh and we cry. He insists on driving me to the airport tomorrow at 3:30 in the morning. He’s Will’s brother taking care of Will’s mom. The love is immense. This is my prize. This is the catch of the day. This is why I am meant to be at the World Food Championships. A chance meeting, a mutual love and a reminder my dear boy will never be forgotten. Once in awhile I need that.

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Just Being In the Mix is Enough

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Like a hurricane competitive home cooks are a force to be reckon with. Our passion for quality food and proper cooking technique drives us to be the best of the best rating right up there with those more professionally trained. Our kitchen is our classroom. We study cookbooks like novels. We hone our skills by banging pots and pans together running recipes through countless trial and error practice drills. Sometimes we cause a stir and sometimes just being in the mix is enough. It’s rising to the challenge that makes us better.

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It’s a busy month in the Keys kitchen as I prepare and put the finishing touches on my recipes for the World Food Championships. I love being in the mix of food competition and sometimes just being in the mix is enough. Like the saying goes, “can’t win them all”, but simply making the cut, being judged and recognized as a potential winner keeps one focused and motivated to try, try again. This oyster recipe is just one example of a winner, but loser. It got the attention of a professional culinary organization known as Chef’s Roll. The recipe made the top 25 list among mostly professional chefs. In fact, only 3 home cooks made the list. Gotta love and feel proud when a home cook rates right up there with the professionals and when one (my friend Rebecka) takes second place overall!

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Montmorency Tart Cherry Crudo ~ photo by Rebecka Evans

 

Rebecka’s seafood recipe featuring montmorency cherries is as stunning as she is. You can check out her blog and get the recipe here: at home with rebecka and catch her next month on Food Network’s Clash of the Grandmas’ series. I hope she swoops in like a hurricane and takes those other grandmas down.

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In the meantime, mix up my cherry salsa verde and enjoy some oysters. It’s prime season for these fresh bivalves, so take advantage of it.

Fried Almond Oysters with Dried Cherry Salsa Verde & Chipotle Crema

Dried Cherry Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

½-cup Mexican crema

2-teaspoons adobo sauce from 1-can chipotle chili peppers

1 dozen fresh oysters shucked (reserve 12 rinsed and dried shell halves for serving)

1/3-cup almond meal flour

¼ cup finely chopped blanched almonds

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon cumin

avocado or canola oil for frying

Prepare dried cherry salsa verde; set aside. For chipotle crema, mix crema and adobo sauce until smooth; reserve in a squeeze bottle. In a shallow dish, whisk together almond meal, almonds, flour, baking powder, salt and cumin. In a medium skillet, pour oil to a depth of 2 inches, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350°. In batches, dredge oysters in almond mixture until well coated, shaking off excess. Fry 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Fill each oyster shell with about 1 tablespoonful of salsa. Top each with 1 fried oyster. Drizzle with chipotle crema. Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Dried Cherry Salsa Verde

2 medium tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed, quartered

½ cup coarsely chopped sweet onion

1-tablespoon fresh lime juice

1-teaspoon sea salt

1-teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon seeded and chopped jalapeno

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

½ cup whole dried Tart Montmorency Cherries

½ cup small dice jicama

In a blender, process tomatillos, onion, lime juice, salt, sugar, garlic and jalapeno until nearly smooth. Add cilantro; blend well. Pour into a bowl; stir in cherries and jicama.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s All Golden

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Golden Milk Bread

Following my emotional visit to CT two weeks ago I went into full on kitchen therapy Inspired by what was in the garden I made jams, pickles, everything tomato, everything zucchini, breads and cakes. It was all golden.

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Golden Tomato Jam and Dill Pickles

As it often does, grief relief finally came in a vivid dream.  In my slumber I am walking up the driveway to retrieve the morning mail. Waiting at the box, in the golden sun-light, is William. I say, “What are you doing here?” He replies, “I just want to make sure you know I am still here.” Whoosh! I am sure a psychiatrist would have a fun-filled day with my brain, but these dreams are so much better than any happy pills one could prescribe.

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Golden Dreams

I will be missing in action from time to time over the next few months. First and foremost I am super busy having too much fun with these two. Oh, the miracle of life! I did not know my heart could get any bigger, but there certainly is a new chamber filled with love and awe. Besides, Annabelle loves hanging out in my kitchen. Imagine that! I am pretty sure she loves the smell of fresh baked cookies and garlic.

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Golden Days

Second, the test kitchen has officially opened for preparation for the World Food Championships which takes place in November. Once again I am competing in the sandwich category and being sponsored by the fabulous Saucy Mama. Suzy Barhyte is the creative mind behind the delicious sauces, dressings and mustards that I will be incorporating into my sandwiches. Like Suzy’s my recipes must be family approved. I am especially grateful to have Caitlin assist me in sandwich development. She has an incredible palate. The Cubano has been built and now on to my signature dish. Hopefully I do myself, my family and Saucy Mama proud in the competition.

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Golden Mustards

With my game face on I won’t be blogging as much. To keep you occupied I challenge your creativity in the kitchen with this fantastic baking opportunity. The National Festival of Breads is one of the best bake-offs I have ever been privileged to win. Not only will you bake with the best products on the market, but you will learn so much about the wheat industry and the farmers who feed us and the world. Support them. Be inspired by those you love and bake some bread.

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Golden Wheat

The National Festival of Breads is included in the list of best cooking competitions by Delish! Online entries accepted Oct. 1, 2016 – Jan.16, 2017. National competition in Manhattan, Kansas, on June 17, 2017. Amazing recipes, finalists and baking contest for youth and adults! Go to www.nationalfestivalofbreads.com for rules and prizes. Sponsored by King Arthur Flour Red Star Yeast & Kansas Wheat.

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Golden Milk Bread

4¼ cups (18 oz./510 gm) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

1 (1/4 oz/21 gm) package Red Star Platinum Yeast

1¼-cups milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

4 (25 cent size) pieces of fresh peeled ginger

1-teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup golden raisins

In stand mixer bowl, fitted with paddle, combine 4 cups of flour and yeast. In small saucepan, over medium low heat, combine milk, butter, maple syrup, salt, fresh ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and pepper; bring just to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes or until milk mixture registers 120F on an instant read thermometer. Pour milk mixture into flour mixture; mix on low speed until flour is fully incorporated. Remove paddle and replace with dough hook. Knead dough on low speed for 5 to 6 minutes adding additional ¼ cup flour if it seems too sticky. Add raisins to dough during last 2 minutes of kneading time. Transfer dough to a buttered bowl, cover and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Press down dough, divide in half and shape each piece to fit a lightly greased 9-inch loaf pan. Place dough in pans; cover and let rise for 1 hour. Heat oven 400F. Make 3 slash marks diagonally across each loaf. Bake loaves for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and internal temperature registers 200F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.