I was thrilled on Friday to learn I had advanced to Round 6 of Project Food Blog! From over 1900 original contestants, 600 entered the first challenge and now we are down to the final 60. Thank you so much for reading and voting and commenting – it really means so much to me
It was quite serendipitous that Project Food Blog’s Challenge 6 coincided with a real road trip. To speak at a conference. At Niagara Falls. Which got me thinking. So I hereby present Fiesta at the Falls: Rethinking conference food.
If I say “conference food”, what comes to mind? Bad coffee, soggy wraps, packaged cookies, overly sweet juice… and I could go on and on. When I was in Philadelphia this past summer for two back to back conferences over 10 days, I was so pleased to have a little free time to get out and explore some of Philly’s good eats because the conference food was driving me up the wall. In small doses, it’s fine. For that long, it’s not. Reading the challenge prompt, I immediately knew that I wanted to pack a picnic for two which my very good friend and I would enjoy overlooking the Falls in our “Fallsview” room.
For this challenge, you’re tasked with creating a delicious meal that will travel well and still look great. You need to whip up a entree, side, drink, and dessert to enjoy after hitting the road. Be sure that your meal fits inside the Project Food Blog Road Trip cooler.
When I was planning this menu, my mind wandered to a Mexican theme. So often, conference food is bland and tasteless, I guess in an attempt to appeal to the masses and not offend anyone’s tastebuds with anything too “exotic”. I wanted something light and tasty with a bit of punch that I could prepare in advance and that would travel well. I took my inspiration from Food and Wine’s Mexican Cocktail Party and this month’s Macwteets (calling for pink macs) and International Incident Party, calling for us to cook with lavender helped me plan one of two desserts.
Surprisingly, my seemingly thousands of Tupperwares fit into the PFB cooler, bulging though it was! And you know, who doesn’t travel with a Microplane?
My food stayed in my work fridge all day and was fine after the nearly 3 hour trip (ugh, Friday traffic) to the Falls. Upon arrival at the hotel, said cooler was pleased to see that our “Fallsview” room, did indeed have a dramatic backdrop…
So I set to work organising the room whilst Edie, my friend and roomie (she was also in Philly with me!) headed out to investigate conference registration.
You *all* totally carry table linen and crockery in your luggage, right?
This Pomegranate margarita recipe did not call for the drink to be blended with ice but the Bullet was on my desk when I was leaving work on Friday and made its way into my bag. It was a good call and this is one I will be making again. Am not a huge tequila fan but the Cointreau (yes, I transported the Cointreau in a Mason jar. Totally normal, right?) and the lime zest I added took the edge off it and it was a great Friday night cocktail!
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves: Makes about 8 drinks (no, we didn’t have four each….)
One 1-liter bottle of tequila
2 cups Cointreau
2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup fresh lime juice
In a large glass pitcher, combine the tequila, Cointreau, pomegranate juice and lime juice. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, pour in 1 cup of the margarita mix and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and serve. Repeat with the remaining mix.
* I blended all the ingredients with some crushed ice and some fresh lemon zest in the Bullet.
The margarita mix can be refrigerated overnight.
Next up, chunky guacamole with cumin. The avocados rested on my pillow whilst I was getting organised. Never mind chocolates, how about a turndown service offering made-to-order guacamole?
Love chunky guac and this one has just the right amount of spice from the jalapeño and warmth from the cumin…
Total time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 large Hass avocados, halved and pitted
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 small onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeño, with some seeds, minced
In a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds over moderately high heat, shaking the skillet, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer the cumin seeds to a mortar to cool completely, then finely grind with a pestle.
Scoop half of the avocados into a large bowl and coarsely mash them with a fork. Stir in the lemon juice, cilantro, onion, garlic, jalapeño and ground cumin. Scoop chunks of the remaining avocados into the bowl; stir lightly with a spoon. (I mixed all the ingredients except the avocados the night before and simple added them to the avocado mash). Season the guacamole with salt and serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.
Made in advance gazpacho, literally took two minutes to plate and serve – my kinda soup! I was inspired by the heirloom tomatoes we had received last week…
This recipe was really interesting, and included celery, Worcestershire and cucumber which I have never used in gazpacho before. It’s a winner, from Simply Recipes.
Next up, my version of an interesting conference wrap – Mexican rice, bean and turkey salad in corn tortillas. And yes, that’s the same turkey leftover from Canadian Thanksgiving that I used in my last PFB entry. Do I get extra points for getting creative with leftovers two weeks in a row?
2 cups cooked brown rice
about 3/4 cup shredded, cooked turkey (or chicken)
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15.25 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 small onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
3 limes, zested and juiced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt to taste
1. In a large salad bowl, combine the brown rice, turkey, kidney beans, black beans, corn, onion, green pepper, jalapeno peppers, lime zest and juice, cilantro, garlic, and cumin. Lightly toss all ingredients to mix well, and sprinkle with salt to taste.
2. Refrigerate salad for 1 hour, toss again, and serve.
* I served these wrapped in corn tortillas (ideally warmed briefly in an oven, or microwave)
And you know, we kinda sorta did some work too…
Oh that wine? Yep, that even squeezed itself into the PFB cooler at the last minute too. It wasn’t cold when we arrived so we MacGyvered an ice bucket..
All right. Onto dessert. Brownies, as we all know, travel well. Macarons, on the other hand, need a little bit of Parisian TLC…
Yes, the macarons I made for this month’s Mactweets fit in that gorgeous Ladurée box I was given by a parent of one of my students (yes, they know me well!) These are pink for October Mactweets macarons filled with lavender and lemon buttercream for the International Incident Lavender Party! I normally don’t combine challenges but they seemed like the perfect addition to any road trip… Edie also happens to be a huge fan of macarons so I knew she would appreciate them!
Yay! After last month’s Mactweets disaster, I found my feet again!! These were exquisite! I had not baked with lavender before and was wary as it can be overpowering. This buttercream used only a tiny amount of finely ground lavender to which I added some lemon zest: délicieux!
Onto the brownies. When I was searching for recipes online using chili, I went with this one from Serious Eats because the picture showed a lovely fudgey, moist brownie, unlike the dry squares that pass for brownies at conference dessert tables..
serves 9 to 25, depending on brownie size, total time 45 minutes, plus an overnight rest
5 ounces high quality dark chocolate (at least 72 percent cacao), finely chopped
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, plus extra for greasing
2 tablespoons guajillo or aleppo chile, freshly ground
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup flour
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan over low heat (or in a bowl over a pot of boiling water), melt the chocolate and butter with the chile, cinnamon, and salt, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
Line a 9″ x 9″ metal baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Use enough to create a lip over the sides of the pan. If using foil, lightly grease with butter.
In a mixing bowl, combine the melted chocolate mixture with the sugar. When combined, add the eggs. Mix till smooth, then fold in the flour. Transfer to the baking pan. Bake until the brownies feel firm and a paring knife poked into the center comes out clean (you still want a few crumbs to stick), about 30 minutes.
Using the parchment or foil lip, remove the brownies from the pan and cool completely. To greatly improve the texture and flavor, wrap the brownie slab in plastic and let it sit for several hours or up to overnight at room temperature. Slice into 9 large, 16 medium, or 25 small squares, and serve.
This is one amazing brownie recipe – the middle is moist and fudgey, just the way I like it. The chili and cinnamon are subtle and not overpowering and I can imagine this would be lovely with a dollop of whipped cream.
Of course after all that frenzied preparation and gazillion Tupperwares in action, there was the unfortunate task of washing the dishes. But even that was more fun when you got to do it in the bathroom with the hairdryer (geez, why didn’t I think of that to dry them???) and various phones, laptops etc. plugged in nearby. (Side note: What is *with* hotels not having enough electrical outlets?)
Leftovers for breakfast!
This meal was not only a lot of fun to prepare but it was light, fresh and healthy - certainly the best meal we ate during the conference. The view wasn’t bad either…
If you liked my Fiesta at the Falls: Rethinking conference food, I would love your vote to move on to Round 7 of Project Food Blog, where we have to bring a recipe to life through a video. I have a *perfect* recipe to showcase from my blog archive… Voting will be open at 6AM Pacific Time on Monday, October 25th until 6PM Pacific Time on Thursday October 28th. Click here to vote! Many thanks for your continued support.
* Don’t forget to check out what everyone else brought to the International Incident Lavender Party here.
** Did you know? Jamie Oliver is speaking in Toronto on November 18th. Thanks to The Art of Cooking, I am able to offer a discount to you, my readers, of $10 per ticket (more if you purchase more than 5 tickets). Click here for the special promotion code to be applied to your ticket price. Don’t miss this event – I saw Jamie speak last year and it was inspirational to say the least. It inspired me to start Les Petits Chefs, for one…