Iron Chef Event Benefits Leah’s Pantry


As I’ve mentioned before I am very proud to be a member of the board of directors of Leah’s Pantry, a non-profit organization which provides multi lingual cooking workshops and nutrition education to seniors, families and children living in transitional housing and homeless shelters throughout the Bay Area and San Diego.  Last week we had our first fundraising event to raise funds and awareness for a new Leah’s Pantry initiative – Food Smarts Cook It! Kits.  These kits are filled with basic cooking items (slow cooker, spices, knives, cutting board) to enable seniors and individuals living in SRO’s (single residency occupant hotels) to create healthy food for themselves and neighbors without relying on free meals from St. Anthony’s and Glide.


What better way to showcase cooking than a San Francisco Iron Chef style competition?  The competitors were Dennis Leary of Canteen restaurant and Jennifer Puccio from Park Tavern.  Both chefs were very generous with their expertise and time as they cooked from a surprise bag of ingredients with shrimp as the main protein.  There were two 15 minute competitions – one for an appetizer course and one a main dish.  Unfortunately I was not a judge, as the food looked and smelled wonderful.  Thankfully there was plenty of wine and tasty food provided by Haight Street Market, for the rest of us to enjoy while the chefs cooked and the judges reviewed.  The event was held on a beautifully warm night in San Francisco (that rarely happens) at the owner of Tante Marie’s cooking school.  Mary was a delight, as was her welcoming home and lovely garden.


There were some special guests and judges including San Francisco Supervisors representing those in the neighborhoods where Leah’s Pantry is educating such as the Tenderloin and Bayview Hunter’s Point.  There were also some loyal community organizations such as Hamilton House, that first partnered with Leah’s Pantry six years ago when it was founded.  There was a raffle held prior to the event and the winners won a spot at judges table and as sous chefs.  Sounded intimidating at first, but everyone had a great time.  A real Iron Chef winner, celebrity chef  and restauranteur Kerry Simon of KGB and Prime restaurants in Las Vegas and Los Angeles also stopped by to lend support.  Hopefully this will become an annual event and expanded to include more spectators.  I’ll let you know…




Get Your Gluten Free Baked Goods!

My kids’ school hold a big fundraiser each year for the school garden.  This year was no exception.  We all had a great time enjoying old fashioned games (bobbing for apples, scavenger hunts), arts and crafts (sewing potpourri sachets, creating art from recycled materials), a pie eating contest, raffle and bake off.   In addition there’s a large bake sale.  This alone raises over $1,000.  I was asked this year to make gluten free desserts for the sale.  I took the challenge especially since I had recently done some gluten free baking while reviewing the book, Quinoa Cuisine (see review) and I had just received another helpful cookbook entitled 150 Best Gluten Free Muffin Recipes by Camilla Saulsbury.

I was baking and testing recipe for weeks.  Not only did I test the recipes as written usuing my own mix of flours, but I also decided to try Bob’s Red Mill gluten free all pupose baking flour.  They make a great variety of gf offerings for baking.  Herein lies all the expense and trouble when people think about gluten free baking.  If you don’t have to eat gluten free it is more expensive to properly stock your pantry.  For instance the Bob’s Red Mill was $8 for a 2 pound bag.  However it was even costlier for me to buy the quinoa, teff and rice flours and mix them myself.  Plus there is the worry if you’re buying the flours bulk that can may be contaiminated by a gluten product.

I narrowed down my two favorites and baked multiple batches for the big day.

From the 150 Best Gluten Free Muffin Recipes cookbook I made Double Chocolate Banana Muffins and Cinnamon Sugar Muffins.  The double chocolate were a huge hit.  The banana gave them the right amount of moisture and the chocolate, well there was both whole and cocoa (what’s not to like?).  My son liked the Cinnamon Sugar however my daughter and her friend did not.  I think it was a texture issue, as gluten free baked goods are denser and the flour is a bit heartier tasting.  This book has helpful information about gluten and alternative ingredients.  Each recipe also has tips to make it casein-free (which can be a connection for some with other health issues).

My other choice was the Lemon Glazed Pound Cake from Quinoa Cuisine.  I made the pound cake as directed with the quinoa flour, but made it again with the Bob’s Red  Mill GF Flour and everyone preferred that one.  I would make this any occassion – for gluten free needs or not.  It was very tangy and had a good dense pound cake consistency.  We enjoyed it at home with a bit of vanilla bean ice cream on top during our taste testing.

Once I made all the muffins and pound cake for the bake sale, I decided to wrap each individually so someone who needed to stay away from wheat wouldn’t have to worry about cross contamination from the rest of the baked goods at the sale.  My daughter and I cut and wrapped each piece of pound cake and individual muffin and then tucked them in baskets with ingredient cards on top.  They looked great.  However when I went over the baked goods table during the event I realized the gluten free items weren’t selling.  The moms said not as many were requesting gluten free items, plus maybe it was too hard to see the items in the wrappers.  I quickly unwrapped them and luckily they sold.  That was an error on my part.  A child who’s checking out the baked good options needs to see it and want it, for mom to buy it.  Most don’t care if it’s gluten free or not.  I went a little overboard with my food safety.  Next time unwrap most and wrap only a few for those with celieac and gluten issues.

I took those items that didn’t sell home with me.  Yes, I could’ve given them away but not with all the time and money that went into them.  (Selfish mommy, I know).  I froze them and served them to my son’s baseball team a few days later.  It saved me some time and they loved them.