This past week, I had the pleasure of photographing the July event hosted by Fresh Starts Chef Events, a project to support Homeward Bound of Marin, a homeless shelter in Marin County, California, providing food, shelter and job training for those in need. This month’s event featured delicious sweet treats with Pastry Chef and former Top Chef contestant Marisa Churchill. She makes regular appearances on the Food Network and is the author of the cookbook, Sweet & Skinny.
Marisa learned to cook from her Greek grandmother and then studied at the Califonia Culinary Academy and Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. She has worked at restaurants such as Rubicon, The Slanted Door, Ame, LuLu and Yoshi’s, where she was named one of San Francisco’s top pastry chefs. Chef Churchill has a personal interest in health and fitness and began using natural ingredients to create recipes that are flavourful, yet have less fat and sugar. Some of her recipes are also gluten-free. The menu for the evening consisted of four recipes from her soon-to-be-released second cookbook.
Her menu began with savoury Feta & Dill Biscuits.
Chef Churchill shared that if you mix the dough with a paddle attachment of a mixer, you should mix the dough by hand at the end so that you don’t overwork the top of the dough that is already mixed.
I loved the flavour of the feta and dill in these biscuits — a great combination!
She then made Flax & Quinoa Granola Bars. This was my favorite recipe of the evening. I am a bit of a granola bar junkie and have always wanted to learn how to make my own granola and granola bar. I often find the ones at the market to be too sweet and with lots of additives. These had a delightful crunch from the puffed quinoa cereal!
Chef Churchill shared that when making the syrup for the granola bars, you will know that the syrup is almost ready when the bubbles get tighter and larger.
Chocolate Popsicles were next and were creatively served in wine glasses. These sugar-free popsicles had such a rich, chocolately flavour — definitely, a grown-ups fudgesicle! A pinch of salt also helped the chocolate flavour really pop.
The meal ended with a gluten- and diary-free Carrot Cake.
The cake base was made from a combination of oat flour, cornmeal, sorghum flour, brown rice flour and guar gum — an ingredient often used in gluten-free baking that acts as an emulsifier and keeps the solid and liquids together.
I have soft spot for healthy cooking and sweets (don’t even ask me how many desserts I ate on our recent cruise), so this evening was definitely a treat! Chef Churchill provided a lot of great tips for creating healthier snacks and desserts, like the substation of greek yogurt, which is high in protein and adds structure, as well as the use of coconut oil, which requires more calories to digest. As I always tell my kids, if you make treats with healthy ingredients, you can always eat more than one! ;)
Check back next month for an encore cooking event with Chef David Lawrence of 1300 Fillmore in San Francisco — Grilled Red Stark Crimson Pears with House Cured Duck Pastrami, Sonoma Goat Cheese and Honey-Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Pan-Roasted Bronzino Bass, Roasted Celeriac, Anise-Cherry Tomato Broth and Lima Beans, and Pumpkin-Ginger Snaps with Artisan Cheese.
Recipe for Flax and Quinoa Granola Bars
Makes 12 – 15
1 1/2 cups oats
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup puffed quinoa cereal
1/2 cup dried fruit
2 tablesppons honey
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup ground flax seeds
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.Preheat oven to 350 F, with rack in center. Grease small baking pan (about 10×12 inches) and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. On a sheet pan, spread out the oats, flax seeds, walnuts and quinoa cereal. Place all ingredients into oven for 10 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden.
3. While pan is in oven, place 3 tablespoons of water, sugar, cinnamon, honey, oil, vanilla and salt into large pot over medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes until it begins to boil and thicken to syrup consistency. The syrup is done when a drop of the syrup into a bowl of cold water does not dissolve. It should remain solid, but soft.
4. Transfer oat mixture into the pot. Add the dried fruit, mixing thoroughly.
5. Transfer mixture into prepared pan, using a spatula to spread and pack tightly together. Let cool for 20-30 minutes.
6. Once mixture is no longer hot, but not yet cold, cut into bars and allow to cool completely. Once cool, tightly wrap bars in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.