The Kitchen|Fields Table Tour Highlights Importance of Soybean in Arkansas

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I’m not sure how much you know about the world of soybeans, but it’s a big deal, especially in this neck of the woods. Governor Hutchinson recently issued a proclamation declaring this past November as Arkansas Soybean Month, a move that acknowledges our state as one of the premier soybean producers.

Here are some of the numbers to back it up:

  • In the 2015 growing season, Arkansas producers harvested 3.1 million acres of soybeans, valued at more than $1.5 billion.
  • Soybeans are grown in 41 counties of Arkansas and rank as the state’s largest row crop, accounting for more acres than rice, corn, sorghum and wheat combined.
  • Arkansas ranks 2nd in the nation for boiler production and 10th in the nation for soybean production.
  • Poultry consumes about half of all the soybean meal produced because of the high protein content, which in turn provides essential nutrients to the animal and increases their performance.
  • Arkansas ranks 3rd in the nation for turkey production raising 28 million turkeys last year. Turkeys are the 4th largest consumer of soybean meal in the U.S., consuming more than 2 million tons of soybean meal in 2014.
  • Arkansas ranks 4th in the nation for soybean usage. That includes our pork industry, where nearly 2 million swine consume soybean meal every day thanks to its high protein content.
  • Arkansas ranks in the top 12 in the nation for calf production with a cattle inventory totaling 1.6 million head. In 2014, beef cattle consumed about 1.4 million tons of soybean meal in the U.S.

Also in November, the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board’s educational food program, the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour, partnered with restaurants across the state to serve a dish dedicated to Arkansas soybean producers. Some of the participating restaurants included: Trio’s, At the Corner, Kemuri, The Southern Gourmasian, and Taylor’s Steakhouse. The Kitchen|Fields Table Tour encourages people not only to eat more primary soy foods, but also to consume soy-fed protein like pork, beef, turkey and chicken.

Part of this celebration of all things soybean came in the form of a recent three-course dinner at Brave New Restaurant here in Little Rock. I, along with other food writers and soybean farmers, was in attendance for an evening that proved to be every bit educational as it was tasty. Chef Peter Brave put his creative spin on soybean-based dishes throughout the evening, while various speakers gave brief talks about the “miracle bean.” Dishes included a salad with both pickled and fried soybeans, a beef tenderloin with sauteed soybeans, and an insanely delicious soybean honey Frangelico ice cream with soybean brittle for dessert. I may or may not have eaten my wife’s dessert as well.

In January, part two of the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour will launch … when the organization will be pairing up with some of Arkansas’ most well-known chefs to continue teaching Arkansans about the importance of this $2 billion soybean industry.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in more information, you can visit TheMiracleBean.com. It’s a pretty cool website where you can check out items like: soybean recipes, the actual composition of soybeans, and a comprehensive guide to various uses of soybeans (which go far beyond consumption).

*Stats and image via Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board

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Vive la Vie’s Dinner Series Kicks Off at Capitol View Studio

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Some of you may know that I co-host a weekly radio show with Alexia Elichiry on KABF 88.3 called Vive la Vie. Each Friday morning Alexia and I gab about all things food and drink … usually with a chef, farmer, rancher, barista, baker or mixologist. The show is a ton of fun, with a nice balance of humor and seriousness that makes the 30 minutes feel like five. In truth, I’m Alexia’s sidekick, someone who chimes in, interjects, and occasionally adds a few coherent thoughts to the program.  She literally runs the show … all with an ease, calmness, and sense of professionalism that never ceases to amaze me.

And Alexia always has great ideas.

Last night, we made one of these ideas a reality. The Vive la Vie Show went off-location to Capitol View Studio for a special, hour-long recorded session with some of the biggest names in Little Rock’s culinary scene: Capi Peck of Trio’s, Matt Bell of South on Main, Ben Brainard of Local Lime and Heights Taco & Tamale, and Jeffrey Owen of Ciao Baci.

We ate, we drank, we asked the most random questions, and we shared our thoughts about everything from Bell’s curry to Brainard’s mentor … all around a potluck-filled dinner table. As a food writer and someone who covers these folks on a routine basis, it proved to be an amazingly unique opportunity to share my true thoughts and feelings. Let’s face it, for as much as I love our local food scene and try to extol its virtues, I still constructively criticize food, service, and, well, just about anything. And at it’s core, what made the night so special for me was that ability to just sit around and be open and honest with each other.

It was a hell of a lot of fun, and at times, quite emotional. But it was absolutely one my most cherished food memories, and it looks like something we might be doing every few months.

Pretty soon, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to the footage. I hope you do.

Special thanks to Mark Colbert for setting up all the audio equipment for the evening, and also to Bryan Frazier, who opened his studio to us and played such a critical role in planning and executing things. And not to forget…thank you to Jordan Crain for that fantastic egg nog.

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10 Can’t Miss Food & Drink Gifts … All Local

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Are you looking for a perfect holiday gift for that special foodie in your life? Here are 10 suggestions that are sure to please…

Izard Chocolate
Local chocolatier, Nathaniel Izard, has a shop located in the heart of Hillcrest (right across the street from Kroger). If you’re not a fan of handcrafted, artisan dark chocolate, this probably isn’t the place for you. But if you are … and also enjoy caramels and even fresh roasted coffee, Izard Chocolate is a must-stop. Bars, truffles, and chocolate-dipped caramels are the main draws. Purchase online, at the shop, or at various locations throughout Little Rock. Prices vary.

Pozza’s Pasta
Made in NWA’s Tontitown, this is a dried pasta made with unbleached flour as opposed to a semolina flour. It’s available in 12-ounce packages, including: 100% Whole Wheat, Spinach Spaghetti, Tomato Basil Linguini, Angel Hair, Parsley Linguini, and Traditional Spaghetti and Linguini. Purchase online or from Terry’s Finer Foods. Prices start at $5 per package.

WaterVeg Lettuce
Hey, not every holiday food gift has to be a caloric nightmare. I’m a huge fan of WaterVeg, a Little Rock-based aquaponics company specializing in lettuce delivered right to your doorstep on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Go online to check out membership subscriptions or purchase a gift card. Baskets cost around $12 and that includes delivery.

Bonta Toscana Garlic Sauce
Amy Bradley-Hole sells a divine, slightly spicy garlic sauce that’s perfect on pizza, pasta, or  just about anything that is even remotely edible. You can find it all over Little Rock, including: Stratton’s Market, The Corner Store and More, Kent Walker Artisan Cheese, Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Eggshells, Terry’s Finer Foods, Honeycomb Kitchen Shop (in Rogers). Amy also sets up shop at the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Prices start at $7 per jar.

RED Boards
Who in their right mind doesn’t love a handmade cutting board? Local woodworker, Randy Davidson, makes them in a variety of shapes and sizes, including: Arkansas-shaped, Razorback-shaped, checkerboard, squares, rectangles, and he even does custom boards. I purchased one of Randy’s boards last year for my parents and they absolutely love it. Available at Eggshell’s Kitchen Co. Prices range from $49-$165.

Egg Nog at South on Main
You really haven’t lived until you’ve tried David Burnette’s award-winning egg nog at South on Main. Lucky for you, it’s available to purchase this holiday season. Take a quart or two home with you or to a holiday party. Available beginning on December 4th at the restaurant. Price based on current dairy cost and is yet to be determined.

O’Looney’s Shamrock Selections
I’ve really tried to up my wine game over the past few months and a big part of it has to do with O’Looney’s Shamrock Selections, a monthly, curated selection of the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection (usually two bottles) is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Available for gifting in single-month, six-month, and twelve-month increments. Visit the store or go online. Cost is around $60, I think (need to check my credit card statement)

Gift Baskets at Rock Town Distillery
From single barrel whiskey to basil vodka, Rock Town’s products just keep getting better and better. Hard liquor is a great gift for the holidays, and the folks over at Rock Town Distillery are putting together some nice holiday gift baskets. Available to purchase at the distillery on 6th Street. Cost varies, but each basket maxes out at around $80.

Cookie Packages from Ann Potter Baking
Sarah Declerk of Ann Potter Baking is putting together holiday cookie packages, including: 6 decorated shortbread, 6 German chocolate roll-ups, 6 cinnamon roll-ups, and 6 monster cookies. Contact Sarah at annpotterbaking@gmail.com. I recently sampled the German chocolate roll-ups and can tell you they are fantastic. Cost is $45.

Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative
Show that special someone in your life how much you love them by purchasing a membership to Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative. They’ll get a monthly shipmetn of grass-fed, pasture-raised meat. I’ve been a member for over a year, and I not only love the taste and quality of the meats,but also the service. Members get discounted prices and free shipping. Heck, you can even order meat a la carte. Prices vary.

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Quick Thoughts on Deluca’s, McClard’s, Flyway, and Mike’s Cafe

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Some quick thoughts for my latest eating experiences…

Nachos at Flyway: I’m a regular at Flyway Brewing. Overall, it’s the best-tasting beer being produced in this area, and more often than not, the bar bites match the beer’s deliciousness. This was the case with my order of Gator Nachos, a Saturday special in honor of the Hogs taking on the Florida Gators. Rather than pile a bunch of toppings over a mess of chips, Flyway does their nachos on an individual basis … with a small hunk of alligator being the main attraction this time around. Eating alligator always sounds cooler than it tastes. In truth, it’s taste is rather mundane, so it really comes down to the accompanying ingredients, which on this afternoon was a fantastic bean and corn relish, along with pickled okra and carrots.

South on Main’s Cheeseburger: South on Main was open last night for a special concert by local artist Elise Davis. The restaurant’s usual menu was replaced by a collection of comfort food dishes like spaghetti, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken. I opted for an appetizer of boudin balls, along with a cheeseburger and waffle fries. The waffle fries were so good that my tablemate and I got another order. And don’t get me started on the cheeseburger. Although last night’s version was a slightly different take on South on Main’s typical double patty nighttime concoction, the slightly pressed mound of beef was as juicy as can be, and once again proved why it’s one of the best burgers in town.

I Heart Deluca’s: You know I love Deluca’s. Hell, I tell anyone who’s willing to listen about Anthony Valinoti’s pizza in Hot Springs. I love it so much that I rarely eat anywhere else in town. But … I actually went down there and dined at another restaurant. Feeling extreme guilt after our lunch, I had to stop by Deluca’s and get two pizzas to-go. Folks, no shocker here, but it’s just not the same. This is pizza that needs to be eaten at the restaurant. Consider this public service announcement.

The Cue at McClard’s: Yes, I finally went to McClard’s BBQ. It took me damn near five years, but I did it. And there were many things I loved about this iconic Hot Springs restaurant, like the parking lot’s smoky aroma, the warm and cozy interior, and the insanely addictive Half Spread (tamale, Fritos, chopped beef, beans, onions, and cheese) gut bomb.  Sure, it’s a total guilty pleasure, but it’s one I could see myself eating once or twice a year. It’s flat out tasty. I can’t say the same about the rather pedestrian chopped pork sandwich. Simply put, none of that wonderful smoke I caught a whiff of in the parking lot made its way into the meat.

Quick Stop at Rock Town Distillery: Had my first taste of the 12-month aged Rock Town’s barley bourbon whiskey … and I loved it. So much so that I bought a bottle (think it was $39) for the impending Thanksgiving holiday. In a word, this whiskey is very smooth. I may have also left with a bottle of the coffee liqueur made with Leiva’s Coffee.

Cookies for the Holidays: Sarah Declerk of Ann Potter Baking is putting together holiday cookie packages. The Thanksgiving package includes 2 dozen cookies for $45. There will be 6 decorated shortbread in a Thanksgiving theme, 6 German chocolate roll-ups, 6 cinnamon roll-ups, and 6 monster cookies. Pre-orders are needed and encouraged (annpotterbaking@gmail.com), and while it might be too late to get in on Thanksgiving, I’m told a similar package will be available for Christmas. I recently sampled the German chocolate roll-ups and can tell you they are fantastic.

Vermicelli Bowl at Mike’s Cafe: Does Mike’s Cafe (near UALR campus) ever disappoint? The answer is no. It doesn’t. If you’ve never been, please go, order either a vermicelli bowl or the pho and report back. Mike’s is such an underrated restaurant.

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