On the sunny back porch of a craftsman home in Cheney, Heather Scholten is hovering above her lunch with a camera.
She snaps a few pictures, stopping to add a bright red napkin and silver fork. Then, she slides her iced tea over to keep a shadow from the glass out of the Wok-Seared Duck Salad.
“My family knows that they should just start without me,” she says.
Scholten is the woman behind Farmgirl Gourmet. She cooks, photographs and writes about cooking from her kitchen in Cheney.
She started the blog in 2006, mostly to share recipes with friends and photos of her farm and children with family in California. But she was recently chosen as one of 20 bloggers across the country to help promote Emeril Lagasse’s latest cookbook by writing about it on her blog.
“I didn’t have any aspirations at all when I started. It was just my little outlet to share recipes or pictures of my garden or whatever,” Scholten said. “I didn’t start putting my heart and soul into it until last November.”
That’s when Scholten decided to quit her job selling real estate and take a break. In the heart of a lingering recession, helping families sell houses had slipped from fulfilling to draining.
“You just come to a point after a while where you say, ‘Is this bringing me joy?’ and if it’s not, it is time to figure everything out again,” she said.
Since then, she’s been whipping up recipes, snapping shots of her work and writing about it with a renewed energy. She said, “I just started paying more attention to Farmgirl Gourmet and it has really taken off.”
The name of the blog was born when Scholten and her family first moved to the area from Seattle. They purchased a farmhouse on 20 acres outside of Cheney, which was homesteaded starting in 1889. In early posts, Scholten shared recipes and stories about life on the farm, where they raised chickens and goats and kept horses.
Two hard winters wore on Scholten, her husband Gary and their children. They reluctantly moved into town last year, where they’re refurbishing the 1912 Craftsman they purchased.
“Selling the farm and moving to this house made it possible for me to stay home. Having the farm was absolutely great and I miss it, but it was like the ‘Money Pit,’ ” she said.
But the sensibilities of farm life live on in Farmgirl Gourmet, where Scholten writes about family-friendly, home-cooked meals, housing renovations, her garden and her family. She and Gary have two children, ages 13 and 10.
She applied to become one of the bloggers to help Lagasse promote his latest cookbook after the social media coordinator for Zakk Designs, a Spokane dinnerware manufacturer, suggested she apply.
Scholten wasn’t expecting much. She said many of those invitations go to bloggers with a much higher visitor count than her little blog.
“I’m just small beans compared to other people,” she said.
She was chosen as one of the 20 bloggers to preview the cookbook and write about it. This month, she’s been whipping up recipes to tease readers with her reviews of the dishes from an advance copy of the book.
Scholten was able to share three recipes from the book in her posts – including the Wok-Seared Duck Salad she prepared for this food writer and a photographer (recipe follows) – and give away a few goodies, including Lagasse’s cookbook, to her readers.
She is having fun with the project and loving the increase in traffic to her blog. After Emeril Lagasse posted on her Facebook page, a couple of her neighbors called to jokingly ask for her autograph.
Scholten said she loves the feedback from readers, even when it is not a world-renowned, celebrity chef.
“When people post a comment saying, ‘I made that recipe and I loved it,’ it just makes everything so worth it,” she said.
Wok-Seared Duck Salad
From Emeril Lagasse’s new cookbook, “Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders,” which was released today. Lagasse writes: “This recipe was inspired by a Thai dish called laap, which is made with minced or ground chicken, fish, pork, or duck and seasoned with the wonderful flavors of chilies, ginger, fish sauce, and citrus. I decided to use the same flavors with a seared duck breast and make it into more of a main-course salad. This is a refreshing take on northern Thai street food.”
2 tablespoons uncooked jasmine rice
1 tablespoon minced fresh red Thai bird chili
2 magret duck breasts (about 12 ounces each) or 1 ½ pounds other domestic duck breasts
1/3 cup minced shallot
1 ½ tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
½ cup fresh basil leaves
1 medium head red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
2 cups bean sprouts
1 cup julienned red bell pepper
Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add the rice. Toast the rice, shaking the wok constantly, until all the grains have turned golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer the rice to a mortar and set aside to cool. Once the rice has cooled, grind it using a pestle until it reaches a sandy consistency. Alternatively, grind the toasted rice in a clean spice grinder. Place the rice in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Place the chili in the wok over medium-high heat and cook, shaking the wok, until lightly colored and fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove the chili from the pan and add to the bowl with the rice.
Using a paring knife, score the fatty side of the duck breasts by making shallow cuts in a diamond pattern; this allows the fat to render more easily. Place the duck breasts in the wok, fatty side down, and cook over medium heat until the skin is golden brown and slightly crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.
Transfer the duck breasts to a cutting board, slice them into thin strips, and return the strips to the wok. Add the shallot and ginger and stir-fry over medium-high heat until the duck is just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer the duck from the wok to the bowl with the rice and chili and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, orange juice and palm sugar and mix well. Pour the mixture over the duck and toss until well coated. Add the cilantro, mint, basil, lettuce, bean sprouts and julienned red pepper and toss to combine.
Serve the salad immediately.
Yield: 4 servings
Kara’s World Famous Spaghetti Sauce
From Heather Scholten, Farmgirl Gourmet. Scholten shared this recipe from a friend on her blog and used it to make Lasagna Muffins for a recent post at www.farmgirl gourmet.com. There are pictures of the process on the blog, too.
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground Italian sausage, spicy or mild
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
4 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce, or 2 (28-ounce) cans
12 ounces red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Spray a large skillet with cooking spray and add the hamburger and sausage. Break up the meat as fine as possible with a wooden spoon. Add the onion, garlic and seasonings and continue to cook for about 5 minutes. Add to the slow cooker and turn it on to low.
Add the cans of tomato sauce, the red wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to incorporate and place lid on and cook for 8 hours on low. Stir occasionally.
Note: According to Kara, “This sauce freezes well so I always make a big pot for quick dinners later. This sauce also makes delicious lasagna.”
From Heather Scholten, Farmgirl Gourmet.
2 cups Kara’s World Famous Spaghetti Sauce
1 (15-ounce) container low-fat ricotta cheese
9 tablespoons Mizithra cheese, grated and separated
5 basil leaves, chopped
18 wonton wrappers
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a small bowl add the ricotta, 3 tablespoons of Mizithra cheese and the chopped basil and stir to combine. Set aside. Spray a large muffin tin with cooking spray and line each with 1 wonton wrapper. Using a small hinged scoop or a teaspoon, drop 2 teaspoons of cheese mixture in each lined cup. Top with 1 heaping tablespoon of sauce.
Repeat layers with wonton wrapper, cheese and sauce. On the last (third) layer, place 1 teaspoon of cheese on the wonton wrapper, cover with sauce and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of Mizithra cheese.
Bake for 25 minutes uncovered. Run a sharp knife around each muffin and remove from the pan carefully to a serving platter and serve.
Yield: 6 servings