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Hot Stuff!: Local chefs provide their best recipes using ingredients already in your kitchen

In my last six years as a food writer for Motif, I have gotten to know and love the people whose food and drink I write about, and they are such rockstars. Despite the uncertainty, the fear and the difficulties that lie ahead, I sensed so much hope, particularly because of the love and support you’ve given them, their community, those who demonstrate their devotion even now. So, first of all, thank you. I hope you continue to support your favorite restaurants — in whatever ways you are able — because we all need each other right now. And if you find yourself homebound with an assortment of canned and dried foods, our top chefs, bakers and mixologists have offered the gift of their culinary advice. (Recipes included at the end.)

COCKTAILS 

Willa Van Nostrand, Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails; littlebitte.com, @littlebittecocktails

How do you lift your “spirits” at a time like this? Willa Van Nostrand, owner of Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails, recommends adding some beauty to your drinks. Her company utilizes up to 50 edible flowers in their cocktails, and she willingly shared some of her flower-foraging secrets. 

“The flowers that are beginning to blossom in Providence are violets, tulips, dandelions and forsythia. As long as they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, you can eat them.” 

A few tips: look for organically grown flowers, those far from the roadside, and make sure you have permission to pick them. I recommend bringing Google, or a trustworthy botanist friend who can make sure you’ve identified the plant correctly. Why bother adding flowers to your drinks? “Edible blossoms are for visual pop as much as flavor. Violets taste lightly floral and a little bit minty; tulips taste a little grassy and nutty – each variety tastes a little bit different. Dandelions are bitter and astringent, but smell earthy and sweet. And forsythia is mild with a touch of tartness.” 

Included is the recipe for a Quarantini, which requires only a few common ingredients. Snap a photo of it and tag Little Bitte on Instagram, and visit their website for more recipes.

“It’s time for all of us to pause, reevaluate our lives and think about the future we want to create together,” Van Nostrand said. Cheers to that.

How to support: follow @littlebittecocktails and consider booking them for your next event (when we’re allowed to have those again). 

ENTREES

Bre Goldsmith, Bites by Bre, Providence; bitesbybre.com, @bitesbybre

What does a chef do after she’s cooked for everyone else? “I just hedged my bets by ordering six entrees of Pad Thai, aka: my culinary security blanket, from my favorite Thai joint.” 

Bre Goldsmith is the owner of a meal delivery service and creator of In the Round Friday night dinners — an enchanted evening in PVD. She’s also down to earth and knows how to wield canned and frozen foods effectively. “I’m inclined toward Asian-influenced foods, so I just bought ginger in bulk and threw it in the basement, where it can stay fresh and happy for months. For some reason, ginger just gives things such a summery taste, which, in the pits of boxed Mac ‘n Cheese and indoor-spring, I think we’re all craving right now.” 

While she doesn’t encourage people to visit the grocery stores unless it’s necessary, she does have a couple of staples she recommends having on hand: chicken stock concentrate (Better than Bouillon brand) and pre-made pizza crusts. “I think for many people, the challenge with cooking is that they don’t know where to start. But, with these two staples, you can always seem to catch the tail of last night’s meal, with little added effort. A scant cup of leftover saag or curry might seem unappealing to a child, but somehow Indian Pizza is a crafty rebrand. Just stretch your leftovers across the crust, throw it in the oven and it is born anew. Similarly, you can build a very nice chicken soup using the aforementioned broth and some of the vegetables you might be throwing away from other kitchen efforts. Zucchini ends, carrot peels, chard or parsley stems, celery leaves, a handful of orzo or a lone sausage link can multiply into a meaningful and soul-warming feast.”

Even I perked up when she said “Indian Pizza” — everyone wins.  

How to support: sign up for meal delivery (no sense worrying about shelf-stable foods at all!), or check out Transported Tuesdays (a 3-course meal for $33), or Fridays In the Round (a 4-course meal for $38) with doorstep drop-off in/around PVD.

Nick Rabar, Avenue N Restaurant Group; avenuenamericankitchen.com, @avenuenamericankitchen

Nick Rabar is a chef, business owner, TV personality and ray of sunshine in a cloudy time. “Keep positive constantly and don’t let anything, including this, break any of us,” he says when I mention my concerns for friends. “Lots of thoughts and prayers for your friends — there will be relief in the end. Remind them to stay healthy and there’s a world of people who will support them when the time is right.”

In addition to continuing to run Avenue N American Kitchen and The Pantry for take-out and delivery, and working to ready the new location on Hope Street, Rabar is finding time to get out and run, one of his favorite pastimes. “Don’t be surprised if you bump into me on the Blackstone Boulevard, it would be great to see you … from six feet away of course!” From sunshine to family time, Rabar is making sure to feed his mental health as well as his physical health.

The recipe he shared are for skillet enchiladas, made with black beans and sweet potatoes. “I chose this recipe because it only takes a few ingredients, most are common pantry items, and it’s a healthy recipe at a time when it’s hard to eat healthy.”

So, put down the bag of potato chips and give this a try.

How to support: Avenue N and The Pantry are offering take out, curbside, or delivery; call 401-228-6691 to order

Rebecca (Becca) Brady, Hometown Poké – hometownpoke.com, @hometownpoke

Becca Brady was recently interviewed for another Motif article regarding a joint-letter she composed with owners of three small restaurant businesses in Rhode Island, petitioning the governor to show some compassion on this industry right now. She was still so kind as to provide a recipe for her favorite go-to, vegan chili — or in light of recent events, “Quarantine Vegan Chili.”

“This is my favorite vegan chili recipe. I usually make mine with Trader Joe’s soy chorizo, and I swear, people think that this recipe has meat. If you don’t have soy chorizo on hand, I’ve done this without and it’s just as tasty. The real key to this recipe is the cocoa powder.”

Hold the phone. Did she just say two of my favorite words?

“Cocoa powder adds a wonderful depth of flavor, similar to mole.”

Although this recipe has a longer list than most, even I own most of the ingredients, and I use myself as a gauge for the most culinarily unfit. And if worse comes to worst, I’m ordering a Hometown Poké bowl with extra Sriracha aioli because it can sustain me through the darkest of times. 

How to support: You can order takeout with white-glove curbside pickup (call 401-868-1247) or delivery through Grubhub, Postmates and DoorDash. Adjusted hours are 11am – 8pm. You can also purchase gift cards online here.

Richard Allaire, Metacom Kitchen, Warren; metacomkitchen.com, @metacomkitchen 

Chef Richard Allaire has reframed the current moment as an opportunity to work on a passion project he’s had in mind to do, but not the time to work on. “The best thing to do now is adapt and do the best you can.” The idea was this: a pasta meal kit, with all of the ingredients you need to recreate the pastas you love at Metacom kitchen. 

“We were already making sauces ahead of time, so on a busy day we can be consistent with our pasta orders.” These sauces are a few notches higher than Ragu, created with locally raised rabbits and duck, fresh vegetables and herbs. But for Chef Allaire, the idea of leftover or take-out pasta was sacrilege since the best time to eat pasta is just after it’s made.

There are a variety of pasta kits, including a vegetarian pasta with mushroom sauce, and they also come with fresh bread and butter. “I’m posting short videos on Instagram, which provide quick and concise instructions” — helpful for someone like me who needs to be reminded to put a little salt in the water first.

“I’m just trying to make the most out of the situation,” Chef Allaire says, and that’s great advice for all of us.

How to support: Purchase a pasta meal kit or order from the take-out menu, open for pick up from 4 – 7pm, Wed – Mon (CLOSED TUESDAY). Fresh bread available with 24 hours’ notice.

DESSERT

Morgan Gray, Whisk Me Away; whiskmeawayri.square.site, @whiskmeawayri

Morgan Gray is the person who revolutionized my life with cake jars (a ready-to-eat cake … in a jar) and she assures me anyone can make tasty desserts even without a lot of equipment, baking skills or ingredients. I’ll be the judge of that.

“When you get to the root of baking, it’s fairly simple,” Gray says. “You can pull from your cupboard: flour, salt, sugar, unsalted butter, maybe some baking powder or soda, any add-ins.” 

I hope that add-ins involve chocolate because, shockingly, I have plenty of that in my Quarantine Cupboard.

“Try hopping through some baking blogs,” Gray suggests. “You can usually find recipes for a ‘one bowl’ desserts or pastries and some really delicious ‘back to basics’ chocolate chip cookie or no-bake cheesecake recipes.” 

And don’t be afraid to use substitutions, which (as a tip) you can often find in the comments. “No chocolate chips? Maybe a cranberry cookie with dried cranberries, or a cinnamon oatmeal cookie with foods that you usually use for breakfast,” she says. As if people don’t eat chocolate chips for breakfast.

If you’re looking to use items you already have in your pantry, there’s also bread pudding. “It’s the kind of dessert that can handle some funky add-ins and come out delicious! Plus, if you’ve got some bread that needs to be re purposed, it’s perfect!”

Gray seems to be the queen of repurposing. “If your cookies are flat and crunchy, crush ’em up and use them as a mix in for your yogurt, or a topping for your ice cream. Cake that’s dense, dry or lacking flavor? Crumble it up, add some frosting, and roll it into cake pops or truffles.”

Those are magical words. 

How to support: You can special order any day of the week — cakes, cheesecakes, etc. — and typical Saturday store hours are now through preorder via the link in her Instagram bio. Also, you can ship selected baked goods (including cake jars!) and purchase gift cards online.

RECIPES

Quarantini by Little Bitte 

1 ½ oz vodka (We love Bar Hill Vodka from VT or Tito’s) 

¾ oz native honey syrup (mix equal parts honey and warm water to dilute)

¾ oz fresh lemon juice 

Fresh herbs or edible blossoms (for garnish)

Directions:

Combine liquid ingredients in a bar tin, add ice, shake vigorously for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh edible blossoms, dried rose petals or fresh herbs. 

“Asian PB&J for Adults” (think easy comfort food with an Asian flair) from BitsbyBre

Sauce

3/4 cup chunky peanut butter

1/2 cup orange juice

2 Tbsp. rice vinegar (or another white vinegar, cider vinegar, etc.)

1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or a squirt of sriracha

2 Tbsp orange marmalade, or honey

2 Tbsp sesame oil, optional

To accompany the sauce

Small onion

Sliced peppers

Stir fry ingredients, fresh or frozen (broccoli, corn, succotash)

Salt/pepper to taste

Chicken thighs or breast (optional)

Directions:

Take all of the sauce ingredients and add them to a blender. 

Warm a splash of oil in a pan, and sauté a chopped onion plus a few sliced peppers or any miscellaneous stir-fry-ish ingredients you want to add

Stir everything around in the pan until things begin to wilt and combine (a few minutes), adding in some salt and pepper as you go. Optional: If you want to really live large, slice up some chicken thighs or breast and add that to the pan and cook until done. 

Remove from the heat and toss with the sauce. Voila!

Fried Rice from BitesbyBre

3 cups cooked rice (or even quinoa is fabulous)

2 Tbsp ginger (chopped)

3 garlic cloves (sliced)

Fresh or frozen vegetables of choice

1 egg scrambled (if you’re feeling fancy)

Sauce

3 Tbsp soy sauce

1.5 Tbsp maple syrup

2 Tbsp fish sauce (or sub soy sauce)

1 Tbsp sesame oil (optional, but this really does make it sing)

Chili flakes to taste (no more than ½ tsp)

Directions:

Heat a few tablespoons of oil (ideally coconut, but any oil will do), and sauté ginger and garlic.

Add any vegetables you have and stir fry until they coalesce. You can also scramble an egg into the pan. Just keep in mind that you can always add a bit of water if the pan starts getting sticky. 

Add in cooked rice or quinoa and stir to combine. 

Remove from heat and add the dressing. (For dressing: mix ingredients listed above) 

If your fridge still has some herbs floating around, then fresh cilantro, parsley or even basil are marvelous in this. The more the better.

Skillet Enchiladas by Avenue N American Kitchen

Serves: 2 – 4

2 packages yellow corn tortillas, torn to size (recommend Maria & Ricardos)

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely smashed

1 can black beans, drained

2 cups baby spinach

2 cups jack cheese, shredded

1 8oz-pack red enchilada sauce (recommend Frontera brand)

1 tsp oil

As needed kosher salt

Optional garnishes: chopped cilantro, lime wedges, yogurt (recommend brand: Fage), hot sauce

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a round cast iron skillet, place torn tortillas to cover bottom of the pan. Add some of the smashed sweet potatoes, black beans, spinach, cheese and sauce.

Add another layer of tortillas and repeat.

Add a final layer of tortillas and top with sauce and cheese.

Bake covered for 15 minutes. Remove cover and bake for additional 15 under cheese is melted and its hot all the way through.

Serve with yogurt, cilantro, lime and your favorite hot sauce.

Quarantine Vegan Chili from Hometown Poké

1 package Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo (optional) 

2 Tbsp olive oil 

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3 cloves minced garlic 

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp ground cumin

2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp paprika 

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 28oz can diced tomatoes 

1 16oz can tomato sauce

1 Tbsp tomato paste

2 cups vegetable stock

1 Tbsp salt

1/2 Tbsp pepper

Toppings: diced avocado, green onion

Directions:

In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil on low-medium heat. 

Add onion and cook until translucent. 

Add soy chorizo, red bell peppers, garlic, chili powder, cocoa powder and cumin. (Note: If you don’t have soy chorizo, this tastes just as good without it.) 

Mix together and cook for 2 minutes. 

Add beans, cayenne, paprika, oregano, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and vegetable stock. Mix everything, cover, and cook on low-medium heat for about 45 minutes. 

When it’s ready, top it off with diced avocado and chopped green onion. 

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