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‘Set Your Mind To It’

Ellington Woman Earns Her Cooking Opportunities

Allison Evans assists childrens’ cooking class participant, Joshua, while assembling a caramel hot chocolate mix in a Mason jar gift. Submitted photo

Many parents have said “you can do it if you set your mind to it.” Allison Evans may or may not have heard that line, but she certainly set her mind to doing many things over the years that proved the line to be true, at least in her case.

Before she applied for a cooking job at the Randolph Manor as a teenager, she had done very little cooking at home, but led the person who hired her to believe she knew how to cook.

“I was just looking for a job,” she said. “Cora Morrison was a good leader.”

After graduating from high school, Evans studied business administration at Jamestown Community College. From there she went to the Disney College Program at Disney World near Orlando, Fla. She was paired with “a great chef in a fancy restaurant.”

“I’ve been picking up this stuff as I go,” she said. “I feel so much more comfortable in a kitchen setting than anything else, but sometimes I still wonder what I’m doing.”

A whimsical topper to a 2-tiered fruit tray made by Allison Evans while employed by Studio D Catering. Submitted photo

After completing six months in the program, she dated a chef.

“He had been to culinary school. I feel like I benefited from culinary school without the $80,000 bill.”

When she returned to New York state she reapplied to the Randolph Manor, but as a head cook this time.

“Again, I totally had no idea what I was doing. I wanted to learn more and once I feel I’ve learned as much as I can, I’m ready to move on.”

Her next job was that of a short order cook in the cafe at Jamestown Community College. From there she cooked at The Pad in Kennedy. After volunteering at St. Susan Center’s summer lunch program, she was hired in stocking.

“I have a passion for zero food waste,” she admitted. “I am so obsessed with eliminating food waste that I thought the soup kitchen would be a good spot to work.”

She left the soup kitchen after a year and started making sunflower butter after acquiring a $1,600 Robot Coupe food processor for $25 at a yard sale.

“I’ve used it for five years. I bring it to every job and it makes my life so much easier.”

After a week without pay, she contacted a caterer to see about trying to sell the sunflower butter. The next day the caterer broke her leg and needed help finishing out the season.

She stretched the truth one more time by saying “I’m a caterer” when she had no experience but was going to be catering a friend’s upcoming wedding.

“Honestly, that was one of my favorite jobs. I learned a lot from Diana Scott. I have a catering mentality.”

Along the way, she had volunteered at The Great Rhythm Revival a retreat with locally-sourced organic cuisine, where she helped feed 200 retreat participants breakfast, lunch and dinner. The next summer she was hired to work at the festival located on the grounds of Green Heron Growers in Panama. She has since been employed by the Panama business for the last five years. Four of those years were spent as a kitchen employee and she has been the manager for the last year in the kitchen that provides lunches for the employees and caters luncheons and festivals, including the well-known The Great Blue Heron Music Festival which is attended by 6,000 people.

“She’s like Grace under fire,” says co-worker Kaylee Sauers. “She flies through it like it’s nothing.”

“Julie Rockcastle is a great boss,” said the cook. “It’s a giant group effort. We all bring something to the table. We’re like a family here and Julie’s the mom and we all just know how to pull things together.”

Recently, she and William Petransky, Green Heron’s garden manager, attended a master food preserver course through Cornell Cooperative Extension where they earned certification to teach.

Green Heron offers shiitake workshops, where the farmer in the mushroom yard teaches “the ends and outs” of growing mushrooms on one’s own property.

“They get to take home a log that has been inoculated with shiitake spores,” says Evans. “I hope to start food preservation workshops in the future.”

“I feel farm to table cooking and growing your own food and serving homegrown ingredients is the direction everyone should be going in,” she adds. “Morally I can’t go back to supermarket shopping.”

For the last year and a half she has been teaching childrens’ cooking classes at Farman Free Library in Ellington and for the past year, has been employed one day per week as a library clerk. She, also teaches food preservation classes at the library.

“I’ve finally got jobs that my kids fit into,” she said when referring to the times she can take her children to her work. “I’m hoping my kids get my work ethic.”

Her partner is Dennis Gilbert. They have two children, Lauren, 9, and Jarred, 5.

They’ve spent three years remodeling and restructuring after acquiring an abandoned house. A month was spent taking down a house that supplied some of the materials to help complete the redo of their own home.

“We camped for a week of that month and have used all salvaged materials,” she said. “It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

She is proud of an accent wall she constructed in the living room of the home using scraps of lumber her father brought from his job.

“I squared them up on the saw in my living room and asked the neighbors for leftover stain. It was my birthday present to me.”

When she is not at work, she enjoys spending time with her children and she lists hand drumming as a hobby.

“We like to geocache and try new things. My daughter’s trying football and we are going to try skiing.”

The Ellington mother has submitted recipes using some of her favorite ingredients.

“Shiitake Mushrooms are one of my favorite ingredients because they have an intense, earthy flavor and are very good for you. They are low in calories and they are high in fiber and in several B vitamins.”

You can find shiitakes at the local farmers markets featuring Green Heron Growers or on site at the growers. Sign up for a tour of the mushroom yard to see how the mushrooms are grown locally and find how easy it is to grow your own shiitakes. The harvest begins in April, when the weather is cool, slows down in the warmer months and then peaks again in the fall.

“In one of my very favorite dishes, Baked Shiitake Mushrooms, the shiitakes are simply baked and enjoyed as a side dish.”

“The recipe for Shiitake Pate comes right out of the Green Heron Growers farm store. This recipe is simple and an easy snack dip to make for your next event.”

Apple Crisp Pancakes is a spin on a staple dish at a farm to table retreat, The Great Rhythm Revival, which takes place the second weekend in August at the event center.

Green Heron Growers is located at 2361 Waits Corners Road in Panama.

Baked Shiitake

Mushrooms

4 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T white wine

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dried thyme

1 lb fresh Shiitake mushrooms

2 T chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, white wine, kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder and dried thyme. Add mushrooms and toss to coat. Transfer coated mushrooms to prepared baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 20 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve. For a crispier “mushroom chips” bake for an extra 8-10 minutes.

Shiitake Pate

1/2 c hazelnuts

2 T parsley

2 lbs Shiitake mushrooms

3 cloves garlic

4 T butter

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp thyme

8 oz cream cheese

1/4 c sherry

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Roast hazelnuts 15-20 minutes. Cool completely. Using a food processor, finely chop hazelnuts and parsley together into meal. With food processor, chop Shiitakes (with stems) and garlic. Saute mixture in butter over medium heat for 20 minutes. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Remove from heat. Working in batches, use the food processor to puree half each of cream cheese, sherry, mushroom mixture and hazelnut meal. Transfer to a large bowl, stir and enjoy with crackers, bread or crostini.

Teriyaki Beef Soup

5 lbs. Green Heron Growers bone-in beef short ribs

2 T vegetable oil

1/2 c teriyaki sauce

1/2 c Tamari

4 c + 2 c water

1 T salt

1 T pepper

2 c julienned white onions

2 c chopped carrots

2 c chopped celery

1 lb sliced Shiitake mushrooms (dried or fresh)

10 whole cloves roasted garlic, peeled.

4 c chopped swiss chard

Heat oil in Dutch oven, working in 2 batches. Brown short ribs on all sides. Add Teriyaki, Tamari and water. Cover and simmer for about 4 hours or until meat falls off bone. Remove meat from Dutch oven; cool slightly. Discard bone and fat. Shred meat; return to Dutch oven. Add remaining 2 c water, onions, carrots, celery, Shiitakes and roasted garlic cloves. Simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, adding swiss chard to the soup during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Apple Crisp Pancakes

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1 c milk

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 large apple, shredded

Streusel Topping

1/4 c cold butter

1/3 c flour

1/2 c brown sugar

1/3 c large flake oats

1/4 tsp cinnamon

Combine flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Add eggs, milk, vanilla

and cinnamon. Whisk until smooth. Stir in shredded apple. For the streusel, combine all ingredients with a fork or your fingers until coarse crumbs form. Heat a large griddle over medium heat. Ladle batter onto heated griddle and cook 1 minute before topping with streusel. Divide streusel evenly among the pancakes. Cook pancakes 4-5 minutes on the first side (until golden brown) before flipping and cooking another 4-5 minutes on the second side. Toast some streusel by itself on the griddle to top pancakes. Serve warm with Green Heron Growers maple syrup or homemade Cinnamon Apple Syrup.

Cinnamon Apple Syrup

3 tart apples, peeled and chopped

3/4 c packed brown sugar

2 T butter

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/3 c water

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

In a saucepan, combine all of the syrup ingredients except for the apples. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and melt butter. Boil for 1 minute and then reduce heat to medium. Add apples. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until apples are desired tenderness. Depending on how much moisture your apples release, you may need to stir in an additional tablespoon or so of water or apple juice to reach desired consistency. Serve over Apple Crisp Pancakes.

Cream of Shiitake Soup

10 oz large shiitake mushrooms

1 T olive oil

1 T butter

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

2 1/2 c water

1 1/2 c half and half

3 green onions

Slice mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil and butter in a large pan. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes, until mushrooms soften. Remove half of the mushrooms to a separate plate. To the other half, add chopped onion, carrots, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking vegetables for 10 more minutes, until onions and carrots soften a bit. Add water to vegetables in the pan and bring to boil over medium heat for 20 minutes.

Some liquid should visibly evaporate, leaving reduced stock, but don’t let all water evaporate. Add more water if needed. Remove from heat and add the stock to a food processor. Process the mixture until it achieves puree consistency. Put puree back into the same cooking pan and then add reserved cooked mushrooms. Add half and half. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer (low heat) and cook covered for 5 minutes, constantly stirring. Add more salt and pepper if desired. Chopped green onions may be added towards the end or use as garnish.

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