Food Column: Food website aims to be your personal chef and shopper


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When Lori Flynn started a gluten-free diet, she kept making the same four meals over and over. Her family was bored silly.

She turned to her sister, Donielle Morgenstern of Squirrel Hill, who holds a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Ms. Morgenstern dreamed up a week's worth of gluten-free recipes and emailed them to Ms. Flynn, who loved them.

But here's the problem: Most of us don't have our own personal chef at our disposal when we're faced with diet changes or kitchen boredom.

Or do we?

Ms. Morgenstern's recipes were such a hit with Ms. Flynn that the two put their heads together and cooked up a business allowing anyone to subscribe online for Ms. Morgenstern's recipes.

Ms. Flynn, who lives in Albany, N.Y., handles marketing and business strategy for Foodhook.com, and her sister handles the food aspect.

"We realized that if we did this online, we wouldn't have to live in the same city" in order to run a business together, Ms. Morgenstern said.

Foodhook launched last month, offering four meal plans: one pot, vegetarian, gluten-free and eating lite. Subscribers choose which category they want, and every Friday they get emails with five dinner recipes and corresponding grocery lists. There's even an option to sign up for chef support so Ms. Morgenstern can answer subscribers' individual questions, such as what to substitute for ingredients they don't like or how to caramelize onions.

Eventually, she hopes to add more recipe categories as well as set up a test kitchen where she can shoot videos to demonstrate basic cooking techniques to accompany the recipes.

To create the weekly recipes, she peruses basic recipes but adds her own spin to them, perhaps by substituting certain ingredients or otherwise thinking outside the box. For example, she might think of chickpea meatballs with quinoa in place of spaghetti with meatballs. One of her menus for the "eating lite" plan, for instance, includes pan-seared salmon with baby bok choy in miso dressing, red curried chicken with ginger-infused rice and toasted mustard seed slaw, flank steak and charred lettuce salad with orange-mustard vinaigrette, cumin pan-roasted chicken breast with fennel slaw and cucumber-pineapple guacamole, and tequila-lime chipotle tostadas with lime and Greek yogurt.

After culinary school, she ran gourmet markets and worked in catering and as a personal chef. She and her husband, Aaron, moved to the Pittsburgh area for his work. Besides raising the couple's three children, she is keeping her hand in the culinary world by assisting families with personal meal plans and teaching cooking classes at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill -- and now through Foodhook.

For a sample recipe, try the Sprouted Beans & Chickpea Stew recipe accompanying this column. For more information, go to foodhook.com or facebook.com/foodhook.

Holiday

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny: Pancakes, eggs, sausage, visits with the Easter Bunny, face painting, children's crafts and an Easter Story room. 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, April 5, at East Union Presbyterian Church, Cheswick. $6 for adults; $3 for children. eastunionchurch.org.

Swedish Easter Smorgasbord: The traditional meal, known as Paskbord, includes a buffet table lined with Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes, smoked salmon, Swedish ham and cheeses, salads, desserts, cookies and more on April 11 at all IKEA Restaurants. $12.99 per person, or $4.99 for kids.

Festivals

Pittsburgh Tartan Day Celebration: Scottish foods and vendors, bagpipers, Celtic guitarists and singers, Highland and Scottish country dancers, Gaelic workshop and more. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Bethel Presbyterian Church, Bethel Park. Free admission. standrewspittsburgh.org (click "Upcoming Events").

Maple Syrup Festival: Pancake breakfast, antique machinery displays, traditional crafts, Civil War reenactment, music and live performances. April 5 and 6 at Bradys Run Park in Fallston. 724-378-1701.

Beer and food

Microbrewery Hike: Hike through Frick Park, then visit East End Brewing in Larimer for a tour and samples. 11 a.m. Saturday, April 5, in Frick Park. $40 or $30 for members. ventureoutdoors.org.

Beer Dinner: Organically grown and locally sourced produce, local beef and lamb, and beer pairings from Lawrenceville's Roundabout Brewery. 6:30 p.m. next Thursday, April 10, at Marty's Market, Strip District. $48. martysmarket.com (click "Events").

Blues, Brews and Food: Wine, beer, music, basket raffles, food and desserts. 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 11 at Westmoreland County Courthouse. $45 in advance, $50 at the door. westmorelandca.org.

Hops for HEARTH: Samples of craft beers, appetizers and silent auction. 6 to 9 p.m. April 12 at Bigelow Conference Center, Uptown. $35 for one, $60 for two; proceeds benefit homeless women and children. hearth-bp.org/hopsforhearth.htm.

Food for good

Autism awareness campaign: Through April 7, Pittsburgh-area Paneras are selling blue-and-gold-frosted football cookies to raise money for Wesley Spectrum Services, which provides support for individuals who have autism. Panera is partnering in the campaign with the Dan Marino Foundation, and the cookies represent Marino's alma mater, Pitt.

Sprouted Beans & Chickpea Stew, Sticky Black Rice, Charred Green Beans with Blackened Mustard Seeds and Sauteed Spinach

1 cup sticky black rice, cooked according to package instructions

Olive oil, as needed

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small yellow onion, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 cup sprouted beans

15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Salt, to taste

Pepper to taste

1 pound green beans, trimmed

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

8 ounces baby spinach

1/4 cup fat-free, plain Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons sriracha

Cook sticky black rice according to package instructions. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat a large pot over medium heat; coat with olive oil. Add garlic and onion; sauté until translucent and aromatic. Add oregano and tomatoes; bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add sprouted beans and chickpeas; simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat a large pan over high heat; coat with olive oil. When pan is hot, add green beans; saute until they begin to blacken. Pour in mustard seeds alongside green beans; allow them to get dark but do not burn them (they will begin to pop). Toss together. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat a pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons water and boil. Add spinach; season with salt and pepper immediately. Cook and toss until wilted.

In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt and sriracha. Set aside.

Serve sprouted beans and chickpea stew over sticky black rice; top with yogurt mixture. Serve charred green beans with blackened mustard seeds and sautéed spinach on the side.

-- Donielle Morgenstern, foodhook.com


Correction, posted April 3, 2014: The spelling of Donielle Morgenstern's last name has been corrected.


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.

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