Monday, January 25, 2010

Pigs Before Swine, or Bacon

It's hard to believe that these porkers have really, well, porked up since I last saw them just a few weeks ago.  Jeff Brunty, of Brunty Farms, now has six pigs.  I teased him that he should name them Bacon, Sausage, Pork Chop, etc.

According to this 'five reasons pigs are more awesome than you post at The Oatmeal', pigs learn their names quickly, so I think Jeff just decided to call them all "Pig".

I didn't have my camera with me when I last visited.  The ground was snow covered and they were all huddled inside their straw house.  Jeff lured them out with some eggs so I could get a look.  I even went in the pen.  Today, uh, not so much on wanting to go in the pen.  As you can see, it's now a PIG pen.

They've got a pretty large area, which is fenced with an electric fence to keep them in, and the other critters out.  They've made short work of eating all of the weeds, and foliage, including the remaining pumpkins from the former garden, and generally turning the entire area into a muddy mess.  Jeff is going to move them over to fresh territory soon.  I may try and get back over there before it goes all mud again.

Let me tell you, trying to get a good photo of six hungry pigs during feeding time, is no easy feat.  The largest one seems to be especially fond of Jeff, and likes to have her belly rubbed.

So here's a few, including one showing the fat snowflakes that started falling and cut my visit short. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cook What You've Got Challenge: Day Five

I bought this beautiful bunch of organic, tops on, carrots, and the fresh mint on my last trip to West Side Market.  They were just begging to be turned into Pomegranate Balsamic Glazed Carrots from Fine Cooking.  I made them on Thanksgiving and they were a huge hit.  

 The pork tenderloins were extras from a cookdate last week, plus half a red onion and the zest-less lemon were lurking in the drawer.  Those cute little potatoes (rosy pink inside) were from my friends at Bakers Produce & Honey (who have CSA shares available, but you better act fast) purchased at the farmers market.  The rosemary and fennel were from my market trip.

I decided to make a recipe from the new Cuisine Lite magazine.  I would have been tempted to cook through the issue if it weren't for this challenge.

There was still some spinach from the farmers market, and some strawberries in the fridge.  I used a little of the red onion, chopped, a few twists of Grains Of Desire Grinder - Cape Herb & Spice Company, which has black peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves, orange rind, rose petals and grains of paradise.  I dressed with Garlic Expressions.  I added a little bleu cheese with cranberries to mine; my sister doesn't do bleu.


So here's dinner, plated.  Trust me, it tasted better than it looks in this photo.   We needed a good dinner before going to the West Point Market tasting of 50 Red Wines Under $15. 

Everyone seems to really be enjoying getting into the challenge and most of us are going to keep at for awhile.  Obviously, I haven't really made much of a dent.  I have been eating more fruit, vegetables, and non-meat meals. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Soups On! Empty Bowl Project 2010

I am honored to be participating in this year's Empty Bowl Project alongside some very talented chefs. We'll be filling the beautiful bowls made by my friends at Zeber-Martell Clay Studio with a selection of soups.  The event sold out in record time, with all of the proceeds benefiting The Good Samaritan Hunger Center.

This year's bowls are absolutely beautiful.  They have a different glaze and slightly different shape than last year's.  I know because I got mine early, and today I started testing out some soup recipes.  These bowls are like jewelry for your food.

Sticking to the Cook What You've Got Challenge, I was able to test out two vegetable based recipes today.  First I tested a Corn and Butternut Squash Chowder recipe from Everyday Food magazine.  I had the squash from the last (December) farmer's market, and the corn was from the stash I froze last summer.  I skipped the heavy cream; most of the time it doesn't add that much to a partially pureed soup for me except calories.

I did however finish it with a unique twist - a drizzle of the Butternut Squash Seed Oil I picked up in Finger Lakes on vacation.  It's really nutty and delicious.  I also sprinkled a few pepitas on top.  (I saved the butternut seeds and rinsed them, and plan to roast them).


I also made a batch of Broccoli, Red Pepper, and Cheddar Chowder.  I liked the recipe because it used the broccoli stems as well as the florets.  It was challenge compliant because I still have a stash of Adams Reserve Cheddar from winning the Cheddar Challenge.  

I didn't follow the recipe exactly.  I didn't cook the florets separately, I just tossed them in at the end with the cheese, and I used an opened carton of organic chicken stock, plus some water.

I also seasoned with a little Penzey's Mural of Flavor.   It tastes awesome, but I have to say it came out a rather odd color. 

It least it looks good in that beautiful bowl.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cook What You've Got Challenge: Day Two

Challenge Day Two.  I really didn't even start to formulate a plan until about 4:00.

When I returned home from visiting the wholesale tile place to pick out tile for my back splash, I thought enchiladas. I know, it's been a year since the kitchen was done, but I needed time to live with it before I commit.  And I knew I would be overwhelmed by the selections and drift like I was magnetized to the most expensive choice in the place.  I picked out some awesome glass tiles that co-ordinate with, but don't compete too much with the granite.  Stay tuned for how it ultimately comes together.

So I pulled out a block of light cream cheese and a package of goat cheese that likely landed in the drawer as a result of a party over purchase.  I was inspired by a basic, but delicious, black bean and goat cheese enchilada recipe popular with my fellow personal chefs, but I decided to kick it up a bit.

So, black beans, a can of Muir Glen diced tomatoes with Adobo Seasonings, which I received when I joined their connoisseurs club,  a half an onion, some of that delicious local sweet corn I froze last summer, a Cubanelle pepper, and a package Uncle Ben's Ready Rice, Vegetable Medley.

I wanted a nice, fresh salad to accompany, and I knew I had a nice ripe mango, spinach and radishes from the farmer's market, and a bowl of avocados.  Eating Well came to the rescue with this recipe for Spinach, Avocado & Mango Salad.  I had everything on hand except radicchio, which honestly I am positive I have never bought by itself for anything. 

The salad gave me the chance to bust out a favorite gadget, the Oxo Good Grips Mango Splitter.

I know some may scoff, but I have worst time getting the weird shaped pit out of mangoes without it.  With it, you take a tiny slice of the ends, line it up, and voila, no more pit, and two halves of flesh.  This one was perfectly ripe so I could just pull the peel off.  

I chopped the onion half and the cubanelle and sauteed with a smidge of olive oil and few shakes of Penzey's Chili Con Carne Seasoning.  Meanwhile I combined the other ingredients in large bowl.

Then I tasted it thought, ok, but needs something.  So a pantry forage produced a can of fire roasted diced green chiles.

And then a little more Chili con Carne Seasoning and a few good shakes of this Peppadew Sesasoning with Cilantro.

Now we're talking.  After the onion and pepper saute cooled down, I added it to the party.  The rest of the ingredients - a package of shredded Mexican cheese blend, a can of green enchilada sauce, and a large package of whole wheat tortillas brought it all together.

Sometimes it's one step forward, two steps back when you're cooking solo.  I ended up with 11 enchiladas, so 5 went back into the freezer for another meal.

Four got baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until they warmed through.  I ate two, my sister ate one, and took one home.

I kept a couple in the fridge for lunch tomorrow or Friday.  Or it may be dinner tonight.

The salad was awesome and made a great accompaniment to the enchiladas, which had just the right amount of kick after I doctored them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cook What You've Got Challenge: Day One

Day one of the throwdown that my fellow personal chefs and Facebook friends have embraced with enthusiasm.  In addition to donating our budgeted grocery allowances to Haitian relief efforts, local food pantries across the country will benefit from the purging of a group who have probably more than the average amount of items - personal in-home chefs.

We are also discovering, that despite the vast universe of delicious and tempting sounding recipes, that a terrific, flavorful, wholesome meal can be created from the tidbits that tend to accumulate in pantries, refrigerators and freezers nationwide. 

Ironically, I wasn't sure I was even going to cook for myself this evening.  It's rare that I have a dinner gig on on Monday evening, but this evening I cooked a special anniversary dinner for a couple who received my services as a Christmas gift.  He has cancer, that sadly, is now terminal, and she just had a knee replacement last week.  They were celebrating 46 years together. 

I cooked and served their meal.  He apologized when I served the entree that he didn't have much of an appetite these days and didn't want me to feel bad if he didn't eat very much.  I told him not to worry, I'd be happy to save any leftovers for another day.  I actually made twice as much food as I normally would and left everything for them to have tomorrow.  They were too full for dessert and saved it for later.  She was nearly in tears when she walked me out and told me that that was the most he had eaten in a long time.  I was almost in tears myself. 

Driving home, smelling like the meal I just cooked, with a car full of dirty pans that needed washed, I wasn't hungry at all.  I was leaning towards cereal for dinner.  But I had unearthed a single fully cooked serving of panko parmesan crusted chicken and a package of roasted tomato sauce from the freezer yesterday.

When the tomatoes were plentiful in the garden and the CSA, I roasted a bunch with some garlic and herbs, then pureed them - skins, seeds and all, and froze them in quart bags, flattened.  I see the bags every time I get out an ice cube.  It's kind of like saving the 'good' bottle of wine for a special occasion.  That never seems to arrive.  Until today.

Once I regained my appetite, I put on a pot of water to boil, for a half box of whole wheat penne.  Which I have to say, I just don't dig the texture much.  I plunked the sauce, which was mostly thawed into a saucepan to warm.

On my dairy shopping trip I got some fresh ricotta at the West Side Market.  So I tossed in about 1/4 cup along with a couple of leaves of chopped basil.

Salad was some romaine that I chopped and cleaned over the weekend with a garlic vinaigrette and a few shaving of parm.

So day one, I used an open box of whole wheat penne, some fine garden roasted tomato sauce, and a chicken parm cutlet.  And I still have leftover sauce and pasta.  Stay tuned.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Deborah Madison Speaking in Northeast Ohio

This is the best photo I shot yesterday at the monthly winter farmer's market hosted by the Countryside Conservancy.   These are some awesome radishes from Breezy Hill Farm.  Farmers Phil & Mindy Bartholomae are in the photo. I got two bunches of Easter Egg - the pretty multi-colored ones, and a big bunch of Shunkyo (the large red ones in the center).

I got some fresh spinach, some garlic, a chicken I had pre-ordered from Brunty Farms, cider, and had an awesome chicken pot pie empanada for breakfast.  Despite the time of year, still a pretty impressive showing by our local farmers.

Nationally known author, and founding chef of Greens Restaurant, Deborah Madison is coming to town.  She's the featured speaker at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park's Lyceum series on Friday, February 12th at 7 p.m. at the Happy Days Visitor Center in Peninsula (the same site as the winter farmer's market).

Tickets are $8 for non-members and can be obtained by calling  330-657-2909.

I checked out a couple of her books from the library, including the latest What We Eat When We Eat Alone: Stories and 100 Recipes.  People admitted to some seriously strange stuff.  I guess because I usually eat alone, I can't totally relate to the weird stuff people eat when no one is around to make fun of them.

I am also enjoying Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets and will probably spring for my own copy.

Are you getting ready for the Cook with What You've Got Challenge?  Several participants, including me, have revealed the contents of their fridges, freezers, and cupboards on my Facebook fan page.  I hope you'll join us and donate some of your savings to the relief effort in Haiti.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Scallops with Red Pepper Feta Sauce

I doubled up at a client on Monday and made a beef roast with veggies to bring home.  After eating said roast almost every day for lunch and dinner until Thursday, I was dying for anything that wasn't pot roast.  So I hit West Side Market yesterday for the first time this year to replenish my herb and fruit stock in prep for next week's pantry challenge.

I also hit Kate's Fish for some fresh seafood for the weekend.  Last night I made Bon Appetit's Chicken Paillards with Clementine Salsa recipe, but I subbed striped bass for the chicken.  Awesome!  And I had enough leftover fish to make a nice fish sandwich on a Rosemary Ciabatta roll from the market that I topped with cobbled together tartar sauce from creamy horseradish sauce, dill relish, and cocktail sauce.

I think Kate's has the best fresh, jumbo scallops.  Period.  Never treated with chemicals that make them artificially white, or full of liquid that makes a good sear impossible.  Usually four are more than I can eat (usually I eat three, and Jake, my 15 yr old cat eats the other one, after crying and begging).

I hit the monthly Countryside Conservancy Farmer's Market this morning, which even for the dead of Ohio winter, I have to say was pretty impressive.  I scored a chicken that I'd preordered from Brunty Farms, some fresh goat feta from Lake Erie Creamery (you have to hit their link just to hear the goats), some awesome radishes, garlic, some cider, and I had a chicken pot pie empanada for breakfast.

So dinner time.  Scallops need to be cooked.  I pulled the goat feta, a handful of pitted kalamata olives, an jar of roasted red peppers, and some fresh basil for a sauce.

I seared the scallops in a little butter and olive oil and while they seared made the sauce.  A couple of peppers, a few leaves of basil, the olives, and about 4 tablespoons of the feta went into the mini food processor til pureed.  I then heated the sauce for a few minutes in the microwave.

The leftover Harvest Grain blend, plus a handful of green beans made a nice dinner.

Alongside, I had this delicious Urban Uco Torrontes.  I am not really much of a white wine fan, but this one, from Argentina, is delicious.  I also love their Malbec.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cook with What You've Got Challenge

This poster's message is as relevant now as when it was first published as a World War II propaganda poster.  How many of us really follow this way of eating today?

The modern supermarkets are filled with thousands of products masquerading as food.  If you're a Baby Boomer, or older, think back to the grocery stores of the past.  You didn't have to 'shop the perimeter' for fresh foods - that was most of the store.  I feel kind of bad for the twenty and thirty year olds who don't know anything other than what's there today. 

I used to love to go to the Sparkle Market with my mom, where Goober, the peanut butter with grape jelly, was considered a revolutionary evolution in food products in the '70's, right after Tang.   It wasn't my favorite; I preferred Smuckers strawberry. (I see now that Smuckers owns Goober, and has strawberry.  Progress?)

Salad didn't come in a bag.  It came in the form of iceberg lettuce.  Chicken didn't come packaged sans it's bones and skin, after spending a miserable life being pumped full of hormones, packed in with the other chickens.

Rice-a-Roni might have been the San Franciso treat, but there wasn't an astonishing amount of shelf space devoted to powdered chemicals, packaged in boxes and cans, claiming to save hours of painful meal prep, so the harried housewife could get dinner on the table in thirty minutes.

Michael Ruhlman's blog recently featured an interesting post claiming that people don't cook because they've been tricked into thinking they aren't smart enough to.  The post then proceeded to describe how simple it is to roast your own chicken.  And he's completely right. 

I'll admit it  - I was sucked in to the pre-fab food for awhile.  As a young bride with little cooking experience, I fell for some of the so called convenience foods. They didn't taste that great, but you had a hot meal in a half an hour.  Mostly they motivated me to learn to cook.

Cookbooks and magazines promised tempting meals, ones I didn't always have time to craft after dragging myself to an office 30 miles from home, boiling my brains out on pointless conference calls and stupid, Groundhog Day like meetings, then returning.  So on the weekends I stocked up and cranked out the meals.  I was my own personal chef before I had even heard of one.  I squirreled away some of my stash in the freezer for later, when cooking was the last thing I wanted to do.

Gardening also totally changed the way I eat, and how I feel about my food.  When you watch your tomato grow from a tiny seed to something amazing on your plate, it makes it pretty hard to pay any amount of money for an out of season, mealy, tomato imposter.

On the upside, fresh herbs, especially cilantro were nowhere to be found in the grocery stores of the past, nor was balsamic vinegar, and pork tenderloin.  There are plenty of ingredients I am happy to see.  But there are thousands that simply baffle (and disgust) me.

So back to the challenge.  My mother is food pack-rat.  I am a food pack-rat.  So is my sister.  Clearly, I'm the worst, but I have company.  When I see an exotic new spice or a pretty new vinegar, I am hard pressed to resist.

I do the same thing thousands of other cooks do on a daily basis: I see a recipe I want to try, go to the store and buy the ingredients, then I'm left with the remains of said ingredients.  A cornucopia of tidbits that may or may not see the light of day. 

Maybe you fall for the BOGO (or buy one, throw one out as my husband used to refer to them), or the more ridiculous buy $10 for $10 schemes.  Most stores still only charge $1 on the ten-fers; you don't have to buy ten.  How many kinds of pasta do you have hiding in that pantry?

Then there's the freezer.  Which for most people it is like the food morgue.  Used properly, it's a great way to put a delicious, healthy meal on the table, and store ingredients.

I really hate wasting food.  If you think about it, it's really like throwing money into the garbage.  So on that note, as much as I have a New Year's resolution, it's to really try and concentrate on not wasting food.  Push comes to shove, I could eat nicely until spring without leaving the house.  I'd miss fresh vegetables and dairy, but I could do it.

So I issued a challenge to my Facebook friends that I plan to take myself.  You get one trip to get fresh vegetables and dairy. Then for at least a week, cook with what it's in your pantry and freezer for a week.  No other trips to the store permitted.  Farmer's markets and CSA Shares(if you are fortunate enough this time of year), are fully, 100% encouraged. 

So, can you cook meals for at least seven days on what you have on hand?  For most of us that should be a complete piece of cake (pardon the pun). If you really want to test your mettle, shoot for two weeks to a month, with only weekly produce, and dairy supplements.

Personally, I think it's going to be easier to see what's on hand, then create something with your finds.  For most people, that's not how meals are planned.

The challenge starts Monday, January 18th.  Let's see what you've got.  I hope you'll leave some comments next week on what you're cooking and your progress, or link to your own blog.  Post photos of your pantry, fridge and freezer if you dare. 

I'll update progress on the Dine-In Diva fan page on Facebook too, so if you aren't already a fan, sign up today.

The prize?  Well you already spent the money, so you might as well use what you bought.  You ought to save enough during the week to treat yourself to a much needed massage.

But to sweeten the pot just a little bit, I will send the most creative cook a copy of MinuteMeals, a cookbook of 20 minute gourmet meals, with full menus, including shopping and pantry lists for each meal.

I'd also like to suggest that you donate some of the money you'll save by not grocery shopping to aid the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.  Here's a link to The American Red Cross.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Full of Crop: Chef's Table & Menu at Crop Bistro

I usually buy a couple of gift certificates when the Cleveland Independents, a group of 80 locally owned restaurants, have their sales.  (You have to be quick, they go fast!)  Then for whatever reason, I tend to hang onto them until the expiration date looms near, then I have to get on the stick and use it or lose it.

I have been wanting to try Crop Bistro & Bar, and was lucky enough to score one of their certs in the last sale.  From what I'd read and heard about chef Steve Schimoler,  he seemed like my kind of a chef; self-taught,  dedicated to seasonal cuisine and local ingredients, with a sense of humor. 

When I found out there was a 6 seat chef's table overlooking the kitchen, and Tour de Crop, a chef's choice tasting menu ($65), that was my pick, but my sister admitted to be a little bit scared about the chef's choice part.  While I've managed to get her palate expanded quite a bit, visions of offal and lots of mushrooms probably crossed her mind.

After parking with the valet shared with neighboring, Johnny's Downtown,  we were pleasantly greeted and shown to our seats overlooking the kitchen.  It's not a large restaurant, but was mostly full and not too noisy when we arrived around 7:00. By 8:00 the tables were filled, and the noise increased a bit.  Most of which came from a nearby table of ladies, one of whom had a cackle that could nearly shatter glass.  I swore there were going to be eggs under one of those chairs.

We started off with a glass of Reginato Celestina Malbec 2007.  I love Malbec, but had never had a sparkling version.  It was delicious, and the only actual ordering decision I made all night.  Look at the pretty color in the glass.

Our waitress (who did an excellent job all evening), took care of the rest of the pairings at our request.  She was also nice enough to introduce us to all of the kitchen staff, and my apologies for not retaining any names.

We were seated on the right side, so we spent most of the night watching the garde manger, and the saute station.  Everyone was great about answering our questions and showing us the dishes we weren't getting - it's kind of like gawking at what your neighbors ordered without actually having to rubberneck their table. The skirt steak which came with mini-gratin pan with a potato and Brussels sprouts dish was popular, and looked yummy.

First course was a devilish play on ham and eggs - deviled egg with chiles - a little ancho, some chipotle, so it had a pleasant kick, topped with a bit of crispy prosciutto and plated with a beet sauce and some balsamic gastric.  Michelle's egg was dyed pink with some of the beet juice.


Next we were brought some homemade cornbread sticks with honey and black pepper. Which really inspired me to get the cast iron corn stick pan I scored at a tag sale seasoned so I can get it into service.

Our next wine was presented, a Coopers Creek Pinot Noir, 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand. 

The next course arrived, two perfectly cooked shrimp atop polenta with smoky bacon lardons, with a hint of chipotle, and a maple syrup sauce.  It was smoky, sweet, and warm, kind of like curling up a next to a nice fire on snowy day.

After practically licking the plates clean (those corn sticks came in handy...), we watched the action start to pick up in the kitchen as most of the tables filled.  There was also a party of twenty in a private room, so that kept things hopping.

One of the signature starters is a Warm Balsamic Popcorn, and we watched plenty of it getting prepped.  Thin strips of red pepper are tossed in a pan with hot oil, then previously popped corn is tossed in the pan, and finished with a balsamic syrup, baby arugula,  and generous handfuls of grated parm.  We got a sample at the end of the meal, but were too pleasantly stuffed to truly appreciate it by then. 

At this point, I was full enough, I could have stopped eating, but who are we kidding?  We aren't even halfway through.

Next course - two perfectly seared large sea scallops, served on top of a fried redskin potato slice and finished with white truffle emulsion.  The white truffle emulsion was added by chef Steve in front of us from a iSi Dessert Maker/ Cream Whipper - Brushed Aluminum,just like one I happen to own.  Of course it didn't occur to me to reduce some cream with shallots, and 'truffle-ize', as the chef explained to me how it was made.  Most of my clients aren't ready to be truffle-ized.  I need to work on that.

Meanwhile, the action in the kitchen continues, including some mugging for the camera.  They also tickled the dishwasher while he was gathering pans from under the stovetop.  Thankfully he laughed and didn't come up swinging (like I might have...).

The next course was duck confit with a poached egg served atop some amazing smoky black beans and a smoked shallot demi.  (Admit it, you just made a lip smacking, moany noise, didn't you? Or was that me?)

Our next wine was Jim Barry "Lodge Hill" Shiraz 2007, Clare Valley, Australia.  It was excellent, and I thought it paired nicely with the next course of pork belly, but not as much with the final meat course of lamb.  (by then, I really didn't mind)

Here is the pork belly with pickled vegetables and molasses.  Underneath was a Cortland apple and cherry hash.  I really loved the acidity that the pickled vegetables added to the dish.  It was a party in your mouth, and delicious with the shiraz.

Chef Steve decided to give us a little break, where we both wished we'd worn stretchier pants, to chill out with the "Cropsicle' du jour, which was Cranberry, Rosemary, Apple.  It tasted just like a jelly I used to make at the end of summer.  A little palate cleansing frozen sorbet on a stick - clever!

After a little rest, the final meat course was presented, a seared lamb loin with a black fig demi, fennel, and butternut squash risotto.  (The moaning noise was definitely me this time).

Michelle's first lamb, she declared it not as 'lamby' as she feared, which we determined meant gamey.  The risotto was outstanding - creamy, nicely cooked, with lovely bits of squash.  We aren't discretely attempting to lick the plates anymore at this point.  There's not much room left.  Just a little bit for dessert.

Dessert was a trio:  A Waffle with Ice cream and Apples, Caramel, Cranberries,Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Pretzel Unlogic (Chocolate Cream, Caramel Pretzel Crust, Malted Whipped Cream, Pretzel Tuile), and Tangerine Creamsicle Float - Tangerine Soda, Vanilla Ice Cream, Whipped Cream.

It was an outstanding meal, a really fun experience to watch the kitchen in action, and everyone, from the hostess, our waitress, chef Steve, and the entire kitchen crew, made it a night to remember.

We'll be back, save us a seat at the chef's table.