Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: Fast, Fresh & Green

Grilled Green Beans with Dijon Thyme Butter
I was excited when I learned that Susie Middleton, the former editor of one of my favorite cooking magazines, Fine Cooking, was publishing a vegetable cookbook. Fast, Fresh & Green has been on my shelf for a few months, and I finally was able to give a good test drive this past weekend with some of my CSA vegetables.

I choose recipes from the grilling chapter, one of the eleven chapters which are broken out by type of technique, which I really like. After a couple of introductory chapters on stocking your pantry, and the basics of shopping for, storing and cooking vegetables, the technique chapters cover quick-roasting, quick-braising, hands-on sauteeing, two-stepping, no cooking, stir-frying, grilling, and a bonus chapter on baking gratins.

I made the Grilled Green Beans with Dijon Thyme Butter and this time, I let the beans get a little more color than my first attempt at grilled green beans a few nights ago.  A simple butter with a touch of dijon, fresh lemon thyme from my garden, some lemon zest and a few capers really added some zip to the beans.

Next I made the Grill-Roasted Bell Peppers with Goat Cheese and Cherry Tomato Dressing, a perfect recipe to use the bounty of my CSA and garden.  The creamy cheese from Lake Erie Creamery was delicious against the smoky pepper, and the cherry tomato dressing made with a good handful of my favorites, Black Cherry, was like summer on a plate. 

Grill-Roasted Bell Peppers w/Goat Cheese and Cherry Tomato Dressing
Finally, I made the Foil-Grilled Corn on the Cob with Maple Butter.  I managed to get a a bit of char on the corn, plus infuse a little of the lemon thyme flavor into the corn while it was grilling.  Lime zest helps keep the maple syrup infused butter from seeming overly sweet.

All three recipes were quick, simple, and delicious.  I made a three course dinner out of them and was pleasantly full. I am looking forward to trying out some of the recipes in the other chapters.  This one is definitely a keeper.  (*I purchased my copy and received no consideration from the author or publisher for this review)

Gadget Love: Thermapen

I have killed more digital thermometers than I'd care to count.  So I finally broke down and bought a Thermapen.   I was hoping to use some Amazon points I'd accumulated, but by the time the certificates arrived, they were showing out of stock.

So I ordered directly from the company and even got free shipping.  Was here in no time.  And check out the fabulous color.  (There are plenty to choose from).

According to the package I can even use it to check the temperature of pavement.  Handy, if I really do want to fry an egg on the road.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pasta w/Brie & Tomatoes and Grilled Caesar

Mayfield Creamery Brie and Fresh Tomatoes 
It's been a very busy season for the my alter ego, the Dine-In Diva.  Many of my previous catering clients have held repeat events this summer, and I've barely had time to think about cooking for myself.  The CSA share boxes have been coming, the garden, while not the best harvest, has been providing, and I honestly can't remember the last time I went on a shopping trip just for myself.  I'm eating on the fly.

Tonight I had a 5 ounce piece of Mayfield Road Creamery's Brie, which I have been too late to score at previous farmers markets, but managed to get yesterday.  I love, love, love their cheese (which should be obvious from looking at me lately - I look like cheese and pie have settled in on a happy woman).

Tomatoes, oh how I love thee.  This time of the year, they barely need a swipe with a knife and some salt and pepper, and I am in heaven.  I also have loads of fresh basil.

Brie, Tomatoes, Basil, EVOO, S&P
I normally don't like the edible rind on brie, but I have to say, Mayfield Road Creamery's is delicious, and I didn't want to waste it.  I seeded and chopped the tomatoes, diced the brie and sliced some basil and tossed in a bowl.

Meanwhile, I cooked a pound of whole wheat fusilli:

Whole Wheat Fusilli
While the pasta was cooking, I fired up the grill to make a grilled caesar salad.  I made a dressing with a tablespoon of mayo, a teaspoon of anchovy paste, a tablespoon of grated parmesan, a drizzle of white wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.

Grilled Romaine
You don't want to overdo the romaine grilling - brush it with some EVOO, and slap it on a hot grill, sizzle, turn, remove.  I hate hot, limp lettuce; you are going for some grill flavor, but still plenty of crunch.

Grilled Caesar Salad
Fusilli w/Brie, Tomatoes, & Basil

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tomato Tasting and Salsa Competition

Tomato Varieties Labeled for Sampling 
One of my favorite farmers market events is the annual tomato tasting.  This is the 4th year that Countryside Conservancy's market has held the tasting.

The market vendors contribute different varieties, which are labeled, then set out for sampling along with some salt and a comprehensive listing/tasting note sheet.   It really is amazing to see the different colors, shapes, and to taste how different the flavors can vary.

One of the salsas vying for 1st prize 
Back this year for a friendly salsa competition, were Jonathon Sawyer and the chefs of The Greenhouse Tavern.  I tried all of the entries last year, and preferred Jonathon's, and this year I reached the same conclusion.

His salsa had heirloom tomatoes (of course), shallots, radishes and fresh basil.  It was well balanced and delicious.  As were all of the other entries, some of which featured fresh sweet corn, some had melon,  and one had fish sauce as the 'secret' ingredient (the salsa was delicious, and the fish sauce not identifiable). One was a little sweet for my tastes, but it was still tasty.

Jonathon Sawyer & Greenhouse Tavern chefs at work on their salsas
I shot this before Jonathon slipped into his Food and Wine Best New Chef 2010 jacket. Once the tasting got going, the crowd was pretty thick with enthusiastic samplers.

Everyone was obviously having a good time, and it was a beautiful day to visit the farmers market, despite the fact there about 1,000 people also in same area of the park for a cross-country meet, which made for long waits getting in and out of the meadow. 

At this point in the season, you can't go wrong with any kind of fresh salsa made with tomatoes that actually have flavor.  So make salsa while the sun shines!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Butterflies, Spiders, & Snakes: Private Garden Tour

Back to School - Fish in Water Feature

Unless you are very lucky, odds are you will never see one of the most stunning gardens in the area.  I've worked for this client for several years, and it's always a pleasure to drive up and take in the beauty.  Until this week, I had never really walked around and realized just how much there is to see and appreciate.  So enjoy this little tour of some shots I took on my walk.

Column Planters
A few of the lush column planters.  See more about the support planters, and purchase your own from the Kinsman Company.

Striped Dahlia

Layers of color on a partially shaded hillside
Hairy Balls Plant
Happy Buttefly
Resting Kitty
Garden Spider waiting for lunch
Spot to relax and reflect

Monarch Butterfly
Rubber duckies in the fountain
The Blue Man
My Favorite Feature - Fence Post Ladies
The Four Ladies guarding the driveway
Snake catching some rays

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Grilled Green Beans with Parmesan & Tomatoes

For many summers, garden fresh green beans were just not a reality in my garden.  I would plant packet after packet of seeds, watch them sprout and reach for the sun, and when they seemed to be happy and thriving, I'd go out and discover the tiny plants had been eaten to the ground by rabbits.

I tried sprinkling dried blood, poking smelly garlic capsules, spraying a foul 'Liquid Fence".  One year mama bunny conveniently (for her), dug her nest, filled with downy fur, I am not kidding, dead center in the middle of my fallow vegetable garden, and gave birth and tucked her babies under with my rotting straw mulch.  I heard tiny cries as I was raking the garden in the spring, and discovered a nest full of tiny, eyes not yet open, baby bunnies, making like locavores.

That all changed a few years ago when a frisky black and white cat gave birth to several litters that regularly patrolled the gardens.  A few of them lucked out and now live in luxury in the house.  One black cat, who I think escaped the two enormous hawks who made snacks of some of the kittens, is now the outdoor cat in residence.

I started feeding him a few years ago on Christmas day.  He looked sad and hungry, and I was feeling the Christmas spirit, so I broke out a can of cat food and let him feast.  Which of course, led to him coming back every day hoping for more.  When spring arrived, I borrowed a live trap and took him to the clinic to make sure he wasn't contributing to the neighborhood cat population.

When I went to collect him at the end of the day, the staff went to fetch him, brought out a blanket covered carrier, thrust him out, and declared "THIS ONE HAS LICE".  Like I was a bad parent, or otherwise  irrresponsible.  He was feral, and I was cutting him a break for crying out loud.  So henceforth, he has been known as "Cootie".

He gladly accepted my handouts for nearly two years, while eyeing me warily and rebuffing any attempts to come close.  Then one day last summer he decided he trusted me.  He came close, brushed my leg.  I was shocked.  Then again.  Then he let me briefly pet him.  He purred.  And it didn't take long before he started flopping on his back, revealing the diamond shaped white spot on his belly, and I'll be darned, letting me rub his belly.

He is of course, a good hunter.  He sometimes brings me furry bits of his conquests, and occasionally, to my dismay, a bird, and he is particularly fond of rabbit.  Which brings me back to the green beans.  Which have grown very successfully in the garden this year - green ones, purple ones, Dragon Tongue, all thanks to the watchful patrol of Cootie the Cat.

So now truthfully, between the garden and the CSA hauls, I am getting a little tired of green beans.  So tonight I was grilling a steak, and I decided to grill some green beans as well.

I tossed them with a little lemon flavored olive oil and citrus Borsari seasoning.  I grilled them in a grill stir-fry basket, tossing occasionally until they started to blacken.  When I pulled them off, I tossed them with some grated Parmesan and tossed in handful of oil packed dried tomatoes from the deli.

Delicious, simple.  Thanks Cootie, you've earned your cat food and belly rubs.

Sandra's Stuffed Peppers

Fresh, Local Produce ready to go 
It's that time of the year - peppers and tomatoes ripening in the garden, and in abundance at the farmers markets.  One of my clients loves stuffed bell peppers and requests them often, and I probably have never made them the same way twice.  This time she requested they have carrots, zucchini, green onion, tomatoes, brown rice and either ground turkey or chicken, so I needed to create and test a recipe for her. 

So this is how I created Sandra's Stuffed Peppers.  First I started with 11 red and orange bell peppers (one was huge, so I split to get to the 12 peppers requested), some scallions, a medium zucchini, and a about 4 medium carrots.

Julienne Peeler
I julienned the carrots and zucchini with my handy julienne peeler; be careful with these, those little teeth are wicked sharp.  I won this round and retained all of the skin on my knuckles for a change. 

Mise en Place
I diced the pepper tops (waste not...), about a half dozen plum tomatoes, and chopped the scallions.

Post Blanching
I brought a big pot of water to boil, added some salt, then blanched the peppers, in batches for about 5 minutes per batch, then put them on a sheet tray upside down to drain.

Meanwhile, I heated about a teaspoon of The Olive Tap's Tuscan herb flavored olive oil, then sauteed the carrots and diced bell pepper for a few minutes until tender.  I seasoned with a sprinkling of Penzey's Tuscan Sunset and salt and pepper, then I added the rest of the veggies.

Sauteed Veggies 
After the veggies were done I put them in a large bowl with two packages of SteamFresh Brown Rice, steamed for 4 and a half minutes in the microwave.  Brilliant - perfectly cooked, not gummy or stuck together.  It isn't the most economical option, but it is definitely the fastest one to long grain brown rice. I also tossed in a large can of Muir Glenn diced tomatoes with basil and a large can of Muir Glenn Tomato Puree.

Then I combined two pounds of ground turkey breast with two pounds of ground turkey thighs and browned them til cooked through (in two batches).  (Somehow when the butcher handed me two tiny packages with a pound of each in them, it didn't seem like enough, so I doubled down) Drained then combined with the veggies and rice.  I seasoned again and added a couple of hearty shakes of Borsari.  Because there was so much stuff, even though I had seasoned each layer, it took several additions and checks to get it in balance.  I gave it a few shakes of the seasoned olive oil and a shake of red wine vinegar as well. 

Not surprisingly, I had a ton of extra filling - probably enough to do at least another 18 peppers, but since it isn't stuffed raw into the peppers then baked, like a traditional stuffed pepper, the unstuffed version can be eaten as is. 

Finished & Cooling on Ice Blankets 
I didn't put additional sauce on top, but I did purchase a nice, thick organic tomato puree, that would work if you wanted more sauce.

So now I will attempt to rescale this into a normal amount of servings.

Sandra's Stuffed Peppers

6 servings


6 medium bell peppers - your favorite color, tops removed and diced, seeds and ribs discarded
1 medium zucchini, julienne
2 medium carrots, julienne
1 small bunch of green onions, chopped
3 plum tomatoes, diced
Olive oil, preferably herb flavored
1 1/2 pounds of ground turkey (blend of white and dark)
1 pkg of SteamFresh Brown Rice, cooked as directed
15 oz can of Muir Glen Tomato Puree
15 oz can of Muir Glenn Diced Tomatoes with Basil
Salt and Pepper
Penzeys Tuscan Sunset 
Borsari Seasoning Blend
Red Wine Vinegar

1. Blanch Peppers in boiling, salted water about 5 minutes; remove and drain.
2.  Saute carrots and diced peppers in hot, seasoned olive oil about 5 minutes til tender; season and add the rest of the veggies and saute a few minutes more. 
3. Put cooked veggies in large bowl with cooked rice, puree, and diced tomatoes, stir to combine.
4.  Brown turkey until cooked through - season, drain, add to veggies in bowl and stir to combine all.  Add vinegar, check final seasoning, adjust.
5.  Stuff mixture into peppers.

Reheat in microwave or oven if eating immediately; top with additional tomato puree or sauce if desired.

Cool and wrap for freezer, if not eating right away.  Thaw overnight in fridge, then reheat in microwave or oven.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Got Pie? Humble Pie Baking Company

One of my favorite new farmers market vendors this year is the talented Diane Sikorski, owner of Humble Pie Baking Company, featuring:

Fillings Made With Local Fruit
● Lightly Sweetened with Organic Sugar and Lightly Thickened & Non- GMO Corn Starch
● Crust Made with Organic Flour and Sugar,
● Lard from Locally Raised Hogs & Ohio RBGH-Free Butter

Strawberry-rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry, tart cherry, apple, raspberry, blackberry, peach and mixed fruit pies. Pies are made from fresh fruit in season and frozen, local fruit throughout the rest of the year. Cream pies and quiche available to order.

If you don't want a full size pie, she also offers smaller versions and by the slice.  I've enjoyed mixed berry, tart cherry, and peach.

She also offers two delicious versions of granola.

Here's where you can find Humble Pie Baking Company:

● Tuesdays from 4pm-7pm at the Tremont Farmers’ Market
● Fridays from 11:00am-2:00pm at the Downtown Farmers’ Market at Public Square
● Saturdays from 9:00am-12:00pm at the Countryside Conservancy Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Refreshing Drink for a Hot Day

Since we've been 'blessed' this summer with the heat that last summer lacked, plus this summer's as well, the appeal of my usual choice of dry red wines is pretty unpalatable.  While I am usually not a fan of white wines, when it's hot and steamy, Gazela Vihno Verde is cool and refreshing.

It has a quiet effervesce, which you can see in the glass above, and it has low alcohol content as well.

Apparently I wasn't the only one enjoying it; the distributor actually ran dry for a bit during a heat wave a few weeks ago.  But it's now back on the shelves at Mustard Seed Market and West Point Market.  Oh, and it's reasonably priced at about $7 a bottle.

Have you tried Elixir by Lounging Gourmet yet?  I was first introduced to them, and their local creator, Nora Eggers, at the Fabulous Food Show last fall.  It is a delicious collection of champagne and cocktail mixtures handcrafted from natural and organic floral compounds.

The flavor line-up includes Damascan Rose, English Lavender, Andean Fire Orchid, and Antillean Hibiscus.  They are heavenly!  They are highly concentrated, so only a small drizzle is needed to liven up a drink.  I like them in iced tea, with cheap sparkling water, and I've been putting a bit in my Vinho Verde.  They contain no alcohol, so everyone can enjoy them.

I'm looking forward to experimenting with the Elixirs in recipes as well.

Look for the smiling Nora at local food shows and events, and you can also buy Elixir at Lilly Handmade Chocolates in Tremont, and through the Lounging Gourmet website.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Adams Reserve Cheddar Recipe Booklet 2010

You may recall that I entered, and won, the first Adams Reserve Cheddar recipe challenge last fall.  My winning cheese ball recipe is now officially in print in the 2010 Chef recipes booklet printed and distributed by Adams Reserve as a giveaway.  My recipe, along with a photo of me with Robin Swoboda, the hostess of the show where the final recipes were judged, is the last one in the book.

Adams Reserve was one of the sponsors of the Vintage Ohio festival, a huge wine tasting event held each August.  I stopped by the tent for some of their yummy cheese (which I will now admit was my dinner that evening), and the hot off the press booklets were moving like hot cakes.  I even signed a few autographs on my recipe!

ARC generously supplied me some money saving coupons and enough booklets to give out to my fall and winter class participants, including my upcoming class at Jungle Jim's, which will feature the cheese ball as part of the pork and apple themed menu:

More than Pork Chops and Applesauce
With Tamara Mitchell

Monday, October 18
6:00pm - 8:30pm
$50 per person

Peter Brady was right, pork and apples have a natural affinity for one another. In this class, we’ll explore how pork and apples can provide the right sweet and savory balance in every course from appetizer to dessert.

 » Sweet & Spicy White Cheddar Cheese Ball with Apples & Bacon, award winning
 » Apple and Fennel Salad with Apple Cider Bacon Vinaigrette
 » Celery Root Soup with Bacon and Green Apple
 » Apple Butter Pork Tenderloin with Savory Applesauce
 » Baked Harvest Apples with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Candied Bacon

You can also pick up the booklets, which feature comfort food recipes this year, at local Heinen's, Giant Eagle, Acme, and other markets where Adams Reserve Cheddar is sold.

Mmmmm, cheese!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

WTF (Where's the Food???????)

From a local discount store, but could be any supermarket these days.  Aisles and aisles of faux food sandwiched in the middle of the actual food at the perimeter of the store. 

Wonder why obesity, diabetes and heart disease are killing us?  Wander the middle aisles of the 'food store' and your mystery will be solved.

The check-out TVs were tuned to Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Meals on Food Network, which seemed oddly appropriate.

I was there for vinegar and plastic wrap in case you were wondering if I was a complete hypocrite.

Sunday Supper at Crop Bistro

My friend and fellow personal chef, Jess Mintz, was in town with her hubby and daughter, so we met for Sunday Supper at Crop Bistro on West 6th.

It was a perfect night to sit outside, visit, and enjoy a family style feast for a mere $25 a head which includes salad and a dessert.

If you are in the Western Suburbs of Philadelphia, be sure and look up Jess if you need a personal chef or fabulous party catered, at Simply, Simply Fabulous.

Here's what we had:

Starter chopped salad featuring beets, peaches, and fresh mozzarella.

My scallops with a delicious cucumber watermelon relish.
Tasmanian Salmon with a Fresh Corn Relish.
Chicken with Onion Ring Garnish

Family Style Side - Rice with Veggies, was a little spicy and didn't really go with the entrees in my opinion, but there was plenty of food, so I am glad I saved room for dessert.

Dessert was a delicious, light peach cake with a raspberry coulis and some whipped cream.

*not pictured, Sophie's pasta entree, which looked delish.  Menu changes weekly and is posted on Crop's website.