Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fresh From the Garden Bread Pudding

The weather has been picture perfect beautiful this week. Mild temperatures, low humidity, gentle breezes - it's what everyone wishes the weather was like more frequently around here.  My garden looked lush and full of promise with ripening fruits dangling from the tomato plants and the squash seemingly producing new fruit, ready to eat, every day.

Then Chuck showed up.
What's left of my squash plants
Chuck's Hidey Hole Behind my House
In a single day, Chuck managed to eat most of the leaves off of my squash plant, the tops of my cucumber plants, 2 entire parsley plants, a lemon basil plant, and what few tomatoes the chipmunks haven't already eaten.  We ran into each other three separate times that day and neither one of us was none to happy to see the other.

On day two I headed to Copley Feed for some fox urine, which as one of my friends so aptly put it, is supposed to give groundhogs the heeby jeebies. Sold out. As was the garden center. Apparently Chuck had been fox peed out of other gardens leaving me as the hostess of his new favorite salad bar. I ended up buying a couple of other spray concoctions one of which contained herb oils and putrescent eggs. Mmmmmm.

Day three as I headed to gym I spied some road kill. Apparently Chuck headed down to the gas station for a six-pack and some smokes and didn't look both ways before crossing the road. Unfortunately as I started typing this post I spied out of the corner of my eye one of his kin bolting across my back yard. Sadly Bill Murray was not behind him with a golf club.

Tonight's supper was inspired by a stale partial loaf of ciabatta bread I bought at the farmer's market, one of my few remaining yellow squash, and survey of garden and CSA bits and pieces that need to be eaten.

Bread puddings aren't just for dessert. A savory bread pudding is the perfect way to use up stale bread, some vegetables, meat and cheese. With milk and eggs as on hand staples, you can pretty much come up with a different combination every time.

Fresh From the Garden Bread Pudding

Fresh From the Garden Bread Pudding

Sturdy leftover stale bread - cut or torn into approximately 1" pieces - enough to cover the bottom of a buttered 9 x 13 or 1 1/2 quart oval dish
1 T. olive oil
Chopped onion, shallot, or leeks - a cup or so
Couple of cloves of garlic, chopped
Other fresh or leftover cooked veggies (I used a small pepper, an ear of corn, stripped off,  a small yellow squash, and four chopped plum tomatoes)
Meat, if you are in the mood - bacon, pancetta, ham, leftover roast beef, pork or chicken
Fresh herbs - I used basil
Cheese - a cup to a cup and a half of shredded cheese of choice (I used smoked mozzarella tonight)
1 c. milk (half and half, cream, whatever you've got)
6 eggs at room temperature (or put in a bowl of warm water while you prep the rest)
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of your dish with butter. Put the bread cubes in the dish.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic a few minutes until it begins to soften. Season with salt and peppers. Add your other raw veggies and saute for a few minutes. Season again. Put the vegetables (and any cooked meat you're using) on top of the bread cubes in the dish. Top with desired chopped herb(s).

Whisk the milk, eggs, and a teaspoon of kosher salt and several grinds of fresh pepper together.

Pour the milk mixture over the bread and add the shredded cheese. Toss to combine everything.

Bake on the center rack from 25 - 35 minutes until the top is puffed and golden brown. Insert a knife blade in the center to check if custard is set.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'll Have What She's Having: Oven Fried Duck Fat Frites

Oven Fried Duck Fat Frites
I've been back on Weight Watchers for about a month now.  My original plan to start at the beginning of July derailed pretty quickly when I celebrated the 4th with some delicious duck fat fried wings and finished the first week at the amazing Brunty Farms plated landscape dinner.  I actually gained 3 pounds the first week! 

It hasn't been too difficult once I got in the groove, but I derailed a bit with three long work days in a row last week, which turned into non-gym days coupled with a few less than stellar food choices.  On the first day the wheels came off I just decided to go for break even for the week, which is exactly where I ended up.

I did take measurements when I started, so I decided to check them this week. Even though the scale only shows a seven pound loss, I've lost a inch on my thighs and hips, and an inch and half on my waist.  Not too shabby.  It feels good to be sweating it out for an hour at the gym and to be back at my weight training class.

So, back to the duck fat.  Not surprisingly, the WW site doesn't list duck fat in it's on-line point calculator.  Should you eat it every day? Uh, no. But I'd rather see WW acknowledge it rather than spending so much effort encouraging members to eat fake foods because the points are low.  I looked it up elsewhere and calculated that one tablespoon is 3 points, which is not bad in the big scheme of things.  A cup of raw potato is 2.  Five point frites - I'm in!

I thought about grilling them, since I was grilling a Black & Blue burger, plus a small yellow squash from the garden, and a few thin stalks of broccoli, but I ended up going with an oven fry.  Here's how it went down.

Oven Fried Duck Fat Frites
 One Serving

 1 medium russet potato, peeled, and sliced into 1/4" fries
1 T. duck fat,
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
sprig of rosemary, chopped

Soak the peeled potato in hot water while the oven heats to 450 degrees.  Go ahead and stick a half sheet baking pan in the oven while it preheats.

Melt duck fat inn a covered dish in the microwave for a minute.  Drain potatoes and rinse with cold water.  Pat them dry.

Toss potatoes in a bowl with the duck fat and season generously with kosher salt and pepper.

Remove baking sheet from the oven and add the potatoes.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, then turn them every five minutes until they are crispy and golden brown on all sides.

Toss them in a bowl with the garlic and rosemary and check seasoning.

Eat.  Enjoy every crispy bite. Moaning is optional, but recommended.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lazy Days of Summer Cooking: No Recipe Summer Pasta

My Latest CSA Pick-Up, Week 8
After a slow start to the CSA season, the veggies are coming fast and furious as we near the halfway mark in the season.  This week brought another bag of dragon tongue beans, pickling cucumbers, a couple of onions, a couple of tomatoes, a zucchini, a yellow squash, new potatoes, cabbage, blackberries, lemon zucchini cookies, plus a chicken and a half dozen eggs.

I had a crazy busy week last week.  I did my first food styling gig for one of the many movies that are filming in town. Lest you think that sounds glamorous, rest assured that I spent the better part of 18 hours over a two day period tucked in the back of garage waiting to crank out as many identically decorated pancakes as it took to get the scenes on film after multiple takes.

To complete the rest of my glamorous week, I fulfilled a five year old gift certificate by flipping crepes for 70 guests.  There were so many people in the house, that I set up in the driveway. Which was fine until it started raining.  The toppings bar was whisked inside, but I remained outdoors, and finished cooking my crepes standing at the back of an mini-van, sheltered by the opened hatch.  Makes you want to sign up to be a personal chef, doesn't it?

The good news is that I had the foresight to add most of a quart of buttermilk to the bag containing my cut up chicken, so that when I got home from crepe fest a little earlier than I anticipated (and soaked down to my undies), I only needed to drain the chicken, pat it a bit, give it rub down with some mixed spices, and get it on the grill.  Twenty five minutes later, and a kiss with some BBQ sauce the last few minutes, and dinner was nearly ready.

Buttermilk Brined Chicken
I haven't been to the Saturday farmers market for several weeks since I was either purging during the last ever garage sale, or helping prep with Dave Martin at Veggie U.  So I was excited to finally get to go this past weekend.  The booths were positively bursting with summer goodness!  I traded a new never used juicer for some tomatoes (chimpmunks have decimated most of mine in the garden), lettuce, broccoli, red onions, and some beautiful eggplants.  I also scored some sweet and juicy yellow sugar plums and freshly pulled corn on the cob.

Sunday night I made this recipe from Eating Well - Provencal Summer Vegetables, with a few twists of course.  I didn't have any leeks on hand, so I thinly sliced the CSA onions on a mandoline and used in place of the leeks.  For the cheese topping, I used a delicious local cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy.   I made a perfect side for a leftover grilled chicken leg/thigh.

Provencal Summer Vegetables

Of course there were leftovers.  And the extra veggies that didn't make it into the above recipe I roasted after tossing with a bit of Olive Tap's Basil Olive Oil. So as I began thinking about Monday's dinner, I knew there were leftover roasted veggies, fresh corn, beautiful small broccoli with tender stems, plus nearly a pound of ricotta cheese leftover over from crepe fest (I made a crazy good filling with ricotta, cream cheese, fresh orange juice and zest, and a bit of powdered sugar).

It's hot, I don't really feel like cooking much, and that is exactly where having a plan and some big picture concepts of how you are going to tackle that CSA share before the next week rolls around, come in handy.  So consider this a sneak preview to one of my "No Recipes" in my book Seasons to Savor: Eating Locally, Seasonally, and Simply. 

No Recipe Summer Pasta 

2 - 4 ounces per person of  whatever pasta shape you have on hand (reserve some pasta water)
1 c. or so of cooked or roasted vegetables, leftovers basically
fresh raw veggies of choice - something you can toss in the pasta water to cook briefly, like fresh corn or broccoli
'sauce' - a bit of butter, or olive oil, or ricotta or cream cheese
fresh herbs of choice - I used basil
grated cheese for topping
Salt and Pepper

Cook your pasta as directed on package in salted water.  Reheat your cooked veggies in microwave (or oven) to heat through.  Toss in your raw veggies the last few minutes the pasta is cooking.

Drain, reserving a bit of pasta water.  Return pasta & veggies to warm pot, add desired 'sauce' components (one or more) including a spoonful or so of reserved pasta water, tear some herbs and add, season, then toss with tongs to combine. 

My No Recipe Summer Pasta

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Gadget Love: Strawberry Huller/Tomato Corer

I'll admit, I was skeptical, but I read several glowing reviews of the Chef'n StemGem Strawberry Stem Remover in magazines this spring, so I sprung for one on my last visit to Sur la Table.

I gave it a workout yesterday with two huge Sam's Club containers of strawberries.  It took me awhile to figure out the best way to insert the claw, and I ended up pulling off the green caps, then aiming the open claw, and plunging it over  the stem, then letting it go.  A gentle twist, and viola, out comes the bitter hull.  A push of the button and it pops right out into your discard pile. 

I doubt it would be effective on the small, ripe, local berries, I prefer, but on the standard supermarket ones, it works well, and leaves you with more edible berry than slicing off the tops. I had to use the knife to trim a few particularly large ones, but once I got the hang of it, the tool did the job.

Lest you scoff at yet another uni-tasker, I tried it this evening on some heirloom tomatoes, and it worked great on those as well. 

The plump shape and bright color will make it easy to find in the drawer.  It's a keeper.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

BBQ Bonanza With Chef Dave Martin at The Culinary Vegetable Institute

Me with Chef Dave Martin
What do you get when you combine beautiful, freshly picked seasonal vegetables, herbs, micro greens, and gorgeous proteins with an energetic, crazy-fun chef with a gift for combining seasonings and flavor profiles that honor the ingredients without overwhelming them?  Simple, you've got season one Top Chef favorite, Chef Dave Martin at the amazing Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio.

I met Chef Dave at the CVI last year when he was in town for the monthly CVI Earth to Table dinner, coincidentally held on Mother's Day weekend, so his mother and sister were in attendance at the dinner, which was so sweet.  It was refreshing to see that he was just as much fun in person, and that focusing on his true passion in food - doing events and teaching vs. restaurant work,  just like it did for me, really makes him happy.

We subsequently became Facebook friends, and I was really touched when he sent me messages occasionally during my cancer treatments to check in and see how I was doing.  When he was in town about a month ago for a dinner at The Wooster Inn with Certified Angus Beef Brand, he invited me to be his guest and we had a great time.

I wanted to repay his kindness by offering to help prep for his BBQ Bonanza class at CVI.  The written menu blew me away, and I looked forward  to working with the stunningly gorgeous produce of Chef's Garden.

 The Menu
Getting Started...

Cool French Green Bean Salad with Purple, Green & Yellow French Beans with Sherry & Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette

Heirloom Tomato Caprese with Berkeley Tie-Die, Big Yellow Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Copia, Dr, Wyches, Great White, Pineapple & Velencia Heirloom Tomatoes stacked with Lime and Lemon Basil Leaves, Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella and sprinkled with Rogue River Bleu Cheese, Nueske's Cherry wood Bacon and Thai Basil Oil

Summertime ‘Pickle Me This' -Ver 2.0
 A medley of pickled garden veggies to include Cherry Bomb & French Breakfast Radish, Dragon, Red, White & Pink Carrots, Romanesco Broccoli, Orange Cauliflower and more

‘Crave' House Salad-Bibb & Lolla Rossa Lettuces , Olive Leaf Arugula and Gold Leaf Spinach dressed with a Fresh Lemon & Chive Vinaigrette and topped off by Roasted Mushrooms & Shaved Parmesan

Animals, Animals, Animals....

Grilled Buttermilk Marinated Free Range Chicken with Dave's Roasted Poblano BBQ Sauce

Smokey Rubbed Certified Angus Beef Brand Hanger Steak with Groovy Gorgonzola

‘Out of this World' Chimichurri Marinated Certified Angus Beef Brand Skirt Steak

Hoisin and Apple Cider Marinated ‘Duroc' Pork Tenderloin served with Dave's Killer Peanut Sauce

All About the E2T....

‘Hells Bells'-Fire Roasted Cherry Bomb, Green Jalapeno, Hungarian Wax and Poinsettia Peppers

‘Don't Cry for Me, Milan'- Bianca DiMaggio, Candy Apple & Red Cippolini Onions marinated overnight in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Greek Oregano , Thyme, Sea Salt and Green Peppercorns and Grilled to perfection

Roasted Fingerling ‘Tata Salad' SANS Mayo- Enjoy this tasty Salad of Roasted Red Thumb, French,

Purple & Peanut Fingerling Potatoes with a Tasty Asian Lime & Ginger Vinaigrette (without any mayo in sight)

Summer Squash & Eggplant Medley- Santana, Lao White, Kermit & Bambino Eggplant along with Magda, One Ball, Gold & Green Zucchini with secret sauces for dipping

The Sweet Stuff....
Butterscotch Pudding with Nutmeg Cashews and Salted Cream

House made Crème Fraiche Ice Cream Sundaes with ‘from scratch' Hot Fudge & Caramel Sauces with Banana & Penny Royal Mint

The CVI Kitchen

After an hour drive, most of it on the turnpike, I arrived at the Culinary Vegetable Institute bright and early at 9:00 am to help prep for the 4:00 class and dinner for nearly 80 guests, which included the family of one of Dave's Make a Wish kids.

The menu started with Dave's demo on making a beautiful caprese salad, using some of the amazing heirloom tomatoes from Chefs Garden.  Garnishing the salad was an amazing cherry wood smoked bacon from Nueskes, which would tempt even a vegetarian. 

Trays of Heirloom Tomatoes

So beautiful
Dave Martin's Stacked Caprese
To complete the lesson on salads and vinaigrette making, Dave's Crave Salad with Mixed Greens, Spinach, and Shaved Parmesan, plus a beautiful Grilled Green Bean and Mushroom Salad was also served.  The mushrooms, which I shot with my phone, and lost the shots, were breathtaking. Two large boxes contained 3 different types, including a golden Chanterelle, that tasted like bacon when they were roasted.

Colorful Mixed Beans & Shrooms
On every table were platters of pickled vegetables:

Pickled Vegetables
There are no photos of the proteins - there was way too much going on in the kitchen during service to even think about taking any, but there were four, including chicken, pork with an amazing peanut sauce, and two kinds of beef.  Dave has a new line of delicious rubs and BBQ sauces, and everyone got to try them in meat courses, along with some skillfully made sauces that perfectly complimented each protein.

The vegetables that accompanied the meat courses were these melt in your mouth tender grilled onions with fresh thyme:

Onions with Herbs
And a duo of baby eggplants and baby squash punched up a bit with a spicy Asian dressing:

Baby Eggplant
Baby Squash
A selection of roasted peppers that Dave called "Hell's Bells:

Hell's Bells
I think my favorite vegetable dish was the roasted fingerling potato salad. The multi-colored potatoes were sliced thin, roasted until crispy, then tossed with a spicy Asian dressing accented with fresh lime juice and ginger.

Roasted Fingerling Potato Salad
There were two desserts - a butterscotch custard topped with a salted whipped cream and nutmeg cashews, and a creme fraiche ice cream sundae, topped with a two sauces that will be available from Dave's Flavor Quest line this fall - one chocolate and one caramel. Both are amazing. Micro mint from Chefs Garden completed the desserts.

Creme Fraiche Ice Cream
After the dinner, Dave posed for photos, sold copies of his second book Flavor Quest, Volume 2 (guests received a signed copy of Flavor Quest, Volume 1 with their ticket price), as well as his BBQ Sauces and rubs.

Flavor Quest, Volume 2
Chef Dave Martin in the CVI Kitchen
If you missed this fantastic meal, you'll be pleased to know that the Culinary Vegetable Institute holds monthly Earth to Table dinners, featuring a different chef and menu each month.

On August 27th, one of my favorite local monthly events, Dinner in the Dark, will be held at CVI (on a Saturday vs. the usual Monday).  There are still tickets available, and I guarantee you it's worth the drive and you won't be disappointed.  (the 'dark' part is that you won't know which 6 local chefs will be cooking that evening, nor what they are making, until you arrive; don't worry, the lights will be on and you won't be blindfolded).  Go to Eventbrite to buy your tickets, which include the six course meal, beverage pairings with each course, plus tax & tip.  Just show up and feast!  I'll be there, will you?

Also, be sure and visit Dave's website to buy the BBQ sauces and rubs, and stay tuned for those delectable chocolate and caramel sauces.  (there are also some tees with his Top Chef signature phrase...)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gadget Love: Microwave Omelet Pot

Sure it's super simple, and quick to make an omelet on the stove, but this handy ceramic pot is perfect for the dorm room, or for kids that aren't quite ready for the stove version.  I bought it to use during chemo (when my egg consumption became life sustaining), when I wasn't quite up to using the stove. You can even pre-mix your ingredients right in the pot and stick it in the refrigerator until you're ready to microwave.

I like it because it's ceramic; I just don't think it's a good idea to microwave anything in plastic. Pros of the ceramic is that is dishwasher safe, cons are it gets hot quickly in the microwave, and oven mitts or potholders will be needed to remove it.

To make a quick omelet, rub the inside of the pot with a bit of butter, add chopped veggies, herbs, or other cooked ingredients, add one or two eggs (or whites only), season, whisk with a fork, cover, and microwave 1-2 minutes.  Carefully remove from the oven using potholders or mitts, and either eat it straight from the pot, or pop the omelet out onto a plate.