Sunday, June 26, 2011

Just Kidding. . .

So obviously, this isn’t a post about sautéed mushroom risotto. In fact, it’s been a while since we’ve posted about anything. We’ve had some major life changes since the last time we were here (all good things, though).

We moved! Jackie and I both got new jobs about an hour away from our home town and it’s been quite an adjustment. I don’t think either one of us expected the amount of stress that came from starting two new jobs in a new house in a new town all in the same week. Things are starting to settle down a little more now; we’re both getting more used to our new routines with a lot of support from our friends and family.

Unfortunately cooking has tended to go by the wayside in the midst of all the craziness. I think it’s happened to all of us: you come home from a hard day’s work, step into your kitchen and just stare at the cupboards while trying to muster up the energy to open one. While this setback in our own kitchen enabled us to explore the restaurant scene in detail, we knew we had to get back in the habit of cooking our own food in our own kitchen. The first meal officially cooked in the new Garden Fresh kitchen was actually a frozen pizza, but the first real meal came together in almost as much time and reminded us of what we were missing.

In our frantic state, we forgot what it was like to take charge of what we ate, the satisfaction we felt from turning an assortment of raw materials into something greater than the sum of the parts, trying to treat those materials like the gifts they are. We were missing the connection that comes from preparing and sharing a meal together as a family. It was almost embarrassing to me when we finished, that an entire home-cooked delicious meal took the same amount of time to prepare as that first frozen pizza (now I sound like an infomercial).

We also remembered the best food is the simplest. Season carefully, pair ingredients thoughtfully, relax and enjoy the process, and you should always be satisfied with the results. No part of this meal required a recipe, and only three of the items were actually cooked, but all of it was wonderful.

What’s the moral of the story? Is this the end of frozen pizza and ramen noodles in the Garden Fresh kitchen? Not even close. I guess what I’m trying to get at is cooking isn’t a chore that should be dreaded; it’s a blessing we should be thankful for and participate in no matter how busy we get. I try to remember that now every time I turn on the stove.

Bruschetta – Slice French bread ½ inch thick, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and bake at 350° along with the sweet potatoes below until lightly toasted. Rub toast with garlic cloves, top with chopped Roma tomatoes and basil. Season tomatoes lightly with salt and pepper, drizzle with more olive oil and serve.

Roasted sweet potatoes – Wrap in tin foil and roast until fork tender. We sliced ours width-wise, seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

Bell peppers – You could serve them raw, but we chose to lightly steam them. Either way, slice the bell peppers thinly, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. We steamed our peppers until tender and topped them with chopped basil.

Cheese – This is by far the easiest thing to prepare, but my absolute favorite to serve and eat. We picked up some aged English cheddar and mozzarella from our favorite grocery store. Crumble the cheddar (since the more aged a cheese is, the more crumbly it is), slice the mozzarella, season lightly with salt and pepper, top with chopped basil and drizzle with olive oil. Sensing a theme yet?

Cajun-season crab – We picked these pre-seasoned beauties up at our favorite store as well. We steamed them in the same pot as the bell peppers until they were heated through.

All these dishes were uncomplicated, put together quickly, and absolutely delicious. If you keep it simple, you’ll never be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Stock and Poultry Stock

“Waste not, want not.”
- Old Klingon proverb

I think like most people, we’ve found ourselves with too many groceries and too little time to prepare them, which means we’ve had to throw some away. That is a feeling of defeat for me. I know there’s no way we can plan out exactly what groceries and ingredients we’ll need so the day we run out of the very last thing it’s time to go shopping again. There’s going to be some overlap, or life gets in the way and things go bad.

I guess it’s more disappointing than anything else. I’m disappointed in myself because I had some grand scheme for this item when I bought it, I had the best intentions, but I didn’t make the time for it now it’s garbage. Anyone who knows me could tell you I’m somewhat of a tightwad, so it’s especially upsetting to me because I feel I’m throwing money away. But that’s not the only thing that distresses me.

As I open the garbage to throw out limp celery or too-moldy cheese or slimy salad greens, I think about all the people and work it took to bring that food to the store and then my home. Farmers got up at the crack of dawn, soil was dug up, backs ached, livelihoods struggled to be made, and that chicken breast that stayed in the fridge too long? That used to belong to an actual living chicken that had to die so I could eat.

There are plenty of ways you can use, reuse and stretch the groceries you buy to get the most bang for your buck and be responsible with them as well. This isn’t new; your parents and grandparents and on down the line went to greater lengths just to make ends meet. Things like making jams, canning vegetables, pickling and curing, and a myriad of other delicious deeds were done to make the most of what they had and make sure they wouldn’t be without in the leaner times. While I’m not asking that you take up all that stuff right now, I think one procedure will give you the “stretching and saving” bug enough to get you started: making your own stock.

It’s amazing the difference in the stock and broth you make at home compared with the cans or boxes you get at the store. Really, there’s no comparison. Not only will it be more full of flavor, but it will be as complex or simple, strong or subtle, light or rich as you want it to be. I get an extreme amount of satisfaction when we get the ingredients together for our sautéed mushroom risotto (which is coming up next) and the first thing we reach for is our homemade vegetable stock out of the freezer.

Roasting a chicken for dinner? Pick all the meat you can off the carcass, wrap it up and freeze it for broth. Did a hunter give you duck breasts still connected to the breast bone? Add those in with your chicken carcasses. Carrots leftover from making soup? Celery getting too limp to schmeer peanut butter on? Using the leaves of parsley and thyme but not the stems? Making mushroom risotto and need remove the mushroom stems? Don’t throw them out! Start saving up your scraps for stock and save yourself a bundle.

Roasted Vegetable Stock and Poultry Stock

These recipes are adapted from Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown, respectively. There are about as many ways to make stock as there are vegetables growing in the ground. These are my favorites, but adapt whichever one you like to use whatever ingredients you have on hand. By the way, make sure you have a balance of vegetables in your veg. stock. If you use more carrots than anything else your stock will turn orange. Still delicious, just orange. Trust me on this.

Vegetable Stock:

I love the extra flavor you get from roasting the vegetables first, but if you’d rather not or if you prefer a more subtle flavor, just skip the roasting and continue as directed. You can use a whole lot of different vegetables, or just a few. At the very least use carrots, celery, onions, garlic and herbs. Others that would work well are: turnips, parsnips, tomatoes, zucchini, fennel, corn cobs, bell peppers, and so much more!


2 large yellow onions, quartered
2 leeks, green and white parts, well rinsed
Mushroom trimmings, wiped clean
4 carrots, quartered
4 ribs celery, quartered
1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally, unpeeled
8 to 10 peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
8 parsley stems
2 bay leaves
2 cups white wine (optional)
Olive oil
Cold water to cover


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large roasting pan, spread out all the veg. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper, stirring to coat. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to brown evenly. (The dark green leek leaves and mushroom stems will roast a lot faster than everything else, so if they start getting too brown take them out early.) Remove from the oven and transfer to a large pot. Add the water, herbs and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, skimming to remove any foam that rises to the surface. Add the optional wine and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container. Cool in an ice bath, then refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. Prior to use, bring to boil for 2 minutes.

Poultry Broth:

4 pounds chicken carcasses (Ours included bones from roasted chicken, duck breastbones, and the backs of these Cornish game hens)
1 large onion, quartered
4 carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 ribs celery, cut in half
1 leek, white part only, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
2 bay leaves
8 to 10 peppercorns
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
Cold water to cover

Place chicken, vegetables, and herbs and spices in 12-quart stockpot. Set opened steamer basket directly on ingredients in pot and pour over water. (This step is a great addition by Mr. Brown. The steamer basket keeps everything submerged and makes skimming scum a whole lot easier. However, if you’re like me and don’t own a steamer basket, proceed as normal and just do your best to keep the solids under water.)

Cook on high heat until you begin to see bubbles break through the surface of the liquid. Turn heat down to medium low so that stock maintains low, gentle simmer. Skim the scum from the stock with a spoon or fine mesh strainer every 10 to 15 minutes for the first hour of cooking and twice each hour for the next 2 hours. Add hot water as needed to keep bones and vegetables submerged. Simmer uncovered for 6 to 8 hours.

Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer into another large stockpot or heatproof container discarding the solids. Cool immediately in large cooler of ice or a sink full of ice water to below 40 degrees. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove solidified fat from surface of liquid and store in container with lid in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in freezer for up to 3 months. Prior to use, bring to boil for 2 minutes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sweet-Glazed Cornish Game Hens and Roasted Vegetables

Today one of my co-workers was snacking on a big plate of strawberries, and I could smell their sweet-tartness as I walked past her desk. As I looked down at her plate of half-eaten strawberries, sliced thinly and starting to leek juices and color the dish a light pink, I noted how good they smelled. She replied, “Yeah, but they’re really sour.”

That got me thinking about the impending spring season and all the wonderful produce that’s about to come in season. For the last few months we’ve had to subsist on vegetables from hothouses or shipped in from the other side of the globe, and I CAN’T WAIT for the first wave of farmers’ markets to hit the scene with all their juicy, colorful and inspiring offerings. Those mushy, overly sour strawberries will morph into tiny flavor bombs I will be more than happy to stain my fingers pink over.

I was thinking about this especially when we did a tasting for our friends who are getting married this summer. Jackie and I were trying to be mindful of what would be in season, readily available and totally delicious by then, and we decided to go with two of our favorites – asparagus and tomatoes. Now, anyone who reads this blog (and let’s be honest, there are millions of you) will know that we’re absolute tomato-philes, so it should come as no surprise they’d show up again. The only problem is right now tomatoes are . . . well . . . dull. Kind of watery, lacking in texture and severely lacking that bright, acidic burst they have in the summer and beginning of fall. And the same goes for asparagus – tender, grassy, and bright-green turns to wooden, flat and gray in the winter months.

With all that in mind, why would we choose these two misfits when they’re not nearly up to their potential right now? Because they point to how good they’re going to be. In a few months when asparagus and tomatoes are in season, our friends and their wedding guests will be thrilled at the mixture of the roasted vegetables, the burst of concentrated acidic sweetness from the tomato and pleasantly tender asparagus. And that’s something we can all look forward to.

And let’s not forget the main event of this dish: the sweet-glazed Cornish game hens. Have you ever had one of those “Of Course!” revelations where you are doing something you think is complicated, only to find out there’s a much easier way if just stopped and thought about it? Happens to me all the time, and it happened when we were trying to split these hens in two. We were trying to cut through the backbone with a chef’s knife, and there was no way that was working out. So we tried going the other way through the breast bone, and that just tore the skin we were going to crisp up and glaze. Then one of us said, “Why don’t we use shears?” After a moment of blank stares between two college graduates, we tried the obvious and more effective solution, which took about 2 minutes to prep 3 birds.

To contrast with the bright crunch of the vegetables and the sweet, digit-smackin’ awesomeness (“finger-lickin’ good” is trademarked) of the hens, we made our stand-by of sautéed mushroom risotto. We also saved the backbones of the hens to make stock out with, along with the duck breastbones from this dinner, recipes for both of which will be forthcoming.

Molasses-Glazed Cornish Game Hens

3 Cornish game hens (half for each person)
1 cup molasses
½ bottle dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
2 tbl balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs each thyme and sage
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Using kitchen shears, cut down each side of the hens’ backbones to remove them (Freeze them for stock. Recipe is forthcoming.), then turn them over and cut them down the center through the breastbone. Pat them dry and season them with salt and pepper inside and out.

Put the molasses, wine, vinegar and herbs in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce until thick and syrupy, coating the back of a spoon. Season to taste.

Place the hens on sheet trays skin side up, drizzle with olive oil on both sides and roast for 30 minutes (or when an instant-read thermometer reads 180° in the thigh), basting with the glaze every 10 minutes. Serve immediately with tasty roasted vegetables and mushroom risotto (recipe’s coming, really).

Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes

1 bunch asparagus, washed, ends trimmed
½ quart cherry tomatoes, washed

Okay, seriously? There’s no need for a recipe for this dish; it’s that easy. Thinly peel the asparagus starting just under the tip, put in a casserole with the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, roast in the oven next to the hens for 10 minutes, or until the tomato skins start to split. Done and done.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pan-roasted duck breast, parsley salad and sauteed mushroom risotto

“I messed up; I’m sorry.” Those five words can help you so much, whether at work, with your spouse, or in my case, with dinner.

A hunter friend of mine scored big the last time he went duck hunting, and he was nice enough to give me 4 pairs of duck breasts – still on the bone, mind you, so duck stock is in my near future. I’d never cooked duck before, so I was excited to try it out on my family AND have it as our first meat-centric blog post. I researched different methods and preparations and decided it was best to just Keep It Simple, Stupid: season with salt and pepper, sear on the stovetop and finish in the oven ‘til they’re medium rare – medium at the most. We’ll get to my mistake further down.

So after I removed the duck breasts from the breast bone (with considerable effort and expert help from Jackie), I started on the two side dishes. We make risotto a lot, but we’ve only recently been including sautéed mushrooms in the mix, and now we’re hooked. Portobello, shiitake, oyster . . . it doesn’t matter to us. Mushrooms + oil + hot pan = golden brown and delicious. Unfortunately (kinda), risotto is so delicious that it deserves its own post, so I’ll have to skip over it for now.

I wanted another element to cut through the richness of the duck breast and creamy, cheesy risotto, plus I wanted to feel like I was eating somewhat healthy, so I made a parsley salad with a red wine vinaigrette leaning toward the acidic side. This was delectable and just what was needed to balance the other dishes, but the parsley leaves were a little chewy. Next time I’ll definitely make more of an effort to pick all the leaves from the stems and probably roughly chop them to cut down on this.

Here’s my moment of humility: the risotto and parsley salad were either done or getting done, so it was time to pan roast the duck breasts. Seared in a hot pan with some oil – easy. Remembering that the duck came from a hunter and not from a grocery store, so the breasts vastly varied in size – not as easy. I should have placed the bigger ones in the oven to finish cooking through and removed the smaller ones to rest in the meantime. Instead, half of the duck breasts were perfectly, and I do mean perfectly, cooked. The other half were cooked to well-done and had the consistency of over-cooked chicken livers. Not inedible, but not what I was going for by a long shot.

Why bring it up at all? Because for a long time when I was first learning to cook and trying new things, if something went wrong I would kinda throw a temper tantrum. It seemed soooooo easy for Jackie and others to walk in to the kitchen, throw some random assortment of ingredients in a pot and come up with something mind-blowing. While I, on the other hand, struggled with still burning toast sometimes. The difference this time for me was I realized nothing bad happened. Yeah, there were some over-cooked duck breasts, but I didn’t poison someone, I didn’t lose a Michelin star, I didn’t get yelled at by a bleach-blonde Englishman. I did, however, learn how to do it better next time.

I think one thing that keeps people out of their home kitchens is the fear of trying something different, doing something wrong and disappointing the people you tried to cook for. While that’s certainly kept me from failing as much as I would have, it also kept me from learning all that I could by burning the toast and then figuring out the right setting. The point is to COOK, and cook as well as you can at this very moment. Food will burn, sauces will over-reduce, cakes will fall, things will be crunchy when they’re supposed to be soft and vice-versa. You don’t have to do everything perfectly all the time to cook for your family and friends. They’re supposed to like you anyway, right? Then what does it matter if the chicken is dry? Learn what you did wrong and how you can do it better next time.

I certainly did, and next time I’ll have duck breasts so tender and tasty people will sing my praises far and wide. And all I had to do was over-cook the first batch.

Roasted Duck Breasts

4 boneless, skinless duck breasts (This is what I had to work with.)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat your duck breasts dry and season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan on medium-high heat and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Once the oil is shimmering add the duck breasts and cook 2-3 minutes on both sides till golden.

Remove smaller breasts to rest tented under aluminum foil at this point and place pan with larger breasts in the oven to cook until medium to medium-well, 5-7 minutes. When pressed the breasts will feel a little soft, but bounce back (giggle) or when an internal temperature of 130 degrees is reached.

Rest duck for 5-10 minutes tented under aluminum foil and serve.

Parsley salad with red wine vinaigrette

1 bunch parsley, washed and patted dry, leaves picked (freeze the stems to add to stock)
½ carrot, diced small
Parmesan cheese, shaved
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Lemon juice
Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Instead of the usual 3:1 ratio for the vinaigrette, try to be a little more heavy-handed with the acid. That’s why I included lemon juice (from half a lemon in my case) to tip the scales toward the acidic to cut through the richness of the rest of the dish.

You know the drill: put a little Dijon mustard in a bowl, add vinegar and lemon juice and whisk until combined. Drizzle 2-3 times that amount of oil, whisking constantly, until the dressing is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the parsley and carrot in a bowl and drizzle some of the vinaigrette around the edges. Toss to coat, season to taste, top with parmesan and devour.

Monday, February 21, 2011

More Than Rabbit Food Part 3 - Grilled Leek Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

This latest streak of warmer weather has me counting the days ‘til I can peruse the aisles of a farmers’ market, or better yet the rows of my own garden, for fresh produce that may or may not even make it inside if I’m hungry enough. After hours of shoveling snow and salting driveways there’s nothing better than a big bowl of chili or sautéed Portobello risotto, but that’s another post. But with the temperature rising and me in denial about just how much winter we have left, I wanted something more light, bright and crisp.

This is the inspiration for the last installment of our epic trilogy, More Than Rabbit Food: a grilled leek and cucumber salad with mint vinaigrette. Like the other salads we’ve discussed, you can put whatever vegetables strike your fancy and have either a little or a lot of them.

Except for the leeks, every vegetable in this salad is raw. To cut down on the harshness of the raw shallot, we added it to the vinaigrette with the other seasonings so the vinegar could have time to mellow it out. If you don’t like bell peppers as much as I do (which is a lot) you could add them to the vinaigrette as well or omit them completely. The most fun part about this salad for me is the long, thin ribbons of cucumbers lending some cool crunch. They’re a neat and different way to add cucumbers to a salad, and as long as you shock them in ice water and thoroughly dry them they’ll keep from getting soggy. You could also do this to your shallot to take away some of its pungency instead of adding it to the dressing.


(Remember, you can use pretty much any vegetable you want. Just try to get a good variety of textures, flavors and colors.)

1 leek
1 bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced
1 rib celery, diced, plus a few inner yellow leaves
1 carrot, small dice
1 cucumber
6-7 mint leaves
Feta cheese
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Mint Vinaigrette:

Red or white wine vinegar
Olive oil
1 shallot, minced
Dijon mustard
2-3 mint leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper


As we’ve said before, how much dressing you make is up to you, but the basic ratio for a vinaigrette is 3:1 fat to acid. Put a little mustard in your mixing bowl, add your vinegar and whisk together. Add the mint leaves and slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking until everything is incorporated. Season to taste, add the shallot to let it start mellowing and set aside.

Peel off a few of the tougher outer layers of leek. Trim off the root end, split it in half lengthwise, cut off the darker green leaves and rinse the white and pale green parts. Heat a sauté pan on medium high. Pat the leeks dry, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place cut-side down in the pan. Cook without moving for 2-3 minutes or until browned slightly. Turn, cook for another minute, then remove, and carefully chop across the width into short strips.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the cucumber, then continue peeling strips of the flesh of the cucumber until you reach the inner core of seeds. Plunge the strips into an ice bath to shock them for 5 to 10 minutes, then drain and dry. This will keep them crisp in the salad.

Mix all the vegetation and the rest of the mint leaves together in a large bowl and spoon a few tablespoons of the dressing around the sides of the bowl. Mix everything lightly with your fingers until the salad is evenly dressed. Salt and pepper to taste.

When plating, top each salad with a few celery leaves and a sprinkling of feta cheese.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More than Rabbit Food Part 2 - Grilled Romaine Salad with Tomato and Eggplant Relish

Are you keeping up? How has January gone for you so far? Have you given in to temptation? Well, let me just say it has been a struggle for everyone I know! So, here we are ready for installment #2…What is that you say? Another salad? Well, we need to keep up on our diets and salad can be the perfect item to add to any menu that is economical and good for you.

However, we must address the fact that not all salads are created equal. Just because it says “salad” in the title doesn’t mean it is going to help your waste line. In fact, salad can be higher in calories than some fast food items. The key is knowing what your ingredients are.

Step 1: Don’t use (or use very little) of cream or egg based dressing such as ranch or mayo.
Step 2: Know your cheese. Yes, you can put some on your salad, but be mindful. Your salad should not be a “cheddar cheese salad with lettuce”.
Step 3: Protein is a good idea for your salad. Left over ham, turkey, mushrooms, or tofu are all good choices. Remember, use sparingly.
Step 4: Lots of veggies! Get creative!
Step 5: Including fruit adds texture, sweetness, and nutrition!

What is that you are saying? You want us to give you a recipe? Well, let me tell you about this great little salad Ryan came up with. It is a Grilled Romaine Salad. Yes, you can in fact grill lettuce. It doesn’t turn out slimy or limp; it stays crisp and cool on the outside and turns a little warm and charred on the inside. The key is keeping your head of romaine intact and using a high heat on the grill or in the skillet. This particular salad comes with a little bit of bacon, mushrooms, and a warm tomato relish to make it a rounded out full meal rather than just a side salad! It has a lot of flavor and goes well with a Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy!


1 tsp. Olive oil
1 romaine heart
2 oz. Feta cheese, crumbled
2 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and drained, bacon grease reserved (if desired)
2 oz. Enoki mushrooms, trimmed from bunch in ½ inch pieces
1 oz. parmesan cheese, grated, or 6 - 7 one-inch shavings with vegetable peeler (optional)
1 oz. capers, drained (optional)
2 Roma tomatoes
Salt and pepper (to taste)


1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. white sugar
1 tsp. Lemon juice
Salt and pepper (to taste)

1. Begin preparation for tomato/eggplant relish, if desired (directions below).
2. Cut a small slice off the romaine root to remove the brown parts, but leave largely intact. This will help keep the romaine together while grilling and serving. Pull off a few outer leaves that look brownish or tough. Clean romaine heart by cutting it in half lengthwise and running it under cold water. Pat dry.
3. Dice tomatoes, trim mushrooms from bunch, drain capers and set all aside.
4. If grilling, set grill to medium heat and lightly brush oil on romaine halves. If cooking on stove, heat oil (or leftover bacon grease) in12-inch skillet over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Salt and pepper romaine on both sides to taste. Place romaine hearts cut-side down on grill or in skillet. Some sizzling or popping may occur if not totally dried. Cook just until inside is slightly browned and wilted, about 3-5 minutes, but start checking at 2 minutes and every 30 seconds after that.
5. Put vinegar, lemon juice and sugar in mixing bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Once combined, taste for flavor and add salt and pepper as needed. Dressing should be a little loose.
6. Once romaine hearts are to desired doneness, place on plate cut-side up. Top with 2-3 tbls. of the tomato/eggplant relish (if desired), cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes, capers and bacon. Quickly whisk dressing again to recombine and drizzle lightly over salad. Serve immediately. Serves 2.

Optional – tomato/eggplant relish:

1 cup diced Roma tomatoes (½ inch pieces)
1 cup diced eggplant (½ inch pieces)
¼ cup diced onion (fine dice)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice


1. In medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-low to medium heat. Add onion and sweat until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and sweat just until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2. Add tomatoes, eggplant and lemon juice and stir. The lemon juice will help the eggplant from turning too brown, though some darkening will occur during cooking.
3. Continue over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Once vegetables are reduced and the liquid is slightly thickened (about 10 minutes), salt and pepper to taste and spoon over salad while warm.

What’s that you further say? That’s too many self-imposed questions???

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More than Rabbit Food Part 1 - Ham and Spinach Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Happy 2011! With the New Year comes many resolutions: learn an instrument, mend relationships, read more books, and the ever-popular, lose weight. Being overweight myself I’ve tried many different times to lose weight by many different methods. But the thing I dread most is having to change what I eat.

Maybe it’s because inside I’m really still 6 years old and want to eat what I want, when I want, as much as I want, or I’m holding my breath ‘til I turn blue. While that is definitely true, I think it also has something to do with supposed “health food” being, well, boring. Don’t get me wrong, this whole blog is dedicated to eating as often as possible out of your garden and in season, and anything you take out of a garden you’ve shown tender-loving-care to is going to be so delicious you can’t help but eat healthy.

Maybe it’s not the food itself, but the preparation that gets me down. Go to almost any restaurant, look at their salads and you’ll see an ocean of iceberg lettuce with the same old watery cucumber and under ripe tomato, topped with, if you’re lucky, a bland chicken breast.

None of those ingredients in and of themselves are bad or boring (well, maybe the iceberg), but when it’s the same old thing time after time it’s no wonder I’d rather go for deep-fried whatever. The perception many people have, including myself at times, is that to eat healthy you can never eat anything interesting ever again. To counter this mind-numbing monotony, the next few posts are going to be about salads you can make which are not only delicious, but diverse and interesting enough to make you want to eat them all the time.

Part 1 is probably the simplest salad, but really refreshing and satisfying. Great as a first course or side dish, or make a huge amount for a dinner portion. It is also great with leftover meat like ham, chicken, or beef.

Ham and spinach salad with Champaign Vinaigrette

-1 Cup of shredded leftover meat of choice (we chose ham)
-2-3 cups of baby spinach (you can chop the spinach or leave it as is)
-1 Stalk of celery cut into ¼ inch pieces (remember to also use the inside leaves of the celery-they have a wonderful flavor)
-1 carrot peeled and chopped into ¼ pieces
-1/2 Portobello mushroom chopped into ½ inch pieces
-1 red bell pepper
-1 minced shallot
-1/2 apple chopped into ¼ inch pieces (make sure to put a little lemon juice on these and a pinch of salt)
-1 clove of garlic-grated
-Handful of feta cheese
-1/4 cup of chopped pecans
-Pinch of salt and pepper


-1 tablespoon of Champaign vinegar or vinegar of choice
-3 tablespoons of olive oil
-1 teaspoon of mustard (Dijon)
-Salt and pepper
-Dried basil

Directions for salad:

Either roast or hold the sweet pepper or bell pepper over a flame. Once skin is charred, put pepper into a bag for 5-10 minutes. Then take it out of the bag, peel the skin off and dice the pepper. Then make sure you have cut up all of your veggies and shredded your ham.

Now you can make your dressing. Wisk together the vinegar and mustard. Slowly add the olive oil and wisk vigorously. Once you have obtained desired thickness add salt, pepper, and basil to taste.

At this point you need 2 mixing bowls. In one mix all of your veggies and add salt and pepper to taste. In your second bowl put your dressing at the bottom of the bowl and add the veggies and mix.

Plate the salad: In your bowl or dish of choice add your veggie mix. The place shredded ham on top. Finish with the pecans and feta cheese a little drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.