Ample Bites Farm Update #3

Despite an extended drought and a string of high temperatures in the 90s the Ample Bites vegetable garden is in full bloom. The green beans have recovered from an early season infestation of some type of bug, probably an aphid of some sort. The garden has already yielded several meals worth of lettuce and spinach and a few zucchini – with many more to come soon.

The tomato plants look like they will produce a bounty of beautiful and delicious fruit.

Less than a month from juicy tomatoes

The mustard greens are the most recent harvest.

These beautiful, healthy greens were prepared using the following recipe:

Mustard Greens with Chipotle and Bacon

Serves 10

2 ¾ lb curly mustard greens (2-3 bunches), stems and coarse ribs discarded
4 bacon slices, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
3 Tbsp EVOO
1 tsp minced canned chipotles in adobo
½ tsp salt

Coarsely chop greens, then cook in 2 batches in a 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water uncovered, stirring occasionally, until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of cold water to stop cooking process. Drain greens in a colander, pressing gently to release excess moisture.

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until crisp, 4-5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, reserving fat in skillet. Add oil, chipotle, greens and salt to fat and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with bacon.

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Great Sources for Gourmet Products and Ingredients

Over the past few weeks Ample Bites has learned about some great web-based sources of gourmet products and ingredients. Even though Ample Bites is an advocate for buying food locally, the Internet is a fantastic global food market where the home cook can find high-quality ingredients that may not be available to them locally. This is especially true and most applicable to oils, vinegars, sauces, spices and specialty ingredients.

Among the favorites that Ample Bites has found to date are:

Adoboloco is a Hawaiian company that makes small batch hot sauces including a jalapeno, habenero, and thai chile sauces.

Ashman Manufacturing Company makes spice blends, marinades, and sauces including KimKim Korean Hot Sauce, a 2012 NASFT Sofi Gold Award winning sauce.

Back to the Roots makes an interesting, but somewhat expensive, mushroom kit that generates about a pound and a half of high-quality fresh mushrooms. Ample Bites has tried the oyster mushroom kit and enjoyed the harvest.

DeMedici Imports sells oils, vinegars, spices and sauces that are imported primarily from Italy.

Fruit of the Land carries a variety of vegetable and fruit products including an outstanding line of gourmet tapenades.

Sullivan Harbor Farm is an East Coast purveyor of smoked salmon and other seafood products.

Vermont Creamery produces and distributes gourmet butters and cheeses.

All of these companies have on-line stores and several of them publish newsletters that can be subscribed to via email or through Facebook and Twitter. The newsletters offer recipes and information about production processes and health facts.

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Which Ingredient is the Star of the BLT?

The star of most Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich is usually acknowledged to be either the big, juicy summer tomato or the thick, salty bacon or both of those savory ingredients. A good, toasted sourdough bread, a rye or a hearty whole grain wheat is essential, but the toasted bread is largely a canvas for the artistry of this summer treat. Some diners feel that the vegetables and the decadent fatty meat taste best when accented with a rich fresh mayonnaise.

This delicious BLT recipe features a garlic aioli in place of a traditional mayonnaise to dress the sandwich.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches with Garlic Aioli

Serves 4

1 pound of bacon cooked to just before crisp
8 slices of wheat, rye or sourdough bread, toasted
8 generous slices of garden ripe tomatoes
8 pieces of Romaine lettuce
4 heaping tablespoons of Garlic Aioli (see recipe below)

For each sandwich dress the inside of each piece of the toasted bread with roughly 1/2 tablespoon of the garlic aioli. Place two pieces of lettuce, two slices of tomato and two – four slices of bacon on the lower half of the sandwich. Top with the other piece of bread, dressing side down. Slice in half or diagonally and serve immediately.

Garlic Aioli

Makes about 2 cups

1 large egg
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp light mayonnaise
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor, blend the egg, mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice and garlic together for 20 seconds. In 1 to 2 tablespoon amounts, add the oil and continuously blend until thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper and pulse once of twice to blend.

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Fresh Fish

After spending the better part of the last month on or near the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the streams of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan Ample Bites has an even greater appreciation for the value of quality, fresh fish. All three venues yielded fish that was caught the same day I prepared them or when they were prepared by a local restaurant.

If you are not catching your own fresh fish avoid the big grocery stores and find a local fish house. In Pass-A-Grille, Florida friends introduced us to Schaner’s Land & Sea Market where, as the store name implies, they have a huge selection of fish as well as meats and poultry. Schaner’s did not disappoint the shrimp we purchased from this local store were the star of a gumbo I prepared. In Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina we purchased fresh and prepared shrimp, fresh grouper, crab spread, shrimp spread, and shucked raw oysters from a couple of local fish stores including Seven Seas on very north end of Business 17.

Making Shrimp Gumbo with large, sweet, fresh shrimp was a particular favorite of Ample Bites. See my previous post for the recipe. If you can’t get fresh shrimp where you are you can have them shipped from Cajun Grocer where they are flash frozen and shipped on dry ice.

Here in the Midwest, there is nothing quite like catching, filleting and cooking fish caught from the chilly waters of the Northwoods. Our bounty included mostly Northern Pike.

If you only have access to frozen white fish, like tilapia, halibut or catfish, try the following recipe which will summon a few of the aromas of a seaside barbecue.

Baja Fish Tacos with Grilled Napa Cabbage Slaw
(Courtesy of “The Gardener & The Grill”, Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, 2012)

Serves 4

1 large head Napa cabbage, cut in half lengthwise
Canola oil, for brushing
1 cup assorted baby greens, such as spinach or Boston lettuce
8 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
¼ cup tarragon vinegar
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt

1 ½ pounds mahi mahi, catfish, halibut, tilapia, or other mild white fish
¼ cup Red Hot Blackened Seasoning (see recipe below)
8 flour tortillas, for serving
8 lemon wedges, for serving
1 ½ cups salsa of your choice, for serving

Preheat grill to high heat. Reduce to medium high before grilling.

Brush the cut sides of the Napa cabbage with oil. Coat the fish fillets with Blackened Seasoning.

Grill the cabbage, cut side down, directly over the heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cabbage has grill marks. Remove from the grill.

Grill the fish directly over the heat, flesh side down first, for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or 10 minutes per in of thickness, Turn only once to grill the skin side, halfway through grilling.

Slice the grilled cabbage and place in a large bowl. Stir in the greens and green onions. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, sour cream, lemon juice, and salt to make a dressing. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to blend.

Place some of the grilled fish on each tortilla. Top with about 1/3 cup of the slaw and roll up, soft taco style. Serve with a lemon wedge and a small ramekin of salsa.

Red Hot Blackened Seasoning:

In a glass jar, combine ¼ cup paprika, 1 ½ tablespoons garlic salt, 1 tablespoon granulated onion, 1 ½ teaspoons each dried oregano, dried basil and cayenne pepper, ¾ teaspoon dried thyme, 2 ¼ teaspoons each of black and white pepper. Cover the jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake to blend.

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Shrimp Gumbo

While in St. Petersburg, Florida Ample Bites was able to buy some fresh, large Gulf shrimp. Inspired by this bounty, I adapted a recipe from a friend who has been making gumbo since he was a young man growing up in Louisiana. My adaptation used the fresh shrimp and some smoked turkey sausage. The keys to a good shrimp gumbo are the roux and fresh shrimp stock. Enjoy!

Shrimp Gumbo
(Adapted from Tebo’s Seafood Gumbo)

Serves 10

2 ½ to 3 lbs of shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 ½ lbs of smoked turkey sausage, sliced ½” thick
2 large onions, chopped
1 ½ tsp crushed garlic
2 16 oz cans diced tomatoes with liquid
1 medium bell pepper
1 bunch green onions, green and white parts finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
4 cups sliced okra (optional)
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp liquid crab boil
½ cup canola oil
5/8 cup all-purpose flour
2 ½ quarts of Shrimp Stock
4 bay leaves

After peeling shrimp, save the shells and heads for the Shrimp Stock. Prepare the Shrimp Stock by boiling them in 3 quarts of water with 1 teaspoon of the crab boil for about 15 minutes, set aside and allow the stock to cool. Strain the stock before using.

Place the onions and garlic in one container, place tomatoes, bell pepper and green onion in a second container, and place okra in a third container. Mix seasonings (salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and the remaining crab boil) and set aside.

Make roux by heating oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Add flour slowly, stirring constantly until the roux is very dark brown. Be careful not to burn the roux. Alternatively, the roux can be made in a microwave by thoroughly mixing the oil and flour in an ovenproof container. Heat on HIGH in the microwave for 3 minutes. Remove the roux and stir it thoroughly. Repeat the process in one-minute intervals until the desire color of roux is reached.

In a heavy Dutch oven, add the onions and garlic to the roux. Heat on high, stirring constantly, until the onions are caramelized, about 12 minutes. Again, be careful not to burn the roux. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper and green onions. Add the shrimp stock, okra, seasonings and bay leaves and stir thoroughly. Bring the gumbo to a boil.

While the gumbo is coming to a boil, brown the turkey sausage in a skillet with some canola oil. Drain the sausage on a paper towel-covered plate and add the sausage to the gumbo. Reduce the heat and simmer the gumbo, covered, for about 40 minutes.

Before serving bring the gumbo back to a boil and add the peeled shrimp. Simmer for about 6-8 minutes until the shrimp are pink. Let stand 15-30 minutes and remove the bay leaves before serving. Serve 8-10 ounces of gumbo with about 1/3 cup of rice. Add file and hot sauce to taste.

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Carne Asada Tacos

The Carne Asada Taco is a simple and savory dish that is perfect for summer grilling season. The centerpiece of the Carne Asada Taco is flank steak or skirt steak, either of which is extremely flavorful. Flank steak is easier to find than skirt steak. The main difference between the two cuts of meat is that the skirt steak is thinner and tenderer. With proper marination, grilling technique, and cross-grain carving flank steak can be tenderized to a similar tenderness.

My favorite marinade is a combination of vegetables, a touch of soy sauce (as odd as that might sound for a Mexican dish), a touch of red wine vinegar, hot sauce and tequila. The flank steak can be marinated for a little as two or three hours but I get even better results by marinating overnight. The meat is tenderized by the acidity of the marinade.

The flank steak is best when grilled to medium-rare to medium. If the steak is too rare or overly well-done it will be slightly tougher but no less delicious. To grill to optimum meat temperature, use a grill on high (500F +), direct heat to sear the meat on both sides then reduce the heat to about 350F to cook to an internal temperature of about 145F. The searing process should leave a light char on the meat and it seals in the juices.

When and how the steak is carved is also critical to a successful outcome. After the steak is removed from the grill it must stand loosely covered with foil for between five and ten minutes before carving. This standing time allows the juices within the steak to redistribute themselves within the steak. When the steak is eventually carved use a technique where you cut across the grain and on a slight bias to yield slices of between 1/16″ and 1/8″. Using a very sharp carving knife will yield the best results.

Ample Bites serves the Cane Asada Taco in a whole-grain tortilla with pickled red onions (see earlier post for recipe), guacamole (see earlier post for recipe), cilantro, cheese, chopped tomatoes, sour cream and a couple of dashes hot sauce but the range of condiments and toppings is unlimited.

Carne Asada for Tacos or Burritos

Serves 6 – 8

1 1 ½ – 2 pound flank steak
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup tequila
1 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 bunch green onions, green and white parts finely chopped
1 handful cilantro, coarsely chopped or hand shredded
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the oil and the remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Immerse and cover the flank steak in the mixture. Refrigerate for 2 – 3 hours or overnight.

Prior to grilling remove the flank steak from the marinade. Discard the marinade mixture. Pat the flank steak dry and bring the meat up to room temperature. Immediately before grilling, use the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil to coat both sides of the meat and then season both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the grill to high (500F +).

Oil the grill grates and then sear one side of the meat for 2-3 minutes. Flip over and sear for another 2-3 minutes. Reduce the grill heat to medium (350F). Cook for 3-4 minutes, flip over one last time and cook until the meat reaches desired – medium-rare to medium (about 145F) is recommended.

Remove from the grill and cover loosely with foil. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before carving. Carve cross-grain and on a bias to between 1/16” and 1/8” and serve immediately.

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Sauteed Spinach with Roasted Garlic and Parmesan

I make sauteed spinach frequently. It is a great side dish for salmon, pork chops, steak or even a pasta entree.

I really like the flavor of roasted garlic and I often use it in mashed potatoes or as a spread for crostini. My sauteed spinach recipes typically include minced garlic, that is softened before the spinach is sauteed, but until I saw this recipe I never before thought about incorporating roasted garlic with sauteed spinach.

Sauteed Spinach with Roasted Garlic and Parmesan
(Adapted from Chicago Foodies)

Serves 4

1 pound fresh spinach
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
About 25 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp Olive Mill extra-virgin lemon olive oil
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup thinly grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

First, preheat oven to 400F. Put your garlic in a pan and cover it with the 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover with tin foil. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until garlic is soft and lightly browned.

Using a large pan, saute the butter on medium-high heat. As it begins to melt, add the spinach. When it has wilted, add in the juice from the lemon. Stir in the garlic cloves whole, along with some of the remaining olive oil. Mix in salt and pepper, and top with the parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

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An Evening Visit to Third Street in Geneva

Last night Ample Bites enjoyed an early dinner at Cotto A Legna in Geneva. This relatively new restaurant features wood-fired pizzas and a wide variety of Italian dishes. The wine list is excellent and features some very good Chianti Classico and Super Tuscans. This was Ample Bites second visit to Cotto A Legna and it did not disappoint.

We enjoyed a prosciutto-wrapped shrimp appetizer that was served with an Asian sweet and spicy glaze.

We then shared a salad of mixed greens, smoked salmon, beets and fresh goat cheese that was supposed to be dressed with a light lemon vinaigrette. The salad was very good but either dressing was so light we couldn’t taste it or it was missing entirely.

Finally, we split one of the wood-fire pizza’s for which Cotto A Legna is known. We chose the mushroom pizza to honor the upcoming National Mushroom Day (Monday, April 16th – check back for posts of some outstanding mushroom recipes). The pizza was as good as billed. The crust was thin but just thick enough to be chewy. The light application of sauce and cheese allowed the mushrooms to be the star of the dish.

After dinner we strolled Third Street feeling like Romans or Florentines. One of our stops was the The Spice House, which was located directly across the street from the restaurant. This small store has a huge assortment of dried spices from all over the world. After browsing for a good 15 to 20 minutes, we purchased some dried chanterelle and oyster mushrooms – some of which will undoubtedly be used this weekend. The clerks at the Spice House were very friendly and helpful and the store is well-designed with spice arranged by regions and classifications. Ample Bites will undoubtedly be returning to The Spice House again very soon.

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Grilled Salmon and Warm Cherry Tomato Salad

Salmon is a versatile fish that can be cooked in any number of ways. Ample Bites likes Grilled Salmon the best. Other preparations include smoked, poached, planked, and salmon burgers or patties.

Grilled Salmon with a light coating of good olive oil, sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper brings out the essence of the main ingredient.

Grilled Salmon

Serves 4

4 8-oz salmon fillets
2 Tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat you grill to a high temperature.

Brush the salmon with the olive oil and season with the sea salt and pepper.

Place the fillets skin side down on a clean, hot grill grate. Close the grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the fillets over, cover the grill again and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes for medium well done. If you wish to check the temperature of the fish it should read about 140F.

A perfect side dish for Grilled Salmon is a Warm Cherry Tomato Salad. The salad is light and fresh. The acidity of the tomatoes work well with the simple, meaty flavors of the fish.

Warm Cherry Tomato Salad
(Courtesy of Super Suppers Cookbook, Judie Byrd, 2006)

Serves 4 to 6

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp minced fresh garlic
2 pints cherry tomatoes
6 green onions, bias-sliced, or ½ cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes and green onion, cook and stir until tomato skins begin to burst. Stir in vinegar, salt and pepper. Remove skillet from heat. Add parsley, toss to combine.

An added plus for both the Grilled Salmon and the Warm Cherry Tomato Salad is the simple preparation. Both dishes can be completed in less than 30 minutes, which makes them perfect for a middle of the week dinner.

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Shrimp Stock for Cioppino

Making you own Shrimp Stock, for use in zuppa di mare, Cioppino or seafood risotto, is easy and fresh shrimp stock adds a deep layer of flavor unattainable with the use of a vegetable stock.

Do-it-yourself shrimp stock does take some planning. Primarily, you need to save shells from the shrimp that you peel for cooking. Ample Bites always buys raw, frozen shrimp and freezes the shells in zip-top plastic bags until I have at least a loosely-packed quart.

These shrimp shells seem, at first glance, to be of little value but there is a tremendous amount of flavor clinging to them. To make the Shrimp Stock Ample Bites uses the following recipe:

Shrimp Stock

1 – 1 1/2 quart of loosely-packed shrimp shells
2 medium yellow onions, chopped coarsely
2 stalks of celery, chopped coarsely
2 medium-sized carrots, chopped coarsely
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tsp sea salt
1 bundle bouquet garni (5 sprigs of thyme, 2 bay leaves, 10 black peppercorns, 3 sprigs of parsley wrapped and tied in a piece of cheesecloth)
4 quarts cold water

Rinse the shrimp shells under cold water and place them in a stockpot with the remaining ingredients. Bring the stock to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the heat back to medium and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes. Allow the stock to cool and then strain through a fine strainer. If you will not be using the stock immediately you can store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 day or freeze in a sealed plastic container for about one month.

What did I tell you? Really easy, right? The scariest part for most home cooks is the term “bouquet garni” If you have cheesecloth, kitchen twine and the listed ingredients, it takes 2-3 minutes to put this element of the stock together.

A favorite Ample Bites recipe incorporating shrimp stock is Cioppino, sometimes called a seafood stew. The following recipe serves six.


2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2” chunks
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 16-oz can whole tomatoes, undrained, crushed by hand
½ tsp, crushed red chile peppers
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves, broken in half
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 cup shrimp stock or bottled clam juice
½ cup dry white wine
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
18 mussels, rinsed and debearded
2 lbs boneless, skinless haddock or cod filets, cut into 1 ½” chunks
3 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of slated water to a boil and add potatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 12-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a 6-qt pot over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, chile flakes, garlic, onions, bay leaves, and peppers and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 12 minutes. Add fish stock, wine and salt and pepper and cook stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add fish and continue to cook, cover, until all of the mussels are opened and the fish is cooked through, 5-6 minutes more.

To serve, transfer fish stew to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with half the parsley and cilantro. Place the potatoes in another serving dish, sprinkle with remaining cilantro and parsley and serve alongside stew.

Ample Bites hopes you find the value in saving shrimp shells for Shrimp Stock. Enjoy the Cioppino while the weather is still relative cool. Mangia!

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