Summer Tomato Week – Part 1

Here in the Midwest, where Ample Bites is based, the summer tomatoes harvest is beginning. The Ample Bites Vegetable Farm has already yielded some robust, juicy beauties. Tomatoes are so versatile and they are enjoyed by most people so finding recipes and people to help consume the tomato bounty is very easy. Rather than share the basic recipes that most of us have in our repertoire I have looked for and found some different dishes. Enjoy!

Cheesy Creole Tomato Pie
(Adapted from Farm to Fork, Emeril Lagasse, 2010)

Serves 6 to 8

1 frozen savory pie shell
2 egg, separated
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
½ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
¾ cup thinly sliced sweet onions (such as Vidalia)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
2 ounces Fontina cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
2 ounces Mozzarella cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.

Bake the pie shell for about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges.

Remove the pie shell from oven and place it on a wire rack. Lightly beat the egg white with a fork. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the entire warm crust with the egg white. You will not use all of the egg white. Allow the crust to cool and the egg white to set, at which point the crust will look glazed.

Slice the tomatoes into ¼”-thick rounds, discarding the stem and root ends. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper.

Combine the mayonnaise with the egg yolk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.

Sprinkle one-third of the breadcrumbs over the bottom of the cooled pie crust. Layer half of the tomato slices over the breadcrumbs in a circular pattern and top with half of the sliced onions. Drizzle on half of the mayonnaise mixture and top with half of the herbs, half of the Fontina, half of the Mozzarella, and half of the remaining breadcrumbs. Make a second layer with the tomato slices, onions, mayonnaise mixture, herbs, Fontina, Mozzarella, and remaining breadcrumbs. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the pie in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hours, until it is bubbly hot and golden brown. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes or up to 5 hours before serving. The pie is best served at room temperature.

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Grilled Duck with Honey and Chile Glaze

This a nice spicy recipe for duck. The sauce is rich and syrupy. It is not a simple dish but it is quite tasty.

Grilled Honey and Chile-Glazed Duck
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Lousiana Cookin’ magazine, August/September 2012)

Serves 4

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, slivered
1 poblano chile, seeded and julienned
1 ancho chile, chopped
¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup honey
4 duck breasts
Granulated garlic, to taste
Cumin seeds, to taste
Honey and Chile Sauce, recipe follows
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. In a small saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add slivered garlic and chiles, and sauté 2 to 3 minutes. Add vinegar, and reduce by half. Add honey and remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes.

Return sauce to stovetop over medium heat. Heat through, then strain sauce into a bowl, discarding solids. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside.

Season duck with salt, pepper and granulated garlic and cumin. Grill skin side down, 5 to 7 minutes. Baste with honey-vinegar glaze, turn and grill another 2 to 3 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165F.

Slice duck breast on a bias. Spoon Honey and Chile sauce on individual serving plates. Arrange duck slices on top of the sauce and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Honey and Chile Sauce

12 black peppercorns, crushed
¼ cup cumin seeds
2 ancho chiles, seeded and halved
2 chipotle chiles, seeded and halved
½ pound bacon chopped
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups diced onion
½ cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic minced
1 ½ cups diced carrots
1 cup diced leeks
1/4 cup honey
1 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup dry sherry
2 quarts chicken or duck stock
Granulated garlic, to taste

In a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast peppercorns and cumin seeds until fragrant. Remove pan and set aside. In the same dry skillet, toast chiles until the skins are blackened. Remove the skins and set aside with the peppercorns and cumin.

In a large, shallow saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté bacon until fat has rendered and bacon is crisp. Add ¼ cup butter and next six ingredients and sauté 5 to 7 minutes or until caramelized, stirring occasionally. Pour off excess fat.

Return pan to heat, stir in honey and vinegar, and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add sherry. Carefully return pan to heat, as sherry might ignite. Reduce by half, then add stock, reserved peppercorns, cumin seeds, and chiles. Bring to a boil, then simmer until reduced by half, about 45 minutes.

Remove from heat and strain sauce into a clean saucepan, discarding solids. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper and granulated garlic, then whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

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Veal Marsala

Veal Marsala is a very rich dish with a great depth of flavors that is really quite easy to prepare. The dish combines veal cutlets with onion and mushrooms in a sweet Marsala wine sauce that is thickened by the roux created by the flour and oil used to pan fry the veal.

Veal Marsala
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 6

2 cups flour
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp salt
4 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves minced
8 Tbsp (one stick) unsalted butter
1 cup Marsala wine
6 veal cutlets, pounded flat

Place the flour, seasoned with the pepper, garlic powder and salt, in a shallow bowl. In a second shallow bowl whisk the eggs. Pour the milk in a third shallow bowl.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet. In batches of two, dredge the cutlets in the milk, then the flour, then the eggs and back into the flour. Shake off excess flour and the pan fry the cutlets, turning once until they are golden brown. Add additional oil as needed. As the cutlets are finished place them on platter lined with paper towel.

In the heavy skillet add the, garlic, onions and mushrooms to the roux that has been created by the flour and oil from the cutlets. Saute the vegetables until they are soft and the mushrooms are beginning to brown. Add Marsala wine and the butter to the skillet and stir as the sauce thickens. Add the cutlets back to the skillets with the vegetables and sauce and coat them generously with the sauce. Just before serving sprinkle the cutlets lightly with more of the wine.

To serve, place a cutlet on a plate, top it with the onions and mushrooms and a generous ladleful of sauce. Serve with rice or pasta.

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No Need to Ever Buy Marinara Sauce Again

The convenience of buying a tomato-based pasta sauce off the shelf causes us to overlook the depth of flavor that comes from making our own sauce. Try this simple marinara sauce and you may never buy your sauce again.

Pasta Marinara with Grilled Chicken Breasts
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 4

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons, divided
½ cup dry red wine
2 small onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 (32 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 pound dried whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 dried bay leaves
4 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped, for garnish
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt

In a large casserole pot, heat the ½ cup of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and the sea salt and black pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, and bay leaves and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.

While sauce is thickening, heat grill to medium heat. Brush the chicken breasts with the remaining olive oil and season both sides of each piece of meat with salt and pepper. Place chicken on the grill for 4 to 5 minutes, turn once and continue grilling for 2 to 4 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing on a diagonal.

Boil and drain the pasta and place the pasta in a large bowl.

Remove and discard the bay leaf from the marinara sauce. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste. Pour enough sauce over the pasta to thoroughly coat and toss to mix.

To serve, place equal portions of the pasta on a serving plates, layer with ladle full of sauce, place sliced chicken on top and garnish with basil.

Serve with crusty bread and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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Grilled Eggplant Zucchini and Mushroom Salad

The salad incorporates grilled vegetables with peppery arugula and fresh herbs. Grated cheese and chopped prosciutto add depth to what is really a simple salad. This salad is a great compliment for grilled salmon, steak or chicken.

Grilled Eggplant Zucchini and Mushroom Salad

Serves 6

1 large eggplant, ends trimmed, sliced into ½-inch round slices
2 large zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into ½-inch thick rounds
3 large knob onions, ends trimmed
10 cremini mushrooms, wiped clean
6 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp Italian seasoning
1 ½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, sliced into thin strips
½ cup grated Italian cheese (Parmesan and/or Asiago)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped green olives
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, chives, parsley)
2 cups baby arugula
2 cups baby spinach

Heat grill to medium-high.

Place eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and onions on a baking sheet and brush both sides of vegetables generously with olive oil, sprinkle with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Skewer the mushrooms.

Grill all vegetables, turning once, until tender and golden, about 10 minutes. Remove to cutting board to cool.

Cut eggplant and zucchini into generous ½-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl. Slice the mushrooms and onions and add them to the bowl. Add the garlic and mix gently.

Fold in the prosciutto, cheese, olives and fresh herbs. Add the greens and toss to incorporate. Serve immediately.

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Frontier – West Town, Chicago

After a sunny and informative, architectural riverboat tour of Chicago, Ample Bites and family made our way to Frontier for an early dinner. This West Town restaurant had come highly recommended by our son and his friends. Frontier features a menu of “fished” and “hunted” items prepared by Executive Chef Brian Jupiter and his staff in a style defined as “farm to table”. The “fished” items include everything from escargot to a large selection of oysters on-the-half-shell along with several fish choices and specials. The “hunted” menu include duck, rabbit, boar and even gator ribs.

The drink selections were fairly typical for an urban restaurant including craft beers, a nice wine list, and an array of whiskeys and scotches. Frontier also featured a half dozen large format beers, which came in vessels as large as nine-liters, to be shared with a group.

The motif of Frontier is heavy-timber and brick loft with a western feel but more of an urban vibe. TV’s were showing a variety of sporting events but it did not scream “sports bar”. The outdoor seating area where we ate had a nice mix of high-top tables, lower couch-type seating, an outdoor fireplace and a translucent shelter to allow the natural light in and keep the rain (which was not a problem for us) away.

Frontier also offers whole animal roasts for large groups of diners.

We started our meal with a dozen oysters, most of which came from the Pacific Northwest. Each oyster was fresh and briny. The oysters were served with a catsup-based cocktail sauce, some minced horseradish and chopped Peppadew peppers. To accompany the oyster appetizer we ordered a White Bean Hummus with Rosemary Oil. The hummus was especially good. It was made to order and was still warm when it was served with grilled sourdough bread. The oysters and hummus were quickly devoured and thoroughly enjoyed by the Ample Bites crew.

We shared two orders of Duck Sliders, an Ahi Tuna Sandwich, and Smoked Rabbit Tostadas. The Duck Sliders accented the ground duck with avocado salsa, cheese and smoked bacon. The Ahi Tuna Sandwich was served on sourdough bread with sprouts, crispy shallots and wasabi mayo. The Smoked Rabbit Tostada incorporated a jicama-mandarin slaw and was served on hand-pressed tortillas. Our group also shared hand-cut rosemary fries that were simply good enough to be addictive.

We visited Frontier on an early Sunday evening and we were disappointed to be told that several menu items would not be available including Duck Tacos, Sweet Potato Fries and one of the oyster varieties that we had ordered. Service was also very slow even though the restaurant was not at all crowded when we arrived. Our waitress was very good once we had her attention and she made every effort to make-up for any deficiency in service.

All of our food was very good and we spotted menu items that we would try on a return visit to Frontier, which will undoubtedly happen sometime soon.

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Pan-fried Northern Pike with Summer Vegetables

Ample Bites finally got a chance to cook some the Northern Pike that we caught on our early June fishing trip to Crystal Falls, Michigan. Tonight we combined the pan-fried fish with some summer vegetables most of which were from the Ample Bites Vegetable Garden.

Preparing pan-fried fish scares some cooks away. It is really very easy as long as you have a good heat source that you can control like a gas burner or a gas grill. Pan-frying any fish or meat takes some preparation and there is some clean-up but it is all well worth the effort.

A key technique in pan-frying is to use a milk wash and an egg wash along with a seasoned bread crumb or corn meal breading mixture. Another key is to heat oil over medium to medium high heat until it ripples before putting the fish in to cook. Finally, take care not to overcook the fish. Over proper heat the fish should only take a minute or two per side depending on the thickness of the fish fillets.

Our meal tonight included a fresh beet salad with feta cheese and a medley of sauteed zucchini with onions, tomatoes and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Pan-fried Fish
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

4 Tbsp canola oil
4 large eggs, whisked in a shallow bowl or dish
1/2 cup milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp Creole seasoning
2 lemons, cut into 12 wedges
2 – 3 lbs fresh northern pike, walleye, or tilapia fillets (10 – 12 total)

Pour the milk into a shallow dish or bowl with sides at least 3/4″ high. In another shallow dish or bowl, combine the bread crumbs, garlic powder, pepper and Creole seasoning. Mix with a fork until fully combined.

In a large heavy skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat until it ripples then reduce the heat to medium.

In batches, soak 2 – 3 fish fillets in the milk for 1 minute, dredge the fillets one at a time in the bread crumbs, dip the each fillet in the egg wash and the re-dredge in the bread crumbs before placing them in the skillet. Cook each fillet for 1 – 2 minutes per side until and remove them to a baking sheet. Keep fish warm in an oven at 200F until serving. Repeat the breading process and pan frying until all fillets are cooked and ready to serve.

During the pan-frying process it may be necessary to add more oil to the hot pan. This can be done between batches and the oil will reach cooking temperature quite quickly.

When all of the fish has been cooked it is ready to serve right away. Garnish with the lemon wedges and enjoy.

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Apricot-Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin

After doing the non-traditional barbecue it was time for Ample Bites to do something a little more mainstream. Pork tenderloin is a perfect vehicle for fruit glazes. This apricot-balsamic glaze was inspired by ingredients in my pantry including a jar of apricot preserves and a bottle of The Olive Mill Blackberry Ginger Balsamic vinegar.

Apricot-Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin
(Recipe by Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs trimmed pork tenderloin
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp Creole Seasoning (such as Emeril’s Essence)
4 ounces apricot preserves
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp Olive Mill Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring pork tenderloin to room temperature. Season evenly on all sides with the Creole seasoning and let stand for 30 – 45 minutes. Drizzle pork with olive oil before grilling.

In a small bowl mix the apricot preserves, ginger, garlic, and vinegar, Whisk until fully combined.

Heat grill to medium-high heat. Place tenderloins on the grill and sear on all sides, about 1 – 2 minutes each. Reduce heat to medium indirect and grill the pork for 10 – 12 minutes until reaching firmness. In the last 5 minutes of grilling glaze with the Apricot-Balsamic mixture. Glaze and turn every minute until all sides have been covered.

Removed the meat from the grill and let stand for 2 – 5 minutes before carving and serving.

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A Different Type of July 4th Barbecue

Ample Bites knows that the favorite Independence Day barbecue fare for most Americans falls along the lines of hot dogs, hamburgers and, maybe, a bratwurst or polish sausage. Some barbecue enthusiasts use the holiday to smoke a beef brisket, ribs or, perhaps, grill a “beer can” chicken. Ethnic picnics in our great melting pot of a nation can include carne asada, a whole lamb or small pig on a spit over a charcoal fire.

Ample Bites has cooked the vast majority of the favorites. This year I have chosen to do a meal with more of an Asian flair. The heat of the grill infuses the rich flavors of a marinade made from sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, chili paste and fresh ginger. With a few grilled vegetables and some pickled cucumbers as accompaniments and a nice bed of brown rice, these grilled Thai beef skewers make a delicious and filling meal.

Happy Independence Day to All!

Thai Beef Skewers with Pickled Cucumbers
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Ted Allen & The Food Network Magazine, July/August 2012)

Serves 4 – 6

For the Pickled Cucumbers

¼ cup sugar
½ tsp Kosher salt
¼ cup rice vinegar
½ Asian cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small hot red or green chile, thinly sliced
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves

For the Beef Skewers

1 cup soy sauce
8 tsp rice vinegar
4 tsp toasted sesame oil
4 tsp fish sauce
4 tsp mirin
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tsp minced, peeled fresh ginger
2 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
6 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
4 tsp red pepper flakes or Thai chili paste
Juice of 1 lime
2 lb sirloin, rib-eye or NY Strip steak, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 scallions (white and light green parts), cut into 1-inch lengths, plus additional, sliced for garnish

Pickle the cucumbers: In a small saucepan, heat the sugar, salt, vinegar and ¼ cup water over medium-high heat until the sugar and salt dissolve; remove from the heat. Put the cucumber, chile and red onion in a medium bowl and pour the hot brine over them. Let cool, then add the cilantro. Chill

Make the beef skewers: In a medium bowl, mix the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, mirin, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes. Pour about half of the mixture in a serving bowl, add the lime juice and reserve as a dipping sauce. Put the beef cubes in a zip-top plastic bag and pour in the remaining marinade. Seal the bag and massage the marinade into the meat. Put in a bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat a grill to high. Drain the meat, discarding the marinade. Thread the cubes on to skewers (3 to 5 per skewer), separating each cube with a piece of scallion. Grill directly over the coals, turning once, until nicely charred, about 3 minutes per side.

On a serving dish, sprinkle skewers with sliced scallions. Serve warm or cold with the reserved marinade for dipping and the pickled cucumber and chiles on the side.

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