Sunday, September 19, 2010

Impressing for Less with Late Summer's Veggies

Peppers, eggplant, cantaloupes, apples, potatoes, figs, shallots, certain tomatoes, grapes, okra, green beans, and a whole host of other goodies are seasonally harvested as the end of summer. And now that fall is approaching some of my favorites are also available, like pumpkin, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, artichokes, brussels sprouts, parsnips and pears. In an attempt to keep cooking with produce that is seasonal, for our first dinner guests in our California apartment, I scoured my cookbooks to come up with a recipe that might include some vegetables from the above lists.

I tend to always go to the same cookbooks, so first I decided to go through all of my books and use post it notes to flag off recipes that I want to try (it helps to cut down on future searching time). And once I had done that I settled on a recipe from Impress for Less. My mom got us Impress for Less and it is one of the perfect cookbooks for us. We're big foodies, and this book basically gives you recipes from famous/expensive restaurants in several different cities around the country so that you can make really good and creative food for less than you would have spent going out to eat.

Now I admit, because I was really excited to have people over (two students in my PhD program who were coming over to study for our first quiz) I went a little bit over board. But they claimed to be foodies as well, and I promised them a good meal, so I rationalized that it would be ok to cook so much.

My main dish was the macaroni and cheese I wrote an entry about a little while ago. And while that's definitely enough food for four people, as I said earlier, I wanted to make some seasonal veggie dishes just to pretend to be healthy. So I made up one dish and picked another from the Impress for Less book.

Roasted Tomatoes:
-2 Shallots
-5-6 crimini mushrooms
-1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes
-fresh rosemary
-olive oil

1. Take tomatoes (I like smaller ones like a cherry or grape sized) and put them in a baking dish (like a pie dish) that has sides. Cover with a little bit of olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until they become soft and/or start to pop.
2. On the stove top, cook sliced scallions in olive oil for a few minutes. Then as they start to cook add some crimini mushrooms that you've also sliced up. Once the mushrooms start to look like they're a little cooked add fresh rosemary.
3. When the scallions and mushrooms are just about completely cooked take the tomatoes out of the oven and dump the contents of your frying pan in the pie dish. Give everything a good stir and drop the temperature of the oven to 200 degrees. Let the food cook for another 5 minutes and if everything looks cooked, then it's time to serve otherwise let it cook and keep checking until it's done.

With this next recipe, I changed it around because when I went to the super market I forgot to pick up some ingredients and then purposely left out others. You can click the link to get the real recipe, but mine is listed here.

From Impress for Less - Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, blue cheese, and Green Apples:
-olive oil
-1 cup peel and diced Gala Apples (you can use any but I liked these because they were sweet with only a little bit of tartness)
-8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter
-2 tablespoons sugar
-1 tablespoon cinnamon
-1/2 cup of sweet dry wine (like Riesling)
-5 slices of smoked bacon
-3 cups of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
-1 1/2 tablespoons of a good quality smoked BBQ sauce** see note at bottom
-1/4-1/2 cup of crumbled blue cheese

1. Fry bacon until it's semi cooked in a frying pan. You don't want them to be crispy because you will be baking it again later. Save the fat in cup or bowl. Cut the bacon into 1 inch pieces and put them in a baking dish. Preheat the oven for 350 degrees- but don't put the dish in there now.
2. When you've dumped the fat in a bowl, without cleaning out the pan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When it starts to get hot add the apples. Give them a stir and after one minute add 4 tablespoons of butter. When the butter begins to brown add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. When the sugar begins to caramelize (that's when it bubbles up like it's boiling), add the wine.
3. Cook the apple mixture for 5-8 minutes. Let some of the liquid evaporate, but not all of it. When it's done, spoon out the apple with a slotted spoon into the baking dish with the bacon and continue to let the contents of the frying pan cook. Keep your slotted spoon handy and keep stirring it so the liquid doesn't burn. After a minute or two dump that into the baking dish.
4. Take a paper towel and clean up pan (it doesn't have to be perfectly clean, but make sure you get the bottom of the pan where the dribble went). Then dump the bacon fat you saved back into the pan and heat it up.
5. When the fat is hot again, add the brussels sprouts face down. When they begin to cook a little bit add the rest of the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the butter completely melts flip the brussels sprouts over (I found it easiest to use tongs, and don't worry if some of the leaves come off).
6. When they've cooked for another 3 minutes dump the entire contents of the pan into the baking dish, add the smokey BBQ sauce, and stir everything around. Then put it in the oven (do not put a top on) and bake for 10-15 minutes until the brussels sprouts become tender.
7. Serve in the baking dish with the crumbled blue cheese on top.

At first I was skeptical of all the cinnamon and how liquidy this dish seemed to be before putting it in the oven. But after it came out and we were eating it with the macaroni and cheese, it was the perfect side dish to it. Smokey, sweet, with a bit of a kick from the cheese. Sometimes I impress even myself!

**A note about the BBQ sauce. So I think this is the second time I've mentioned using a good quality BBQ sauce and I know it will not be my last. When I keep talking about that, I'm not talking about going to the super market and buying one step up from Heinz, I mean a specialty sauce. My personal favorite is the Smoked Maple Chipotle finishing sauce from Bittersweet Herb Farms. I discovered them at an Artisan Craft fair in Tarrytown, NY and Nick and I are addicted to it. The craft fair is expensive, and we like to go to see the art (both wearable and not), but we save our money for the gourmet food and buy 3 at a time to get a discount. Three lasts us just about a year and I put it in half the stuff I cook, steak, hamburgers, and obviously vegetable dishes...I think at heart I might be from the South...

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