SOJ Chef Demo 09.22.12

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This week at the South of the James farmers’ market cooking demo, Chef Sam got creative with a mixture of summer and fall ingredients. Norma’s Produce had a variety of colorful melons that inspired a fresh melon vinaigrette.

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The Chef grated a canary melon, then whisked it together with red wine vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, fresh basil and tarragon. The melon vinaigrette was sweet and tangy. Drizzled over mixed greens, it made a refreshing salad to start the day.

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The Chef used fresh tomato and cucumber to round out the dish for sampling. Reflecting on the dish, I wonder if this melon vinaigrette will make it onto the brunch menu at the Hermitage Grill soon.

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This was the first week I saw brussels sprouts at the farmers’ market, and I was anxious to see how people would react. I of course jumped at the chance to snag some of these beautiful sprouts from Pleitez Produce. These are always a hit at my house, but I usually roast them, so I was interested to see how Chef Sam would prepare them without an oven.

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Sam and I were both so excited to see brussels sprouts available that we decided to make them the Veg of the Week!

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I was anxious to see how people would respond, because brussels sprouts are notorious for making people turn their noses up. I knew I loved them, but I felt like most people would need some convincing. Boy, was I wrong! All morning long, shoppers came up to our table to ask where they could buy their own. I lost track of how many times I heard “oooh, I love brussels sprouts!”

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The one person who did need convincing this week was me. Chef Sam picked up some “chicken of the woods” mushrooms from Haas Shrooms. These highly sought after mushrooms are foraged in the wild and they are known to be a real treat. I have always had an issue with mushrooms and only recently have I even allowed them to touch my plate. Something about fungus just seems inedible to me. I know that is irrational, but I have had a hard time tricking my mind into allowing me to enjoy mushrooms.

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Chef Sam said “they taste just like chicken,” so I considered taking a bite, then changed my mind. He threw them in a pan with some oil, salt and pepper, and they turned a brilliant orange color. They smelled fantastic while they cooked. After I heard the comments from samplers, praising Sam for his ingenious preparation of these odd little seashell shaped fungi, I decided to take a bite.

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Sam was right; they were awesome. That’s right folks, I ate mushrooms and liked them. If my Mom is reading this right now, I can guarantee you her jaw is on the floor. I have to tell you, it was a really cool experience. Over five months, I have watched Chef Sam convert non-adventurous eaters into believers in all kinds of produce. I’ve heard them say they couldn’t believe they were eating (insert odd local ingredient here), and I’ve seen them pick up a new type of produce to try at home per his recommendation. It was definitely strange to find myself in their shoes and have my mind changed about an ingredient.

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Chef Sam composed plates of salad with melon vinaigrette, pan roasted brussels sprouts, sautéed chicken of the woods, and beef hanging tender. I spared you the photos of the beef, because brown food never looks good in pictures. The brussels sprouts were sautéed with onion and garlic in oil, then seasoned with rice wine vinegar and smoked sea salt. The hanging tender was marinated in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, salt, cumin, coriander, garlic and other spices, then slow cooked in a pan over a bed of sautéed onions. Chef Sam explained that the onions keep the meat from sticking to the pan during the long cooking process. He topped the beef with a  dollop of Goats R Us Horsey Chevre, then handed the plates off to market shoppers.

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If anyone needed convincing before, after having a taste of this plate, he was a believer.

Thank you to Deer Run Farm, Haas Shrooms, Norma’s Produce, Origins Farms (formerly Victory Farms), Pine Fork Farm, Goats R Us, Pleitez Produce, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for making (and foraging for) this week’s tasty ingredients.

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Veggie Redux: Bangers and Mash

Since eliminating meat from my diet, I have expanded my culinary horizons and seized the opportunity to try new ingredients and preparations. I have said before that vegetarianism has opened more doors for me than it has closed. However, I did not stop eating meat because I didn’t like meat. I really enjoyed meat on occasion, and some dishes have been hard to replace. For that reason, I have tried to recreate some of my favorite meat dishes using meatless ingredients. There have been successes and failures, but the thrill of the adventure is worth the bumpy ride.

Last night I attempted a recreation of bangers and mash, the traditional English dish made of sausage and mashed potatoes. This one was a success. I do not know if meat-eaters would be fooled, but for this pair of vegetarians, my rendition definitely satisfied the craving. And that is what it is all about. The vegan sausages with their pepperiness and bits of sundried tomato offered a hearty complement to the creamy mashed Yukon golds. Paired with a side of roasted brussels sprouts, this meal felt more winter than fall. However with the chilly rainy weather we have had for the last week, it really hit the spot.

I know I have ignored two of the cardinal rules of food photography: don’t photograph brown food and expect it to look appetizing, and always use natural light. But the thing is, gravy is brown. And so are sausages. And I still think they look really freaking appetizing. But maybe you had to be there. Also, it was cold and dark outside so artificial light was all I had. Really, this dish wouldn’t work so well on a bright sunny day so give me the benefit of the doubt and use your imagination. This truly was a hearty and delicious dish.

click to see it in all its gravy glory

Veggie Bangers and Mash (serves 4)

Ingredients:

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes

One package Tofurky Italian sausages (4 links)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium onion

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp stone ground mustard

1 cup vegetable broth

1/4 cup milk

2 Tbsp butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

1. Peel and cut the potatoes into 1 inch chunks. Place in a large pot, cover with water, and boil over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

2. Slice the sausages into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sausages when hot and cook until browned.

3. Cut the onion into thin slices. When the sausages are browned, remove them from the pan to a paper towel lined plate. Add the onion to the pan and saute until translucent.

4. When the potatoes are done cooking, drain them in a colander and return to the pot. Mash the potatoes, adding milk and butter until you reach teh desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

5. Add the flour to the onions and stire to coat. Cook for about one minute, then add the vegetable broth to the pan. Whisk in the mustard. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until this reduces to a gravy-like consistency.

6. Return the sausages to the gravy pan and stir to coat. Cook until warmed throughout.

7. Serve the sausages over the mashed potatoes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 lb brussels sprouts

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wash and trim the brussels sprouts. Remove the stems.

3. Combine the brussels sprouts with the desired amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet.

4. Cook in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until the leaves are brown and crispy, while the centers are still soft and green.