SOJ Chef Demo 08.11.12

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This week at the South of the James Farmers’ Market cooking demo, Chef Sam Baker cooked fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables as the morning went from damp and dreary to warm and bright. With grey puddles underfoot, Chef Sam shopped the market and found some cool fish and shrimp as well as some vibrant tomatoes and large mushrooms. He quickly got to work on the tilefish from Barham Seafood.

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The spicy seasoning on the fish helped heat things up as the rain clouds teased us with an off-and-on light drizzle. The Chef explained that tilefish is a rare treat, as he seasoned it with tarragon, cayenne pepper, curry powder and sea salt. As the fish cooked in a pan, Chef Sam cozied up to some mushrooms from Haas Shrooms.

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After sautéing the mushrooms with some red onion, a splash of water and a bit of salt, Chef Sam stuffed them with Goats R Us dill chevre and pan seared tilefish, then topped them with pan roasted tomatoes and a sliver of fresh Asian pear.

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The stuffed mushrooms paired well with the weather, as the market had a certain damp earthiness that morning.

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After the Chef completed a couple of demonstrations, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

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Shoppers with dogs on leashes and children in strollers showed up. Iced coffee sales spiked for the morning. As the market steamed up, Chef Sam decided it was time to put the shrimp on.

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For his next act, Chef Sam made zucchini and yellow squash boats, complete with shrimp “passengers.” He made a barbecue sauce for the shrimp by reducing a pot of tomatoes and peaches with a splash of water to a thick sauce, then adding some Empress Farm habanero blackberry jam. I tasted the sauce and it was out of this world! It had a great balance of sweet and spicy. After bathing in the sauce, the shrimp hopped aboard zucchini and yellow squash boats stuffed with sautéed zucchini and red onions.

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The shrimp were a big hit, and it was cool to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was picture worthy!

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For the final demonstration, Chef Sam made a vegetarian pasta dish that was bursting with fruit ingredients. He used Bombolini Pasta’s herb ditalini as a base. Over the pasta, the Chef layered some seared Asian pears with ground black pepper. These were incredible. If I had been left unattended I would have eaten the whole plate before the Chef could assemble the dish. I was so happy that Kyle had picked up a bag of these pears while shopping that morning! I had plans for a pear pizza and watching this come together got me in the right mindset to pull it off.

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In addition to pears, the pasta dish featured sautéed zucchini, fresh tomatoes, and a tomato peach marinara sauce. This fantastic sauce included tomatoes, peaches, red onion and basil. Some of the plates were topped with a dollop of dill chevre to mix in.

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Whether it was stuffing mushrooms, filling zucchini halves, or packing flavor into a sauce, Chef Sam made sure that every dish was full of flavor and fresh produce. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, summer is the best season for packing in a lot of flavor with little effort. I’m looking forward to seeing what Chef Sam creates for the rest of this season, and what he has up his sleeve for the Fall. Come find out for yourself at the South of the James Market, every Saturday, eight to noon.

Thank you to Barham Seafood, Bombolini Pasta, Drumheller Orchard, Empress Farm, Goats R Us, Haas Shrooms, Norma’s Produce, Rocking F Farms, Saunders Brothers Orchard, Victory Farms, Walnut Hill Farm, and all of the other featured market vendors for providing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients!

Veg:ology Turns Two!

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Last month, Veg:ology turned two years old. Kyle, the Weber grill, and I celebrated with a backyard bash at our new home. It was a star studded event, featuring several local celebrities who were able to make the short trip from the farmers’ market to our house:

  • Excellent Eggplant
  • Zany Zucchini
  • Heirloom Tomato
  • Beautiful Basil

We entertained them with fun facts about the growth of Veg:ology, the little vegetarian cooking blog that could. Some things haven’t changed much since year one. Zucchini is still one of the top search terms that lead people to the blog.

Top 3 Search Terms

  1. Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
  2. Vegology
  3. Zucchini

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Cupcakes have taken over the top spot from my beloved zucchini. I think we all know what needs to happen next. Zucchini cupcakes, anyone?

The most viewed post on Veg:ology is Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache. (Warning: these are seriously addictive.)

The most popular advice post is How to Save a Crumbled Cake. (I still owe this girl a proper birthday cake… maybe next year.)

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Our honored guests roasted in the hot sun while I reviewed some pretty major events that occurred over the last year.

We moved to VegologyBlog.com.

We joined Facebook.

We attended our first blogger conference:

We had our first food photo published in National Geographic Traveler (iPad edition).

We joined Eating Richmond and Virginia is for Bloggers.

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While sipping my celebratory glass of old vine zinfandel, I realized that my favorite part of cooking out is drinking and waiting. There is a whole lot of waiting involved in grilling, and who could resist a nice beverage while he or she waits? Grilling is not just a man’s sport; women can play too! With wine!

After my revelation, I wrapped up the sentimental bit of our trip down memory lane, and then removed the eggplant and zucchini from the grill for plating.

I don’t always eat my dinner guests, but when I do, I prefer to grill and stack them.

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In lieu of a birthday cake, we had vegetable napoleons. I couldn’t imagine a more festive way to mark the occasion. Thank you to all the friends and family of Vegology who read, comment, cook, and share their experiences here. I have learned so much from the food blogging community, and the support I have gotten from other bloggers and from readers has been incredible. I wish I had more to give you to express my gratitude; for now, this recipe will have to do. Enjoy!

Grilled Vegetable Napoleons

Serves 4

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 – 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed (Great Northern, or Cannelini if you’re fancy)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided (see directions for measurements)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 cup basil leaves, divided
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat the grill.
  2. Brush both sides of each slice of eggplant and zucchini with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. When grill is ready, arrange the eggplant and zucchini slices directly on the grates. Grill until grill marks appear and vegetables appear cooked throughout, about 5 minutes per side on a charcoal grill, then remove.
  4. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil, white beans, and garlic to the pan. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, then over low heat for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
  5. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over low heat. Chop 1/2 cup basil leaves then add to pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then cool and transfer to a food processer. Coarsely chop, then drain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Set basil oil aside.
  6. When the white beans are done cooking, transfer to a food processer. Add 3 Tbsp olive oil, 3 Tbsp water, and the lemon juice and oregano. Puree until smooth then add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. On a round plate, add 1/4 of the white bean puree. On top of the puree, build the following layers, in order: tomato, eggplant, mozzarella, zucchini, 2 leaves basil, then repeat. There should be enough to make 4 plates.
  8. Put a toothpick or skewer through the center of the stack to hold in place. Insert a rosemary skewer next to the toothpick and through the stack from the top to the bottom.
  9. Drizzle each stack with basil oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mediterranean Tempeh and Spinach Stuffed Zucchini Boats

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Zucchini and yellow squash are two of the flavors that always remind me of summer. Just like fresh corn kernels, juicy tomato slices and tangy barbecue sauce, summer squash momentarily transports me to the backyard of my childhood home. I remember chasing fireflies after dinner, while the adults picked crabs and sipped cold beers on the back deck, and the smells of Old Bay, dewy green grass, pool chlorine, and charcoal grills filled the air.

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I remember eating zucchini and squash in one of two ways: grilled on kabobs or sautéed with Vidalia onions, bread crumbs, and grated parmesan cheese. Every once in awhile, I still make squash the second way for company. Each time, without fail, one of our guests tells me their Mom used to make it the same way.  Although the results are delicious, the method of tossing vegetables in butter, breadcrumbs and cheese is not the most nutritious way to prepare fresh produce. For a protein and veggie packed preparation, I turn to stuffed zucchini boats.

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I love this one recipe from Eating Bird Food for Overstuffed Vegetarian Zucchini Boats. One night this week, armed with a package of tempeh and a bag of market fresh spinach, I decided to put my own spin on Brittany’s recipe. My version features a filling made with browned tempeh, sauteed onions and garlic, fresh spinach, chopped olives, tomato sauce, herbs and feta cheese. The hollowed out zucchini and squash boats are stuffed, topped with more cheese (or not, if you’re being super healthy) and baked until bubbly.

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I am finding that as I experiment with more local ingredients, I create my own signature seasonal dishes that will hopefully become new food memories and comforting associations. Stuffed zucchini is quickly becoming a summer standby for me.

Mediterranean Tempeh and Spinach Stuffed Zucchini Boats

(serves 4)

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Ingredients:

  • 4 medium zucchini or other summer squash
  • 4 Tbsp oil, divided
  • 1 – 8 oz. package of tempeh
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning or mixture of basil and oregano
  • 1-1/2 cups pasta sauce
  • 1 – 4 oz. can of chopped olives, drained
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • 4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the squash lengthwise into halves. Scoop out the insides and leave about a 1/4-inch thick wall of flesh on the inside of each half.
  2. Place the squash in a baking dish, skin side down. Brush the squash with about 1 Tbsp of oil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.
  3. Grate the tempeh over a bowl with a large cheese grater. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the tempeh and sauté, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the tempeh to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Take the squash innards that you scooped out in step one, and measure about 1 cup of squash. Save the remaining squash for zucchini bread or cookies. Chop the 1 cup of squash into a small dice.
  5. Add 2 Tbsp oil to the small pan and add onions and garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add squash to pan and sauté the mixture until tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. To the mixing bowl, add: squash/onion/garlic mixture, spinach, crushed red pepper, seasoning/herbs, pasta sauce, and olives. Add salt and pepper to taste. At this step you can stir in the crumbled feta. For a vegan version, omit the cheese.
  7. When the squash halves are removed from the oven, stuff each “boat” with the filling and top with shredded mozzarella cheese if desired.
  8. Bake the stuffed zucchini at 350 degrees F, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until filling is bubbly and cheese is melted.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Eight Ball Zucchini

I have been almost completely absent from the internet for about one week due to my beautiful and relaxing vacation at Massanutten! I make no apologies for neglecting my facebook posting and blog reading/writing duties because: how could you spend your time on the laptop when you get to wake up to this every morning?

I was super excited to arrive at our condo last week for my first trip to this resort, especially since we were going to have a full kitchen in the unit. I decided to try making the eight ball zucchini that I picked up at the farmers’ market over the weekend. The plan was to prepare stuffed zucchini in my apartment kitchen, place them in a baking dish, and then pop them in the oven when we arrived at the resort to enjoy for dinner after unpacking and such.

I wrote a little about these zucchini in my last farmers’ market post. The zucchini I used were about the size of a softball, and colored forest green with  yellow-orange striping. They are the perfect size for one person, unlike the mammoth sized zucchini that I often see at the market in summer in Virginia. I like how easy it is to scale recipes using eight ball zucchini. You can just throw in one per person, whether you are cooking for one or cooking for a crowd.

First, I sliced off the tops and scooped out the insides, leaving about a 1/4″ thick wall around the outside of the squash. I used half of the zucchini pulp in the stuffing and saved half to make zucchini bread later in the week. I kept about a cup of zucchini in this adorable little container that I picked up at Fishs Eddy in NYC.

Next I prepared quinoa as a base for the stuffing. Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a grain-like plant which is harvested for its edible seeds. It originated in South America and was grown in the Andes mountains by the Incas. It is sometimes referred to as “Inca Gold” based on the gold color of its seed coat.  The quinoa that is commercialized in North America is often sold with its bitter casing removed so that it can be more easily prepared at home. The quinoa that I purchased had already had its casing or “saponins” removed through soaking and rinsing. I usually give it a quick rinse in a fine mesh strainer before cooking anyway.

Quinoa is prepared similarly to rice. I measured one cup of quinoa to two cups of water in a saucepan and cooked it over low-medium heat, covered, for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Quinoa is a good ingredient for vegetarians, so Kyle and I incorporate it into our diets as much as possible. It is a great source of protein, fiber, and essential amino acids. Besides, we love the nutty flavor and grainy texture. Here is what it looks like after cooking. The seed becomes soft while the white spiral remains crunchy.

To the quinoa I added fresh corn kernels, diced tomatoes, diced green bell pepper, minced onion and garlic, black beans, cilantro, olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper, and a bit of this Mrs. Renfro’s salsa verde that is one of my new favorites.

I also tossed in a little shredded sharp cheddar cheese for good measure.

Finally, I stuffed the zucchini balls and wrapped them in a baking dish to transport them to the mountains. I had a ton of leftover filling (on purpose) in a separate container for us to heat up and enjoy throughout the week. We drove the two hours to the resort with the faint smell of stuffed zucchini wafting from the backseat of the SUV.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into our spacious condo to discover this:

No oven!

Luckily, I remembered how my Dad used to make me and my sister “baked” apples in the winter by microwaving fresh apples stuffed with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, walnuts, and raisins. So “baked quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini” quickly became “microwaved quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini.” No harm done, they turned out beautiful and delicious after seven or eight minutes in the microwave, followed by four minutes of rest.

And, by the way, nothing pairs better with microwaved quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini (with a side of kitchen-appliance-induced panic) than a bottle of South Australian Jim Jim Shiraz.

Thanks Mom and Dad for cheating on your baked apples, or I might have been completely lost on this one!

Farmers’ Market 07.03.10

The weather was beautiful and the market was packed this weekend. Here is a rundown of the great things I brought home:

Tomatoes, Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Onions, Bell Peppers, Eggplant, Red Leaf Lettuce, Basil, Fresh Sunflowers

Photo credit: Heavens Harvest Farm http://www.heavensharvestfarm.com/

I also picked up some “eight ball zucchini” which piqued my interest. I spoke with the farmer and he said that they taste a little sweeter than the long zucchini, and their shape makes them perfect for stuffing. I’ll try them out early this week. Susan at FatFree Vegan Kitchen did a post about them awhile ago. Check out her recipe here.

Saturday evening I went over to a friend’s house to make dinner. I am getting ready to go on vacation so I had to share my fresh vegetables with someone so they don’t go to waste! Barbara is mostly vegetarian and she adheres to a gluten-free diet, so I made ratatouille over brown rice. It is worth mentioning here since it was the first time I have made ratatouille, and I was inspired by a post by Andrea at one of my favorite food blogs, bella eats. If you haven’t found her yet, check her out. Her photographs are beautiful and her descriptions are amazing too. I won’t repost the recipe here because you can find it over at bella eats, or in your Joy of Cooking!

Happy 4th!