Monthly Archives: May 2010

Summer BBQ’s Best = Grilled Vegetables

We’re not sure when grilled vegetables first came into fashion as a summer delight, but they sure are popular now. Richard and I were chatting about this and don’t remember ever having eaten them when we were kids. It must have dovetailed with the dawning of the barbeque culture, where everyone had their own backyard grill and outdoor entertaining became “a must”! After all, what could be more enticing than taking some of your favorite veggies and grilling them?

Well…it’s funny because when I asked Richard about grilled vegetables the first thing he said was that Julia Child hated them! Hard to imagine why, but evidently it’s not a vegetable preparation that’s embraced in French cooking!

Now that the warmer weather is upon us, we’ve moved from doing roasted vegetables to grilled vegetables in our store. So what fun it was to watch as Alex cut and prepared all the vegetables for grilling – again a visual extravaganza. After washing all the vegetables, they’re cut into 1/4-1/2″ pieces for grilling. Cut them crosswise, lengthwise or on the bias depending on the look you’re going for. Certain vegetables like eggplant and zucchini are more dramatic when they’re cut lengthwise, which also shows off their distinctive shapes. (Richard recommends lightly salting these on both sides and letting them stand for 15 minutes to help some of the water drain out before grilling.)

We then place the sliced, salted vegetables on a sheet pan, and brush with olive oil that’s been infused with garlic, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Next, turn them over and brush the other side. If you have a grill on your indoor range, it will work great for grilling, as you don’t have to worry about the pieces falling through. Many stores sell mesh baskets that can be used for grilling vegetables and fish on outdoor grills.

Each vegetable has it’s own perfect cooking time, so you’ll have to keep an eye on them and test for “done-ness”. Drizzling the finished platter with balsamic vinegar and a shower of freshly chopped basil gives everything a dramatic finish!

Ulster County Wing Fling, Sunday May 23rd

If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating as many chicken wings as you could possibly imagine, then you should definitely put a big star on your calendar for this upcoming weekend and get your fanny down to Cantine Field in Saugerties, New York for this great event! Last year was our first, but definitely not our last as we came away with the People’s Choice Award for the Best Chicken Wings in Ulster County. YAHOO! and YEEHAH!

So how do you even begin to plan for something like this when you’ve never done it before? We had heard wild stories from the year before that the vendors were crazy running out of wings early on in the day, so we racked our brains and came up with the figure of 5,000 wings, hoping this would take us through to the end. And it almost did – we ran out of wings around 4:30 – much better than some of our counterparts that were looking to buy some of our product mid-day.

Jonathan Sheridan has been known in many of his former “chef-ing” jobs (Vong / NYC and Rosendale Cement Company to name a few) as an amazing creator of wing recipes, so we let him have free reign to come up with last year’s prize winners: Sweet Thai Chile Wings and Spicy Jalapeno Wings. This year’s recipes will remain a secret until after the competition, but you’ll be able to come in to our store,  sample them and guess the recipe AFTER the Wing Fling. But honestly, we’d rather have you come on down and give us your vote!

Thought you’d enjoy a few snapshots from last year’s competition. Try to imagine what 5,000 chicken wings would look like in our walk in? Or prepping 5,000 wings to be cooked and then transported to the event where we finished them off in the fryer and tossed them in the finger-licking sauce.

So this week, that’s what we’ll be up to!!! Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

No muss no fuss polenta

Our chefs have had the most fun making “stacks” (little mini meals) with various combinations of ingredients. The one ingredient they use consistently as a base is polenta.  Now, my long held belief as a lay person (Mary Anne speaking here) was that polenta was a lot of work to make. Well, we’ve been carrying this wonderful product in our store since we opened, Bel Aria pre-cooked polenta, and it will make your life so easy! And it’s really delicious. Simply slice, brush with olive oil and grill to create the base for a “stack” of any flavor.

Polenta, the Italian word for cornmeal, has been the staff of life in Italy for centuries, particularly in the northern regions. It’s very nutritious and can be served many different ways: piping hot with butter and cheese, as an accompaniment to meat or fowl, fried, boiled, or baked with a variety of fillings such as sausage or cheese. It’s excellent as an appetizer when fried and topped with a savory spread. Bel Aria polenta is pre-cooked and rolled for easy slicing and heating. In addition to the plain variety, it’s also available flavored with basil and garlic or sun- dried tomatoes.

Our chefs have had fun with different combinations using steak as a main ingredient (shown here with oven roasted tomatoes and spinach). The opening photo features a popular combination of shrimp, gigande beans, and green beans garnished with chive oil.

Today’s special features the ingredients traditionally associated with Italian bruschettas: tomatoes, basil, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and finely diced mozzarella.

Have some fun and make up your own combinations – these stacks are great as a first course, appetizer or main course. We love to play with our food!

Spring Spinach has Arrived

We’re into the joy of the growing season now as we begin to expect new arrivals each week from one of our favorite local farmers John from Gill Farms. A few days ago he showed up with an enormous bag of freshly picked spinach. It’s so great to see the beginnings of what is in store for us in the coming months.

The first thing we do with the spinach is cut off the tip of the stem and discard. Then we separate the stems from the upper leaf, putting all the leaves into a sink full of water. Let them soak for a bit, gently swishing them around to dislodge any bits of sand that may still be clinging to the leaves. To be safe, we usually drain in a collander and then wash them one more time in clean water. Then spin dry.

As I was cleaning the spinach I remembered a dish we used to do years ago with the stems: a gratin!  There’s nothing more satisfying to a chef then making use of all of a plant or any food item. “Nose to tail eating” as Fergus Henderson says.  In a professional kitchen, or any kitchen for that matter, nothing should go to waste!

Spinach Stem Gratin

We start with a basic bechamel sauce: 1 cup flour, 1 cup butter, and two quarts of milk  flavored with a bay leaf and freshly grated nutmeg (a great base).  Next we cut the stems in half, clean them in several changes of water, and blanch them in boiling salted water.  Next, we grate a mixture of cheeses: cheddar, gruyere or fontina work the best, ricotta is good also, stay away from mozzarella as it gets stringy.  Mix a couple of eggs into the sauce, a couple cups of grated cheese, a bit of Parmesan never hurts, and pour into a gratin dish with the seasoned blanched stems. I like to add a bit of the cooked spinach leaves (chopped) as well for color. Now top with bread crumbs tossed with a bit of garlic, butter and parsley.  Bake until set, about 30 to 45 minutes at 350 depending on the size of your gratin dish.  This is a delicious side for a summer meal, or would make a fabulous vegetarian entree. Enjoy!

Eggplant Fans

One of the coolest things about being married to a chef and owning a food business is there’s always something amazing going on in the kitchen. The other day as I strolled through, our awesome chef Alex was preparing this fabulous eggplant dish – it was something entirely new to me and the visual was stunning! I immediately told her to stop and let me grab my camera to snap some pics. I decided to take pictures at each stage of the dish’s evolution, to share with you.

How fun today when one of our customers (the extremely lovely librarian Kara) ordered it exactly the way Alex said it should be served: with some sliced mozzarella and a side starch (here our whole grain pilaf, but it would also be great with pasta.)

Making the fans is extremely easy. Choose a medium to large eggplant, rinse and dry. Slice the fan layers about 1/2″ thick ending the cuts close to the base. Oil the bottom of a baking dish inserting the eggplants. Slice tomatoes into 1/4″ pieces and toss in some finely diced  garlic. Then layer the tomato between the “fans” of the eggplant.  Drizzle olive oil over the everything and sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place in a preheated 300 degree oven for about one hour. Test with a knife to make sure they’re completely cooked.

This dish makes a great vegetarian entree or an unusual side for a summer barbeque. We served it on a bed of fresh greens and drizzled a balsamic glaze over the eggplant as a flavor accent. Delish!

It’s Tabouli Time

The change of seasons always brings the excitement of new seasonal menu items and here at Bistro-to-Go we’ve started making Quinoa Tabouli again – much to the delight of our customers. Traditionally tabouli (or “tabbouleh”) comes from the Middle East and Mediterranean regions and is made with bulgar wheat, parsley, scallions, mint, tomato, onion, lemon juice and olive oil. We chose to make ours with quinoa for a number of reasons, the first being that it’s delicious, light and very nutritious.

Quinoa originated and is primarily grown in the Andes and has a very high protein content  (12%–18%), making it a healthy choice for vegetarians. Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids making it an unusually complete protein source. Another big reason we’ve adopted and love quinoa is that it’s gluten free and a perfect fit for the clean and healthy foods we offer. All of this would mean nothing if it didn’t taste good! I usually side with tradition and history but in this case I truly think that quinoa tastes better and makes a better version of tabouli than the original made with wheat.

Try some and judge for yourself. Just remember, true tabouli is bright green with lots and lots of parsley, mint and scallions.


New Post for “Post Time” – Derby Pie

Today is the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby and other than the mint julep, Derby Pie is one of the great culinary traditions used to celebrate the day.

The pie originated in 1950 at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, by the Kern family. The name “Derby Pie” was chosen because the various family members couldn’t agree on a name, so they put all the names in a hat, and pulled out the winning paper which said “Derby Pie”. The family has trademarked the name and created a proprietary recipe for the pie which they market as a business, so needless to say we will not divulge our recipe!

Suffice it to say that the pie is a chocolate and walnut tart in a pie shell usually made with a pastry dough crust. We made our version with pecans, chocolate chips and Kentucky bourbon so it tastes a lot like a pecan pie with chocolate chips in it.

The real topper is the Kentucky bourbon whipped cream and a sprig of mint!
So we’re off to the races, the roses and the excitement at Churchill Downs. Good luck to all the horses and their riders today.