Friday, July 29, 2011

A Veggie Lasagna Grown From My Own Lauderdale Roots

Food prices are climbing higher than flowers on a trellis. During a recent tour of a local hydroponic farm, the tour guide said that inflation on groceries had risen 30% already, and that learning to grow your own fruit and veggies might not be such a bad idea. The best part about the tour and learning more on CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) was how easy they made it all look; “they” being The Urban Farmer in Pompano, FL—that’s in the Lauderdale area where I’ve lived for decades.

John, the guide that day seemed optimistic and sincere when he told everyone that growing the okra, swiss chard, yellow squash and eggplant—not to mention multitude of other leafiness we saw around us—was something any of us could do. We all tried samples of what he clipped from the plants, pleasantly taken aback by how fragrant and bold the flavors were. Nothing was tainted by pesticides; it was all 100% pure, and if we didn’t want to attend CSA workshops on how to grow it ourselves, we were encouraged to sign up for CSA Membership with Jessica Padron, the owner.

Is There An “Urban Farmer” in All of Us?

It was so gratifying to see Jessica swamped with customers and potential customers on the sweltering July afternoon the tour took place. The Urban Farmer lets you sign up for a weekly or biweekly box of fresh and local veggies, starting at a very reasonable price of $128 a month; you can also arrange to buy grass fed beef, fresh eggs and local honey—just about anything and everything that makes dinner for your family a healthier affair. That day, visitors to The Urban Farmer took home a few odds and ends plucked right off the vine in front of them; many of them had the makings for veggie lasagna—all they needed now were pasta strips, ricotta and rest of the ingredients to whip up a savory Tomato and Sautéed Veggie Sauce I use in this dish.

This Veggie Lasagna Pays Homage to the Slow Food Movement

One of the things The Urban Farmer said about what they’re doing really resonated. I’ve experienced (and tasted!) it before when I had a share at Green Cay Farms in Boynton and enjoyed their weekly box of in season produce: it’s all about the Slow Food Movement. So I offer you my recipe for Veggie Lasagna -- homage to the Slow Food Movement, which started in Italy because foodies there, who loved the Spanish Steps in Rome, were protesting McDonald’s, a fast food restaurant on schedule (not anymore!) to be built there. That was in 1986, and ever since, this movement—as young as it is fresh and tasty—has been asking communities to take a moment and appreciate high quality and locally grown foods that make their region unique. The Ark of Taste was born, and if you click the link you can read about everything from Italians trying to preserve delectables like Italian honey and exotic sounding fruits, to meat lovers in the USA who cherish their Florida cracker cattle, America Plains Bison and New Hampshire chicken.

Dance to the Slow Food Movement tonight by making a dish that calls for some locally grown items…actually, your marina sauce won’t hate you if you use out-of-state tomatoes, but your taste buds will love you if you harvest from your own zip code…and so will the local economy. I can’t think of a better way to stop thinking about the debt ceiling, can you?

Tomato and Sautéed Vegetable Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 large zucchini, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 large squash, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 small eggplant, chopped (about 3 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
2 28-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In the bottom of a large pot heat olive oil over medium high heat.

Cook the onions in the pot for several minutes. Add the zucchini and squash and cook until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the eggplant and cook until it begins to soften.

Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, and sugar. Simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves a crowd; prep time: about 30 minutes.

Vegetable Lasagna

1 32-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and squeezed dry
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs
12 ounces shitake mushrooms, sliced in half
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 16-ounce package lasagna noodles
1 pound fontina cheese, grated
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare the tomato and Sautéed Vegetable Sauce. In a bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, drained spinach, Parmesan cheese, and eggs and set aside.

Sautee the mushrooms in the butter until cooked. Sprinkle with rosemary and set aside. Cook the lasagna noodles according to package instructions. Drain well and place them on a baking sheet coated with vegetable oil spray.

Place ½ cup of the Tomato and Sautéed Vegetable Sauce in the bottom of a lasagna pan or deep baking pan.

Place a layer of lasagna noodles in the bottom of the pan.

Top the noodles with sauce, one third of the ricotta cheese mixture, and one fourth of the Fontina cheese. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese. Repeat with a layer of noodles, sauce, ricotta cheese and Fontina cheese. Add the sautéed mushrooms and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Layer again with noodles, sauce, the remaining ricotta cheese and Fontina cheese.

The final layer is noodles, tomato sauce, and the remaining Fontina and Paremsan cheese.

Preheat oven to 350 and cook the lasagna 30 minutes covered with aluminum foil. Uncover and continue cooking until it begins to bubble and the cheese is melted on the top, about 20 minutes or more. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serves a crowd.
Preparation time: about 1 hour plus baking

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Summer Tiki Party

Where the Birds Sing and the Flowers Bloom

Welcome to a tropical hideaway, you lucky people, you…or so the Enchanted Tiki Room song went, when it was written for Disney World in 1963. In Mad Men, (if you’ve never heard of the AMC television series, come out of your cave) Don Draper would definitely approve of the ambience found in a tiki room; a party with the kind of atmosphere where “Skirts” and fedoras drift by, the booze flows freely and kool kats enjoy a little intoxicating food and drink, their smokes, and music that gives Elvis’ Blue Hawaii a run for its money. To recreate such a scene, I’m recreating the Polynesian PuPu Platter and serving up my Hurricane Brew in hollow coconut shells—what a way to cool off this summer!

Tiki Time Event Menu

Purveyors of tiki culture were the proprietors of Don the Beachcomber restaurant and Trader Vic’s; both were, in the 1930s, young men who had sailed throughout the South Pacific and loved exotic rum punches, rattan furinture, tropical flowers and tiki torches—it was a way of dining and entertaining that peaked in the 50s and 60s, vanished in the 70s and has come back for an encore now. In homage, her’es my PuPu platter, defined as a tray of Chinese American/Hawaiian assorted small meats and seafood appetizers: think egg rolls, chicken wings, savory skewers and other temptables for kool kats.

Get out your best monkeywood platter and load it up with all or some of the following:

Grilled Rum Marinated Flank Steak Sandwiches with Chipotle Lime Aioli
Barbecued Pork Tenderloin Skewers with Cranberry, Corn and Avocado Relish
Buffalo chicken lettuce wraps
Mustard Coated Chicken Skewers with Grilled Veggie Salsa
Fried Calamari with Tuna Caper Dipping Sauce
Tropical Trifle for Dessert
Signature Drink:
Hurricane Brew

I can’t say enough about these tiki-rific choices. Make sure you have a jar of Maraschino cherries standing by to garnish the plate in true PuPu platter style. For the flank steak sandwiches, your everyday sammy gets a makeover with a big burst of flavor, and the chicken skewers offer an update on fast food chicken fingers that’s easy to prepare. Fried is a distinguishing factor to any PuPu platter, which is why I added the calamari, but with a dipping sauce that cuts through that salty, deep fried heaviness.

As Seen on Mad Men…Drink It, Wear it or Use it at Your Tiki Party!
And now to introduce my signature drink for the big event. My Hurricane Brew is best whipped up in a pitcher, then authenticated by pouring the concoction into hollowed pineapples. You’ll need a few tools to serve the Brews this way; first a pineapple slicer, which removes the core and gives you a neat stack of pineapple rings—and drinking glass!!—in seconds. This is a cocktail that will have you looking all over for those little paper umbrellas; it calls for rum both light and dark, grenadine, fresh citrus juices and plenty of granulated sugar. If you don’t want to trouble yourself with real pineapple glasses, check out the Tiki drinking glasses I found shopping online; you’ve probably seen this same set with lipstick stains on the rim in Mad Men. Oh, and speaking (again!) of that series, did you know Banana Republic is coming out with its own Mad Men clothing line in August 2011? That’s this summer! View the whole Retro clothes collection by clicking the link.

Here’s a hyperlink shortlist of other tiki bar supplies I found for cheap…real cheap…on Amazon:

Paper Cocktail Parasols - Pack of 144
Pineapple slicer
tiki luau drinking straws

And while you may love behaving like "Mad Men" at your tiki party this summer, don’t expect to see the show again until 2012…how many great parties will you have before then!

Happy Mai Tai Sipping, Everyone!

Hurricane Brew

8 ounces light rum
8 ounces dark rum
½ cup grenadine
½ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Lime wedges for garnish

Place all of the ingredients in a large pitcher. Stir well to dissolve sugar.

Pour the mixture into 8 tall glasses that have been filled with ice. Garnish each glass with a lime wedge to rub around the rim.

Tropical Trifle

Serves 8 or more

3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
Juice of 1 medium lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Zest of 1 medium lime (about 2 teaspoons)

4 egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup Cointreau (plus extra for brushing on cake)
½ cup heavy cream

1 pint strawberries, sliced about 2 cups
1 mango, peeled, pitted, cut into ½-inch cubes about 2 cups
1 papaya, peeled, seeded, cut into ½-inch pieces about 3 cups
1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into ½ inch pieces about 3 cups

For cake
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
1. Combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter until fluffy.
3. Add the sugar and mix on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl, for several minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition.
5. Stir in 1/3 of the flour followed by 1/3 of the milk. Repeat until both ingredients are incorporated into the batter.
6. Stir in the key lime juice and zest.
7. Pour the batter into 2 8-inch cake pans that have been with vegetable oil spray and dusted with flour. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the tops begin to turn golden on the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
8. Cool the cakes on metal racks for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks and cook completely. Use a serrated knife to trim the cakes to fit into a 7-inch trifle bowl.
For custard
1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in the top part of a double boiler over simmering water.
2. Whisk in the wine and orange juice.
3. Continue whisking until the sauce has doubled in volume. It will thicken, become fluffy and turn pale yellow, about 5 to 8 minutes.
4. Remove the top of the double boiler to a large bowl filled with ice. Continue whisking the custard until it cools.
5. Use an electric mixer to beat the cream soft peaks form.
6. Fold the whipped cream into the custard mixture. Chill until ready to serve.
To assemble
1. Spoon 1/3 of the custard into the bottom of a trifle dish.
2. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the cakes with Cointreau. Place one cake layer on top of the custard.
3. Arrange half of the fruit on top of the cake.
4. Repeat with 1/3 more custard, the remaining cake pieces and a layer of fruit.
5. Top with the remaining custard.

Grilled Rum Marinated Flank Steak Sandwiches with Chipotle Lime Aioli

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus marinating the steak

1 (1 ½ pound) flank steak
½ cup dark rum
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup mayonnaise
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, seeded and finely diced (about 1 tablespoon)
Juice of 1 medium lime (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

16 slices Parmesan Thyme Bread (see page 00) or other fresh baked bread
6 ounces mesclun lettuce mix (about 2 cups)
3 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into ¼-inch slices
2 large red onions, sliced into ¼-inch slices

Place the flank steak into a shallow dish. Whisk together the rum, sugar and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the flank steak, coating both sides.

Marinate the steak in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or as much as overnight.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, chipotle, lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade. Reserve some marinade for the onions. Grill the flank steak in the pan until medium rare, about 8 to 10 minutes per side. Remove the steak to a cutting board and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.

Place the red onion slices in the pan. Drizzle with a bit of the reserved marinade. Cook until just beginning to brown, about 4 to 6 minutes. Pour off any extra drippings from the pan. Grill the bread slices in batches until just toasted, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Cut the flank steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Spread 1 tablespoon of the chipotle lime aioli onto 8 slices of the toasted bread. Top with slices of flank steak, grilled onions, tomato and lettuce. Top with an extra dollop of aioli and the remaining bread slices.

Barbecued Pork Tenderloin Skewers with Cranberry, Corn and Avocado Relish

Servings: 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus marinating the pork.

2 (12 to 14-ounce) pork tenderloins, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 bunch (6 to 8) green onions, chopped (about ½ cup)
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup dark molasses
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon chili sauce
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 (12-ounce bag) frozen cranberries, thawed, drained (about 3 cups)
Juice of 1 medium orange (about 1/3 cup)
1 large yellow bell pepper, roasted, skin removed, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (about 2 tablespoons)
Zest of ½ medium orange (about 1 tablespoon)
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted and diced (about 2 cups)
1 (16-ounce can) corn, drained
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Place the pork cubes into a shallow baking dish.

Stir together the green onion, ketchup, molasses, soy sauce, peanut oil, chili sauce, garlic and oregano. Pour this mixture over the pork cubes and toss to coat. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Place the cranberries and orange juice into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to coarsely chop. Pour this mixture into a bowl. Stir in the roasted pepper, jalapeno pepper, orange zest, avocados, corn, vinegar, and cilantro.

Toss and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Remove the pork from the marinade. Thread onto long skewers.

Heat a grill pan (or outdoor grill) on high heat. Grill the pork skewers, basting with the reserved marinade, turning once, until browned, about 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter.

Serve with cranberry and avocado salsa.

Fried Calamari with Tuna Caper Dipping Sauce

Servings 4 to 6 Preparation time: 45 minutes

1 cup mayonnaise
1 (6-ounce) can tuna, packed in oil
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon hot paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound uncooked calamari, cleaned
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Canola oil

To make the sauce, place the mayonnaise, tuna, capers, lemon juice, and cilantro into a blender. Pulse to emulsify. Season with paprika, salt and pepper. Cut the bodies of the calamari into thin rings. Season the flour with cayenne pepper and salt.

Heat canola oil in a deep pot to 365 degrees. Dredge the calamari rings in the flour. Shake off excess. Carefully drop the rings into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon (or Chinese wire basket) to remove the calamari from the oil. Drain on paper towels. Continue with the tentacles.

Mustard Coated Chicken Skewers with Grilled Veggie Salsa

Servings: 4 Preparation time: 45 minutes

6 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (about 1 pound)
1 small eggplant, cut in half lengthwise
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium poblano pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 medium lime (about 1 tablespoon)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

(4 to 5-ounce) skinless boneless chicken breast cutlets, cut into 1-inch wide strips
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup prepared bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Heat a grill pan on high heat or use an outdoor grill. Brush the cut side of the tomatoes, eggplant, and onion with olive oil. Place the vegetables into the grill. Place the pepper into the grill.

Grill the veggies until they begin to char, but not to the extent they become mushy. Remove the veggies as they cook. (The tomatoes will take the shortest amount of time, followed by the eggplant, onion and finally the pepper. You want the skin of the pepper to be quite charred and blackened.)

Coarsely chop the tomatoes, onion and eggplant. Peel the skin from the pepper and chop. Place the veggies into a bowl and toss with cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Thread the chicken strips, lengthwise onto wooden skewers, which have been soaked in water. Leave a long enough “handle” on the skewers so that they overlap the pan.

Brush both sides of the chicken with mustard.

Combine the breadcrumbs with dried rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken strips into the bread crumb mixture.

Heat a grill pan, which has been coated with vegetable oil spray, over medium high heat. Grill the chicken strips, turning once until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Serve the chicken skewers with the roasted salsa.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ThrowDown with an Extreme Party Planner!

Get A Fresh Take on Fork Tender Ribs and Creamy, Tangy Slaw
Food TV is in its 7th season of vetting contestants in the reality show FOOD NETWORK STAR. What’s interesting this year (and last) are the food bloggers. Last year’s champion Aarti Parti published a blog and this year, two of the contenders write about food for a living. Sunday nights, I enjoy tuning in. In fact the latest installment of FNS inspired me to challenge this week’s winner to a throwdown. Please don’t send me a cease and desist letter, Bobby Flay, but when I saw contestant Susie Jimenez’s recipe for tangy slaw and pork ribs, I had to put my hat into the ring with my own Beer Basted Baby Back Ribs with Jack Daniels Barbecue Sauce. Susie’s BBQ is described as “spicy”, but I wonder if those flavors—which did manage to impress guest star Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives—can begin to touch the way I do it…or the way WE do it, if you click on my recipe and learn how cider vinegar, dark molasses and good whiskey form a perfect union. Just pick up 6 pounds of baby back ribs to get started. I’m offering you a foolproof way to prepare moist, tender and never over-cooked ribs—which the panel of FNS judges are quick to wag a finger at!

Food TV Execs Have Good Taste! Would They Like My Slaw?
But I have to applaud those judges. Any Extreme Party Planner would…they settle for no less than EXTREME food—popular dishes that transcend the label of “classic” and shoot for something special. Those spicy pork ribs that won the admiration and respect of a large crowd for the 4th of July challenge were accompanied by a slaw…but not just any slaw…a tangy slaw. My dear readers, you can achieve “tangy” and so much more with a unique twist on Classic Cabbage and Carrot Slaw. How do I do it? Well, I start with the intention of making it good enough that it can be used as a condiment on your favorite BBQ sandwich or burger—or just enjoyed straight off the serving spoon after you’ve mixed your first satisfying batch. The real trick to it, I think, is in the tarragon vinegar, which sounds exotic, but is a popular Heinz product.

Finger Lickin’ Shortcuts
Another shortcut from the shelf? For this slaw, I like (ssh!) pre-packaged, pre-shredded veggies. Shredded broccoli and purple cabbage are great additions. Others include shredded bell peppers and a touch of sliced onion. For a Mexican spin (this is what FNS challenge winner Susie did), you can add thin strips of seeded jalapeno pepper, a sprinkle of lime juice and a dash of ground cumin, garnishing with fresh cilantro instead of parsley.

My own substitutions and sidebars on winning FNS dishes could take me into next week…which is good because I’ll be watching! These contestants have already been through so much, cooking for the whole cast and crew of Cougar Town, creating a gourmet dessert from a vending machine and repeatedly using breakfast, lunch and dinner as a canvas to get their culinary points of view across. If you’re a fan of Food Network Star and see something that didn’t quite “speak to you” on that porcelain 8-inch diameter dinner plate of a canvas, write to me! I’ll spin the plate and put an extreme partier’s spin on things—and I think you’ll be surprised at how chic & cheap that plate can be! Write to me for fresh traditions served up daily, or just leave a comment on my wall about who you’re rooting for!

Beer Basted Baby Back Ribs with Jack Daniels Barbecue Sauce

Servings: 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus steaming and grilling the ribs

6 pounds baby back ribs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Garlic powder
1 (12-ounce) can beer

1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup dark molasses
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup Jack Daniels whiskey
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 or more drops hot pepper sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Season the ribs with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place them onto a rack in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Pour the beer into the pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Place the pan into the oven. Steam for at least 1 hour (or longer if desired).
For the sauce, bring the tomatoes, vinegar, molasses, canola oil, whiskey, mustard, chili powder, cinnamon and as much hot pepper sauce as you like, to a boil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer the ribs to an outdoor grill over medium high heat. Cook, turning often until well browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Baste the ribs with sauce during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Cut the ribs, and serve with extra sauce on the side.

Classic Cabbage and Carrot Coleslaw

Servings: 6 to 8

Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus refrigeration

1 (2-pound) head green cabbage, shredded (about 6 to 8 cups)
2 large carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon celery seed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place the shredded cabbage and carrots into a large bowl.
Stir together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and celery seed. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour the sauce over the cabbage and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
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