Pic-a-nic in the Park

Sarah and I have been planning on taking a nice afternoon and going on a picnic in Penn Treaty Park. [where:19125] We had discussed just bringing sandwiches (boring) or a roast chicken (time consuming and heavy). Sarah had the idea to do bruschetta because we have all of these awesome heirloom tomatoes from Greensgrow Farm in our neighborhood.

So, I seeded and chopped about six tomatoes of varying sizes (about four cups’ worth), tossed in three finely chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a quarter cup of good extra virgin olive oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some fresh basil and thyme from the herb garden, a handful or two of shredded mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste. This went into the fridge while I grilled some olive oil-rubbed bread. I used some Italian baguette-sized bread cut on the bias to maximize surface area. The bread went on a cooling rack so they would stay nice and firm.

We packed up the bread and the bruschetta topping along with some fruit and cheese that we also bought at Greeensgrow and headed to the park on a beautiful late afternoon on Labor Day.

The complexity of the flavors in the heirloom tomatoes was a wonderful change from the standard red tomato. It had tart green finger tomatoes, semi-sweet reds and this awesomely sweet yellow tomato (it made Sarah and me remember that tomatoes are fruits). The bruschetta was visually appealing as well. The varying colors combined with the cheese and herbs excited the eyes as well as the taste buds.  I wish we had a camera so I could show you the beautiful colors.

We decided that this would be our picnic staple from now on.

This is, of course, vegetarian and it could be gluten free eaten with some GF bread. Also, I know you are saying, “This sounds yummy, but heirlooms are so pricey!” One, I would say that it is worth it for a time-to-time treat. And two, if you live in Philly, get yourself over to Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street in Fishtown/Port Richmond. They are only $1.75 per pound there, as opposed to the normal four to five dollars a pound most places that you go. We are won to the place and we plan to buy a share or half share next year so we can have their great produce all of the time.

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Gluten-Free Cornbread Stuffing: Two recipes good enough to make all winter

I love stuffing. (Or ‘dressing,’ as some of you insist on calling it.) Turkey’s all well and good, sweet potatoes are nice, but Thanksgiving is all about the stuffing for me. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this U.S. dish, Thanksgiving stuffing is basically a savory bread pudding, usually flavored with sage and a meat (turkey, sausage and oysters are traditional choices). It’s often baked inside the cavity of a roasting turkey, but in recent years, as we’ve learned more about bacteria and food safety, that method has fallen out of favor.

My grandma’s traditional verson involves cubed bread and sausage, baked in a shallow layer in a glass baking dish. It’s delicious, and I’ll give it to you if she says I can.

My version is a little different. We’ve done this for two years now, and it’s well on its way to becoming a tradition. I make both meat and vegetarian versions. And they’re gluten-free!

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Salmon with Dried Shiitakes in a Marsala Cream Sauce; Potato and Carrot Chips

This is a variation on a classic French dish made with Madeira wine and heavy cream that I found while thumbing through Larousse Gastronomique. I like Marsala wine a bit better and it is what I had on hand. For the dish you will need:

Two salmon filets

Flour

Salt

Olive Oil

1 tsp. of butter

4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms

1/2 cup of Marsala wine

1/4 cup heavy cream

Juice of one lemon

Parsley and/or chives for garnish

First, salt the salmon well and set aside. In a bowl, pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms and let them soak for at least half an hour. You can use fresh mushrooms of your choice here. I like to use dried now and again because they have an earthiness and depth of flavor not found in fresh mushrooms. They can overwhelm a dish if you’re not careful, but since I was dealing with a rich fish with sauce I felt they could really add something.

Remove the mushrooms from their bath and remove the stems. Slice the caps in about 1/4 inch slices. Heat some olive oil and the butter on medium high heat. Dredge the salmon in the flour, add it to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add the mushrooms and sauté a few minutes on each side. You want a nice crust. Remove the salmon from the pan. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Be sure to scrape the pan to get all the flavor from the salmon. Reduce the wine by about half and add the heavy cream and lemon juice with the pan off of the heat. Whisk continuously to avoid separation and curdling. Add the salmon back to the pan and cover in the sauce. Plate with some green garnish (I used chopped flat-leat parsley) and potatoes on the side.

For the potatoes:

On a mandolin (or with a knife if you have way more patience than I do) slice a potato on the thinnest setting possible. You should be able to see through them. Chop a carrot finely and put a bit of carrot on a slice of potato. Take another slice of potato and sandwich in the carrot. Fry these in vegetable oil until crispy. Salt and serve on the side. The carrot here is more for visual accent. You can try this with just about anything (meat, shrimp, mushrooms etc.).

This dish is gluten-free other than the dredging flour. You could easily use gluten-free flour as a dredge.

Enjoy!

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Six Month Anniversary Dinner: Fall Spiced Pork Chops with Spinach and Apple; Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes

Sarah and I celebrated our six-month anniversary of marriage with a nice dinner and some wonderful home-brewed beer made by Sarah’s best friend Kara, which we aged for six months.

I was inspired by Ida Mae’s Bruncherie to do a fall pork chop dish. Theirs is applewood smoked but I do not have a smoker, so I had to improvise a bit. Earlier in the day we went to the Headhouse Market and bought two thick grass fed pork chops, some apples, heirloom tomatoes, some raw milk Parmesan cheese and some spinach.

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Cappellini and Chicken in Fresh Pesto

Sarah was feeling a bit Crohn’s-y last night so I put together this light dish. It is a very simple preparation. Fresh ingredients are key here, however.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound cappellini

4 quarts of water

Two chicken breasts (in this case, organic from Trader Joe’s)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the Pesto:

1/4 cup of pine nuts

1 clove of garlic

1 bunch of basil

Extra virgin olive oil

salt

First, prepare the pesto. In a food processor (or a mortar and pestle if you feel like a workout and getting all artisanal) process the pine nuts until they are a fine grain. Add the basil, garlic, some olive oil and some salt. Process until all the basil is very fine and pasty. At this point you can add more olive oil to get it to the consistency that you desire. I like it to be kind of thick but it is personal preference.

Bring four quarts of water to a boil. Using a lot of water is important for thin pasta like capellini, which has a tendency to stick together and gum up.

While the water is coming to a boil, heat olive oil on medium heat for a few minutes. Add the chicken breasts. You want a nice brown crust while not drying out the chicken. Doing it on medium heat helps achieve this. Remove from the heat and let rest.

Right before the chicken is done add the cappellini to the water. Keep a close eye on the pasta. It can go from al dente to mushy very quickly. After 3-4 minutes taste the pasta and cook until the desired texture. Drain. Add back to pot with heat off and throw in 3/4 of the pesto that you made. Toss and put desired amount of pasta in bowls or plates.

Cut the chicken breasts on the bias into two inch strips. Toss in the remaining pesto until the strips are well coated. Lay 3-4 strips across the pasta. I garnished this with some amazing fresh tomatoes from Weaver’s Way and a basil leaf.  This is a dairy-free dish, and you can make it gluten-free simply by using GF pasta.

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Pappardelle with Fresh Vegetables and Chicken

Just a quick light dish that I whipped up last night. Sarah and I had both eaten late lunches  and weren’t particularly hungry. The base of the dish was some really good sprouted wheat pappardelle pasta from Trader Joe’s. I used an 8 oz. bag.

While this was boiling, I sauteed ripe Roma tomatoes (from the Headhouse Market) cut into quarters, some diced onion, two cloves of garlic, one diced small zucchini and salt and pepper. I threw in some diced chicken breast that I had browned earlier. To this I added extra virgin olive oil and some good balsamic vinegar. You don’t want to cook this for very long. If you do the tomatoes will get soft. Just heat the veggies and the chicken through and toss in the pasta. I use an old-fashioned technique here: instead of draining the pasta first, I just pick it up with tongs and add it directly to the saute pan. This allows a little pasta water (in all of its starchy goodness) to become part of the sauce. To the pasta, I added some fresh chopped basil and some grated Parmesan.

A quick note on the basil. This is some of the best basil that I have ever had. We bought it from our new friend Jennie at Weaver’s Way.  Unlike mega-mart basil, this has little bits and holes where insects and worms have taken small bites– in fact, an inchworm fell out of this bunch when I was washing it. My mother always used to say she didn’t trust produce that didn’t have some evidence of insect life. I didn’t understand that as a kid, but I do now. A healthy ecosystem includes insects and worms. Mass production uses pesticides that eliminate this insect life so you have prettier produce. But you also sacrifice some of the nutrients that provide healthfulness and flavor to the produce. We’ve bought this basil twice now and it has wowed us both times.

As for the pasta, it made for a quick and tasty meal.

This dish could be made gluten-free by just using some GF pasta. There are some very good ones out there right now. A dairy-free option here would just be eliminating the cheese. If you use good, flavorful veggies, it wouldn’t be necessary. A vegetarian option would be to substitute the chicken with some wild mushrooms. Shiitakes or Criminis would work well.

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Asiago, Mascarpone Cheese and Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Seared Sea Scallops

This is a simple, light yet elegant meal I put together the other night. The ravioli is from Trader Joe’s. Despite the name they were not very cheese flavored, so I would suggest using some grated cheese of your choosing.

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