Archive for October, 2009

Yep, at it again…  Time to clean out “Ye Olde Refridgerator Bins”.  Add this to the fact that I’ve gone “low meat” lately, which makes it quite a challenge.

So here’s what I came up with.  I had four zucchini needing to be used up.  I had a poor wilted and floppy celery stalk, along with some baby carrots.  There is always a bag of onions and garlic bulbs on the counter.  We had the leftovers of a bottle of wine ( “Little Black Dress”, a Pinot Noir, of course).   I had Shiitake mushrooms, that  I’d originally intended to use in a mushroom tamale, but let’s just say they were getting long in the tooth and decidedly wrinkled.  The pantry always contains a can of tomato paste or two.  Also, my lovely wife had left me with some local cheeses, one of which was definitely Parmesan-like.  Throw all these together and you get… dinner.   Here’s how it came together.

*One other especially helpful tip is to use a melon-baller to assist in cleaning the seeds out of the zucchini.

Homemade tomato sauce


2 tsp Olive Oil

1/2 onion

1 celery heart (approx. 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup carrot

1 large garlic clove (pressed)

1 tsp Red Pepper Flake

2 tsp Basil (dry)

2 tsp Oregano

1 cup dry red wine (Pinot Noir “Little Black Dress” for this occasion)

1 can tomato paste

Beef stock to appropriate thickness

In a high sided pot over medium heat add olive oil.  Add onions, season with salt and pepper, then let cook till translucent.  Add carrot and celery.  Add garlic.  Let the mixture begin to carmelize.  Turn up the heat and add 1/2 the wine to deglaze.  Let the mixture reduce till most of the wine is gone.  Add tomato paste.  Let the tomato paste begin to brown/carmelize, stirring occasionaly.  Add basil and oregano and stir to incorporate.  Add the rest of the wine and let the sauce reduce over low flame.  Add in beef stock and stir, to acquire desired thickness.   Let sauce simmer at low heat, with a lid for 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let cool.

Zucchini with Shiitake stuffing


1/2 med onion finely diced

Green Salt for seasoning

Pepper to taste

1 med. garlic

8 oz.  Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and very finely diced

Panko breadcrumb

1/3 cup grated Krotovina cheese (Prarie Fruits Farm <Champaign, IL>)

1 tsp thyme (dry)

4 medium Zucchini

Cut off the stem end and peel the zucchini and split down the middle.  Using a melon-baller remove the seeds leaving a channel.  Place in a baking dish.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle olive oil and use your hands to completly coat both sides.  Set aside baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a saute pan, melt butter.  Add onion and season with Green Salt (from previous post – lemon thyme, rosemary, parsley, winter savory, kosher salt) and pepper.   Add garlic, and let cook for 2 minutes.  Add Shiitake mushrooms.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add thyme and breadcrumbs and let toast.  Add cheese, reserving about 4 tablespoons for topping.  If the consistency seems to dry, a small amount of water or stock to wet.

Portion Shiitake stuffing into the zucchini channels, pressing lightly with the spatula to place the stuffing into the groove.

Add tomato sauce around the zucchini, shake the dish slightly to make sure sauce evenly coats the bottom of the pan.

Place baking dish on the middle rack and bake for approximately 30 min, until zucchini are tender and the sauce is reduced.  In the last 2 minutes, remove and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.  Return to oven for 2 minutes until cheese melts.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then serve.

Serve with white rice or rice pilaf.  We had some leftover white rice from some asian dish I’d made.  So I just added some almonds and called it a side-dish.  Great for sopping up that lovely tomato sauce!

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So as per normal, the end of the summer season provides me with a quandry.  What do I do with my herbs that need to be brought inside?  Usually, this means I bring them in and hope that they can get enough sunlight in the office as to stay mildly productive.  Unfortunately, what normal happens in a slow withering death.

Since my lemon thyme was looking exceedingly unwell, I decided to try something new, green salt.  Green salt, is just a flavored salt, using herbs.  I have used it before taking a recipe from “The French Laundary” cookbook to make duck confit.  The first part of the prepartion was to rub a little green salt as a dry rub.  I know, I know, salt, “It will pull all the moisture out of the meat!”.  Well, if Thomas Keller says to do it, ummm…  I’m going with him.  Just saying…

So I sat at the sink stripping the leaves from the stems into my spice grinder.  I then added kosher salt, in about a 3:1 ratio.  I gave it a quick buzz, and viola, green salt, starter at least.  Unimpressed with thyme only, I quickly went around picking at the herbs, rosemary, parsley, winter savory with a few black pepper corns.  I buzzed those all together with the salt mixture.  So now I have a tasty seasoned salt of my own.  To ensure that the moisture won’t cause too much clumping, I could have toasted in the oven on about 300 for 30 min or so.  This should drive off excess moisture.

I then parked in an air tight container for use over the week.  Since I had the salt, I tried a dry brine with it on about five chicken thighs.  Be careful, remember, THIS IS SEASONED SALT.  So it isn’t just seasoning people!  If you go at it like you normally do, your dishes will be SALTY.  So key is to rub and then rinse.  After sitting overnight in the fridge, I gave it a good washing, to make sure excess salt was removed.  I then let the chicken thighs come up to room temp with a little garlic and olive oil for good measure.

Since it seemed to be the last nice day for a bit, I lit the grill and had at them on the little Smokey Joe.  Unfortunately, I probably should have stuck with my original plan and made chicken and noodles, as the grilling process overpowered anything from the rub/dry brine.  Ah well, live and learn.

I’m seeing the “flavored salt” thing popping up all over food blogs, culinary magazines, and cook books.  I also had a good primer in Jaime Oliver’s cookbook, “Jaime’s Kitchen pg. 244”.  Especially, “Smoked salt”.  Just saying, another food trend spotted here…

So give it a shot, save and herb, and love the meal!

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