Friday, July 2, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen On the Road: Foodie Tour Of Vermont

My husband and I spent last weekend in Vermont for a friends wedding at Shelburne Farms.  While in Vermont we had some fantastic local cheeses (especially the Shelburne Farms two year cheddar).  What's so great about Vermont cooking is the focus on using local, organic farm fresh ingredients from eggs to cheese and dairy to fruits and vegetables.  Everything we tasted was fresh and fabulous from the food at our friends' wedding to the local produce we ate at the restaurants we visited.  And of course we made time for some of vermont's finest Ben & Jerry's Ice cream, because a visit to Vermont without stopping by their factory in Waterbury just isn't a visit to Vermont.

Our first night in Vermont, we had an amazing meal at Hen of the Wood, in Waterbury, VT with friends who had just flown in from Germany. We started out meal with a sampling of four local Vermont cheeses, all of which were delicious.  We paired this with different beers and wines that were equally fantastic - Allagash White, a local white Belgian style wheat beer that has become one of my favorites - and a delicious summer Frog's Leap Rose - a great wine from one of my favorite Napa wineries (yes Napa is in California, not Vermont, but I couldn't resist).

For my appetizer, I had the most delicious salad I've had in some time.  The salad was a mixture of locally grown, farm fresh arugula, spinach, barley, pansies and walnuts with local goat cheese.  So pretty. My husband and our friends had the asparagus soup which was also delightful.

Four our main courses, I had braised beef short ribs prepared with gnocchi - of course locally raised organic beef which was delicious.  One of our friends had the scallops which were beautifully prepared.  My husband opted for a more unusual suggestion - the rabbit prepared with a fresh carrot puree - it was delicious as well.

For dessert, our friends had a chocolate torte that was decadent and delicious, while we had a panna cotta with fresh strawberries - also amazing.

We also had a lovely brunch at Shelburne Farms (see above) where I had an amazing frittata made with eggs that were locally raised on the farm (we got to meet the animals on the farm later that afternoon, including some adorable baby goats).  My husband had the cinnamon carrot pancakes with ricotta that were out of this world amazing.  Our table was outside, where we had a gorgeous view of Lake Champlain to the side.

And just a final note - the arugula salad from our friends' wedding was made with delicious Vermont blue cheese and Shelburne Farms' own farm-made honey - right in the honeycomb.  It was amazing, along with everything else served at the wedding.  They had some fantastic beer and food pairings at the cocktail hour as well, but the food was so good I forgot to take pictures of it.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Cool Cucumber Mint Soup

It has been so unbearably hot in New York that, upon my return from a nice weekend up on Lake Champlain in Vermont, I decided that I couldn't bear to cook any hot food.  I decided that some cool summer salads and soups were in order.  My plans for this work week include two summer soups, both of which are easy to make.  I am making gazpacho with locally grown, farmers' market tomatoes later this week, but I decided last night to make a cool cucumber soup.  And what flavor is better to complement the cool summer flavor of the cucumber than mint?  Actually, I think a cucumber-watermelon soup would be a fantastic variation as well for the summer, so I will have to try that soon.

On my way home from work, I bought four cucumbers at the Union Square Greenmarket, a great farmers' market in NYC. I decided that the soup would be a cold soup that would incorporate mint as the primary secondary flavor and would use Stonyfield Farms nonfat yogurt.

Sasha's Summer Cucumber Mint Soup (four servings)
4 large cucumbers
1 pint of Stonyfield Farms fat free plain yogurt
2/3 or a quart of lowfat buttermilk
1 cup of mint - pureed and shredded in a food processor
2 T of diced fresh dill
cumin, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste (note: this is not spicy at all - the cayenne in a small amount just helps to balance the flavors)
pomegranate seeds to serve (optional)

To prepare the soup, peel the cucumbers and halve them.  Remove the seeds and season with a bit of salt.  Allow to sit for a few minutes.  Then dice the cucumbers. Puree the cucumbers with the buttermilk and the yogurt in a blender.  You may have to do this in batches like I did if your blender can't hold it all at once.  Season with cumin, pepper and cayenne to taste.  I served with some fresh pomegranate seeds.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake

All of my favorite fruits are in season, but in particular strawberries, apricots and peaches.  The best strawberries, of course, are the ones that I have picked myself.  There's a million and one delicious uses for farmers' market strawberries - one my favorites is a strawberry salad with goat cheese and hazelnuts.  But I just love strawberry shortcake as a sweet treat.  In the past, I have always made a traditional strawberry shortcake with a plain scone or shortcake.  But this time I decided to go the chocolate route for a fun variation - I made chocolate strawberry shortcakes with chocolate shortcakes which was delicious! I adapted from this recipe for the shortcakes.  For the topping, I did not mix the strawberries with a load of sugar as is commonly done - it's too much especially with the natural sweetness in the berries this time of year.  Instead, just serve the strawberries with a bit of lemon juice, nice and fresh.  Add a tablespoon of sugar, if you prefer, but not more. Some whipped cream is essential but you really don't have to make your own - I didn't - some store bought whipped cream will work just fine.

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcakes (shortcake portion derived from this recipe)
Makes 6
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 T dutch process cocoa
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 T butter, cut into pieces
3 oz semisweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
extra sugar for sprinkling
1 quart strawberries, sliced
1 tsp lemon juice
whipped cream
1 T sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  To make the shortcakes, mix the flour, sugar, salt, cocoa and baking powder.  I used a mixer to blend in the butter.  Then I mixed in the chocolate chips, one of the eggs, the heavy cream and vanilla.  I prepared the dough on a baking sheet into about 6-7 rounds. This is very similar to the types of rounds that you would make if you were making scones.

Next, put the rounds in the freezer for twenty minutes.  Glaze with the remaining egg and top with some sugar.  Bake until firm for about twenty minutes.  Then allow to cool.

For the strawberry topping, combine the sliced strawberries (use farm fresh, seasonal strawberries if you can - they make this dessert what it is) with the lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar if you prefer.  Top the chocolate shortcakes with the strawberries and the whipped cream.
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