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What's the best fall garden activity?
 
You Say Tomato, I Say Pesto Print E-mail
Written by Lori C. Aronsohn   

Lori green tomatoIt was a happy overcast and muddy day in March when I visited the Tomatomania event in Encino to browse the rows and rows of heirloom tomato seedlings. This was destined to be a great year for tomatoes at my little house in Valley Village. This year, rather than trying to coax seedlings to reach for the sky and bear luscious fruit confined inside large pots, I’d be spoiling my seedlings in a section of freshly turned soil beneath my kitchen window -- growing in the ground the way nature intended.

I purchased ten delightfully named, heirloom tomato seedlings. I included a “Jaune Flammee,” and a “Snow White.” A “Missouri Pink Love Apple” and an “Old German.” My mouth watered at the thought of plucking real tomatoes from my own garden that tasted like those I picked at roadside stands in Iowa as a young girl.

I fed my seedlings properly with tomato food. They soaked up the sun and sipped on water. And, boy did they grow! As they started to blossom, I put in a nice healthy basil plant and a chili pepper too, anticipating the delicious ways I would combine them to please my loved ones.

I set aside recipes to follow once the harvest was in, but the one recipe I would enjoy the most was quite simple. Fresh tomato, add a little salt, a little pepper, eat!!!

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Showing Celery a Little Respect at Cafe Pinot Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Cafe PinotCafe Pinot, offering a serene outdoor garden setting behind the public library in downtown Los Angeles, has launched a new farmers' market dinner menu. Inspired by Executive Chef Kevin Meehan's trips to the local farmers markets and their abundance of fresh local produce, the menus change weekly based on what is in season and include three courses for $39/person. A recent dinner included such highlights as an amuse bouche with ahi tuna, compressed cucumber and tomato mousse; a wild mushroom risotto; and John Dory butter basted with lemon verbena and served with cherry tomatoes and melon balls (never would have occurred to me to mix the two and I have to say it really worked).

What really impressed me, though, was what Chef Meehan managed to do with celery, a -- let's face it -- somewhat neglected vegetable when it comes to fine cuisine. He created a cold-smoked celery soup poured over an alfalfa-sprout nest and served with chevre and olive oil. Even better, he was kind enough to share the recipe (see below). A home gardener himself, Chef Meehan said that for fall, he's looking forward to growing Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, beets, chives (which he always grows and says he puts in everything) and tea-oriented herbs for his wife.

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Sharing a Passion for Produce (and a Gazpacho Recipe) at Napa Valley Grille Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   
Chef Joseph of Napa Valley Grille

The passion that Napa Valley Grille Executive Chef Joseph Gillard has for local seasonal produce extends beyond the fare he picks up at the farmers market or purchases through partnerships with local farmers for his guests at the restaurant. Gillard has partnered with Country Fresh Herbs in Tarzana to run a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program that connects the farmers directly with busy professionals who don't have the time to shop farmers markets. Gillard has been partnering with Country Fresh Herbs since 1997 and one of the things he's learned is that participating is a lot easier than people think. "More restaurants and organizations should be doing it," said Gillard, shown here presenting a CSA basket to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "It is easy to have vegetables delivered even to where you work. Our guests are as passionate about their deliveries as we are."

Through both his work at Napa Valley Grille and with the CSA, Chef Gillard's main focus is sustainability -- the need to support local farmers so they can continue doing their work. The menu at Napa Valley Grille changes with what's available at the markets and from the local farmers. Currently that includes petite heirloom zucchini and flowers, lemon cucumbers, little gem and butter lettuce, kale, peaches, radishes and, of course, heirloom tomatoes. 

Since many of us currently have an abundance of tomatoes (yea!), Chef Gillard shared with us a recipe for heirloom tomato gazpacho. He said he keeps some in his refrigerator at home as a "healthy fulfilling snack to be enjoyed anytime." (Click "read more" for recipe.)

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New Studio Garden (Cocktails) at Montage Laguna Beach Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Studio garden at Montage Laguna BeachIt's hard to imagine a more beautiful spot for a garden than that enjoyed by the new chef's garden at the Studio restaurant at Montage Laguna Beach (right). Perched next to the Craftsman-style bungalow that houses the restaurant, the garden features beds that are built 31 inches tall (according to Chef Craig Strong, that is the exact height needed to keep the pesky bunnies that roam the property away) and filled with herbs and vegetables -- and companion flowers such as marigolds. Against the wall of the garden area, berries and other fruit grow -- protected (again, from those pesky bunnies as well as insects) with a row of alyssum.

Studio Executive Chef Craig Strong, who we first wrote about here in 2009 and who has provided us since with great recipes for salsa verde with spring garlic and watermelon, feta and black-olive salad, is long a proponent of using local seasonal products and a home gardener himself. While he still buys most of his produce from local farmers -- where he gets inspired by some of their discoveries (one of the latest was a leek blossom, which he has been using with sauteed swordfish), the new chef's garden allows him to do two things: 1. Pick herbs such as lemon verbena minutes before using it in, say, the aroma that accompanies his seared Hudson Valley foie gras and 2. create a series of signature cocktails based on what's growing in the garden.

Using a base of Cachaca, the first Studio Garden Cocktail featured tarragon, cucumber, basil and key lime, along with a splash of St. Germaine and champagne. The current Studio Garden Cocktail again uses Cachaca as its base and adds fresh lime juice, lavender-infused syrup and blackberry. For those who would like to try it at home, here is the recipe (click "read more"). Enjoy!

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Apple, Avocado and Arugula Amuse from San Francisco’s Newest Star (Michelin, That Is) Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Chef Sri of Taj Campton PlaceThere’s something wonderful about traveling through a farmers market with a chef. You can almost see the little gears ticking as they make their way through the produce stands making decisions for that night’s menu. A few weeks ago, I got that chance at the farmers market held each Saturday morning at the Ferry Building in San Francisco (already a great hub for artisanal products) with Chef Srijith Gopinathan (left) of the Taj Campton Place San Francisco. Chef Sri hit at least a dozen stands for everything from baby beets to stone fruit. Some of the lessons learned: greens that will be used raw need to be more perfect looking than those that will be cooked, and borage flowers make a beautiful edible garnish.

Chef Sri’s Campton Place Restaurant recently received a Michelin star and it’s easy to see why -- the farm-fresh food is expertly prepared and the service is impeccable. Not to mention civilized: The meal starts with Master Sommelier Richard Dean coming by the table with a cart filled with a choice of four types of champagne as an aperitif. The spring tasting menu we enjoyed brought to life everything we’d seen at the market, including a baby beet salad with fennel ice, Andante Dairy goat cheese and lemon-infused olive oil; maine lobster butter poached with coconut curry, green peas and cilantro; sous-vide Angus beef with wild morels, cippolini onions and petit bok-choi; and caramelized chocolate cake with yogurt, pear and blood orange sorbet.

But the highlight (at least for me) was an amuse-bouche made with apple, avocado and arugula, not flavors I would think of putting together but blended in a way that was simply amazing, with each sip bringing out the best flavors of each. Chef Sri was kind enough to share the recipe. Now, many of you may not have N2O chargers and syphons (I know I don’t) but I’m sure it’s just as tasty as a gazpacho-style cold soup. Enjoy!

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