Kitchen Accomplice: Knockout vegetables

You have worked to figure out the entrée for your dinner party. And, you know the salad you want to fix. But what about the vegetables. I have some knockout notions for you. These take a little time and care but no one will say they had them for lunch -- and they are nutritious and delicious. And what a splash on your dinner plates! These are definitely reserved for that special occasion.

My very favorite for appearance, taste and extraordinary presence is the baby carrot with tops. The trick here is to find the baby carrots with tops. If you cannot, I would omit this altogether. Look for the freshest carrots with the greenest and most beautiful tops. They will all be part of your dinner plate presentation. Cooking them is no walk in the park either. On the other hand, while there is some tedium involved, the result will result in applause -- I know.

Each person receives 3 baby carrots. You will provide a plate for the cut-off tops so the tops do not clutter the diners' entrée plates.

You are trying to cook the carrots while keeping the tops fresh and green. Not easy. But if you follow these instructions, the result will be perfect every time. It is a last-minute preparation - but do not let that intimidate you. You will have everything else ready. Appoint a bartender to keep glasses full while you work. That will keep guests from the kitchen -- and if any should wander in, assign them some task to take them out -- arranging the flowers, the napkins, arranging butter pats on the bread plates.

Here's the drill. Have heavy duty foil cut into 3 inch squares. Also have a saucepan of boiling salted water that will accommodate the carrots standing vertically emerged just to the bottom of the green tops. Wrap the green tops in foil together with 3 ice cubes - sealed carefully to prevent as little of the ice water to dilute the boiling water as possible.

Prepare another sauce pan of equal parts melted butter and olive oil. Scatter fresh cut dill on a cutting board.

As the carrots are finished in the boiling water, lift them by the leafy end and dip into the butter and olive oil. Roll into the snipped dill, remove the foil and place on the serving plates.

Another vegetable that always captures imaginative minds is this spinach soufflé.

SPINACH SOUFFLé

Ingredients:

6 ounces fresh baby spinach

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 1/4 cup seasoned croutons

1/4 cup grated onion

1 egg

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/4 cup melted butter

Instructions:

Wash, dry and chop the spinach.

Mix all the ingredients together until well blended.

Pour the mixture into individual soufflé dishes.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 20 minutes. Check. May need a few more minutes until it springs back to the touch. You'll know.

-- Serves 4

The vegetable terrine can be done in advance and is spectacular on the plate. It is also delicious as you will see.

GRILLED VEGETABLE TERRINE

Time 30 minutes -- Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeded

2 yellow bell peppers, quartered and seeded

1 large eggplant, thinly sliced lengthways

2 large zucchini, thinly sliced lengthways

6 tbsp. olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1 tbsp. tomato paste

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 1/3 cups tomato juice

2 tbsp. powdered gelatin

fresh basil leaves for garnish

For The Dressing:

6 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

How to make it:

Brush the peppers with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill or broil the peppers, until the skins are blackened. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a plate. Let cool. When cooled, peel the skin off the peppers (optional).

Arrange the slices of eggplant and zucchini on the grill, or place them on a baking sheet under the broiler. brush them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill or broil, turning occasionally, until they are tender and golden brown.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan and cook the red onion, raisins, tomato paste and red wine vinegar over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is soft and the onion is cooked down quite a bit. Set aside to cool.

Line a terrine pan, or a loaf pan with clear plastic wrap, such that the wrap overhangs the sides of the container. The clear wrap will stick to the sides easier if you spray the pan with a little water first.

Pour the tomato juice into a pan and sprinkle with the gelatin. Leave for 5 minutes to soften, then dissolve gently over a low heat, whisking to prevent any lumps from forming.

Place half of the grilled (broiled) peppers in the base of the terrine(you can interchange the colors of peppers while layering). Pour in enough of the tomato juice with gelatin to cover them.

Next layer half of the eggplants covered with more tomato juice, then half of the zucchini with tomato juice. Place all the red onions on top of the zucchini layer and cover with tomato juice. This is the center of the terrine. Repeat the layers of eggplant and zucchini one more time, pouring tomato juice over each layer. Finish with the other half of bell peppers.

Pour the remaining tomato juice into the terrine and tap hard a couple times to disperse the juice evenly. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or until set.

To make the dressing, whisk together the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Turn out the terrine onto a large platter. Remove the clear film. Serve in thick slices, drizzled with dressing and garnished with chopped basil.

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Judge John Kirkendall is a retired Washtenaw County Probate judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. He is past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at Judgejnk@yahoo.com.

Published: Mon, Apr 11, 2011

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