As a 24th wedding anniversary gift, my mom bought my wife and me a Veg of the Month Box subscription from The Chef's Garden.
Located near Sandusky, The Chef's Garden specializes in growing heirloom vegetables and specialty produce and is used by many of the top chefs and best known restaurants in the country. Farmer Lee Jones, one of its proprietors, even has become a bit of celebrity himself, appearing as a guest judge on Food Network's "Iron Chef America" and other programs on the network as well as in numerous food publications.
So once a month since September we get deliveries of earthy goodness, even as the earth in northeast Ohio gets harder and harder to see underneath the snow.
Tribune Chronicle / Andy Gray
Michael Symon’s brussels sprout salad and the Neelys’ sweet potato hash both proved to be tasty showcases for the ingredients from The Chef’s Garden.
Each box includes 8 to 10 pounds of produce and a recipe that incorporates some of the ingredients. From the box recipes, we've made potato and leek quiche with Maytag blue cheese and linguine with tomatoes, baby zucchini and herbs, and the ingredients have led us to our cookbooks and the Internet looking for other ideas.
A couple of ingredients stymied us, like cucamelons. They look like grape-sized watermelons and have a cucumbery taste. About the only thing I could find to do with them was pickle them, and they got moldy before I got around to it. But that first box with baby fennel and celery root spawned an intensely fall-flavored soup that my wife made.
With a food page due and Chef's Garden produce waiting to be used, I went in search of recipes to incorporate the brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and purple potatoes from our December box.
For the brussels sprouts, I found inspiration from another North Coaster (and another gift) - "Michael Symon's 5 in 5," the latest cookbook by the Cleveland restaurateur/Iron Chef/''The Chew" cohost. Symon's fried brussels sprouts are one of the best things on the menu at Lolita (and the recipe can be found in his first cookbook, "Michael Symon's Live to Cook"), but I've made them before and was looking for something different and maybe a bit healthier.
"5 in 5" has a recipe for turkey cutlet with brussels sprout salad. The cutlet is a basic preparation, just dredge in seasoned flour and saute for a few minutes. And I ended up using chicken breast tenderloins, because that's what I had in the freezer.
But the salad, which uses raw instead of cooked brussels sprouts, seemed like the perfect way to showcase the freshness of the Chef's Garden bounty. And it was.
The dressing brightened the taste of the vegetables without overwhelming them. It's a recipe that I can see us making again and pairing it with other proteins.
I would recommend the cookbook as well. The "5 minutes" part of the "5 in 5" is misleading, but the recipes are worth the extra effort. We've cooked three meals from the book since Christmas (orecchiette with sausage and kale; penne with broccoli, aged cheddar and bacon), and all were winners.
I decided to look for hash recipes to use the sweet potatoes and found one from Symon's Food Network cohorts, the Neelys.
This is a pretty simple and quick recipe, especially if you make it the way the Neelys do with two large sweet potatoes.
Many of the Chef's Garden items are miniature - which look great on the plate of a Michelin-starred restaurant but mean extra preparation for the home cook. I had to peel more than a dozen small, oddly shaped potatoes to get the same yield.
The purple potatoes added a vibrant color to the dish, but I don't think they changed the flavor profile much. This is another side I would make again, although next time I would use smoked hot paprika. I used sweet to make sure it would be pleasing to everyone, and it could have used the extra kick from the hotter spice.