Food, Flowers, and More…

Today we attended the 7th annual Tomato Festival at the Arboretum.

Although the festival was small, it was packed full of things to taste, activities for kids, mini lectures on cooking, growing tomatoes, tomato diseases, and other relevant topics. It was only $2 a person and we got to sample food from several local places including Azur, Whole Foods, and Smashing Tomato.

I don’t have a cooking challenge in this post, but I wanted to share this food related event with readers. We had the opportunity to try…

Bread, cheese, tomato, and bacon appetizers

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Tomato and Mango Smoothies

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Crusty bread with tomatoes, relish, and herbs

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Smash Sauce (Spicy!)

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Ratatouille

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And a Candied Cherry Tomato

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And although we didn’t get to try it, we were given a recipe for spicy tomato jam that I am excited to try making.

In between all of the tomatoey goodness, we explored the Arboretum a bit. I hate to admit it, but we’ve lived here for 3 years and had not really taken our time to look around there. It is a beautiful place littered with art and interesting things. For example, we saw a flying bird sculpture and a bottle tree. We learned a little about the history of bottle trees as ways that evil spirits were caught and destroyed.

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We also visited the rose garden. I LOVE rose gardens.

image(169)Now back to the tomatoes…

We were able to sample a lot of different varieties that I’d never heard of like black pear tomatoes, sun gold tomatoes, and rocky top tomatoes. I so rarely eat tomatoes plain and raw that I really could taste major differences in them. All of the heirloom varieties reminded me of my eggplant and heirloom tomato lasagna.

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Overall, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, learn a little more about food, and support local events.

Venison and Pepper Chili

It is now officially cold outside. With snow in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow, I wanted to share my own version of chili. This was also a request in the comment of a friend in my very first cooking post!

While home for the holidays, my dad helped to load me up with fresh venison – the first critical ingredient for my chili. I’ve made chili with beef and turkey, but none of it can compare to the venison. It is so flavorful and lean. You don’t have to drain any fat off of the meat because there isn’t any.  I begin with 2 lbs. of venison and brown it.

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While the venison is browning, chop two bunches of tomatoes ripened on the vine. I like my chili to be chunky, so these are slightly larger than diced.

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I combine the venison and tomatoes into a large pot. I use the same pan where I browned the venison to sautee 2 chili pepper, 2 jalapenos, 1 onion, and 1 green pepper in a little olive oil.

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Next, I add 2 cans of hot chili beans. You can choose mild or original if you don’t like as much heat in your chili.

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Then, I add 2 packets of original chili seasoning. Maybe one day I’ll try making my own. This is the one place where I don’t go “hot” so that I can balance out the other hot ingredients and multiple peppers.

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When you mix this all together, it will look very thick. Too thick.

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However, as it simmers, the tomatoes release enough water to reduce the thickness.

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I let it simmer for 5-6 hours. Top it off with sour cream and shredded cheddar!

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Chilled Tomato Water AND Crockpot Tomato Soup

Over the summer, Joe and I had an extended honeymoon in which we traveled to five different European countries including Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Portugal. He used this vacation, and a very special restaurant where we enjoyed a fancy dinner, as inspiration for this challenge.

First, a little bit about the restaurant. It is called Con Gracia and is a former Michelin Star restaurant. The restuarant only does two seatings per night and only seats about 20 people total. When you see the menu you can choose your own courses like in any traditional restaurant OR you can choose the seven course surprise. The choice was obvious – the surprise dining experience for us! And it really was fun to get surprise after surprise brought to the table!

Our first course was chilled tomato water. Below is a picture of the original chilled tomato water at Con Gracia. It was perfectly clear, ice cold, and had just one tiny square of tomato in the bottom.

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I’ve never really loved raw tomatoes. I need to cover them with a dressing or cheese to cover the taste. I see it as quite the adult accomplishment when I eat a sandwich without picking off the tomatoes. However, this was so good! So, Joe challenged me to make chilled tomato water.

I began with a variety of fresh ripe tomatoes. I washed them and removed any green or stems.

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I blended them until smooth.

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I set up a strainer (AKA sifter), dampened some paper towels, and lined it over a bowl. This brought back childhood memories of helping my grandparents strain and clean the fresh cows milk!

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I poured in the blended tomatoes and set it aside to drain. This process took quite a bit of time! I left the draining tomatoes for over 6 hours.

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All those tomatoes and this is the amount of water I got out of it. Not very much at all.

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I chilled the water for about an hour and prepared the drink in a shot glass with a tiny chunk of tomato to attempt replicating the Con Gracia course.

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I didn’t get it quite as clear as the original, but it was clearer than I expected. Apparently this is an important skill taught in culinary school.This was a small return on the investments, so I don’t think this is something that I’ll plan to do again. But, it was a fun challenge.

Even though the tomato water was the goal of this challenge, I couldn’t bear to see the blended tomatoes (sans water) go to waste. I added that to the crockpot, cut up more tomatoes (unblended), added diced onion, minced garlic, chicken broth, and a bag of mixed frozen vegetables to it. I let it cook on low for several hours and was able to get a nice tomato based vegetable soup out of the mixture.

Kentucky Bourbon BBQ Chicken and Beer Cheese Pizza

Last week we attended the Olympics of Pizza, the Bluegrass Pizza Bakeoff where individuals and businesses competed on traditional and non-tradtional syles of pizza trying to win a spot in the pizza olympics in Italy. This inspired me to make my own version of a non-traditional pizza.

There are already places in Lexington that do a pizza that is representative of Kentucky: The Hot Brown Pizza. You can find this at Saul Good or The Grey Goose. I still wanted to do a Kentucky inspired pizza, so I thought about those things that are unique to Kentucky. Of course, I thought about tobacco, coal, and horses, but those things would not be very appetizing on a pizza.  =)

Bourbon? Beer cheese? Now these are ingredients I can get down with for this challenge. Because this was a different kind of challenge focused on creativity and not timing or surprise ingredients, these cooking directions will look a little different than my posts about mystery ingredient challenges.

First, before I left for work, I put chicken tenders into the crockpot and let them cook on low. This makes them super tender and easy to shred. 

When I came home, I started the homemade pizza sauce. I sauteed a finely chopped half an onion, Kentucky grown tomatoes (thanks mom and dad!), 2 garlic cloves, and a half teaspoon of oregano in olive oil. I let this simmer for about 20 minutes while I worked on other ingredients.

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I shredded the chicken and tossed it in about one cup of bourbon barbeque sauce. This is not my own recipe, but it is made from scratch. I used Four Roses bourbon because that is what we had on hand.We had it leftover from a wings dinner with friends, and if you’ve been following my blogs, you already know how I feel about repurposing leftovers.

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I did cheat a little and buy a refrigerated pizza crust. Had I made this on a weekend I may have made a pizza crust from scratch when I had time for the dough to rise. I used a new artisan whole wheat crust by Pillsbury.

After rolling out the crust, I pre-baked it for about 6 minutes. Then, I spread Kentucky beer cheese over the entire crust. Someday, I’ll make it to the Beer Cheese Festival.

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I used my new purple immersion blender to blend the pizza sauce to a smooth consistency.

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Last, spread the pizza sauce on top of the beer cheese, added the bourbon BBQ sauce chicken, green peppers, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. I popped this into the oven until the crust edges were golden brown, which took about another 8 minutes.

This is my non-traditional Bourbon Chicken and Beer Cheese Pizza!

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