Preparing for the Bounty of the Harvest

tomatoWhat a fantastic year for growing a garden! I have to admit… I went a little overboard planting this year. I now have four vegetable patches situated under some warm and sunny spots.

And what a difference the sun makes! My tomatoes are growing wild. I also took the advice of an old friend and fed my gardens once a week for the first three weeks. Wow… I have had to reinforce the stakes on my tomato plants twice so far. My eggplant is twice the size of last year and I have already harvested wax beans and pea pods. It’s going to be a banner harvest season.


So now is the time to start plotting a strategy for the bounty that’s soon to come in. I seem to always have an excess of hot peppers. I love to make fresh salsa, so of course hot peppers and tomatoes are a major planting for me. But I always seem to give away a lot of hot peppers. Not this year… I’m going to be pickling them! Pickling works great for hot peppers. You can mix in carrots and onions like our friends south of the border, or just keep them plain. I’ll be able to make salsa with them all winter long!


A Special Marriage Inside of My Kitchen

coffeeWhen Sara and I renovated our kitchen several years ago, we made a number of small decisions. One of which was to put an instant hot water dispenser by the sink. Another was to eliminate as much clutter from the counters as possible so we had clean lines, lots of available workspace and the ability to view and appreciate our granite and tile counters. So we punted on the traditional automatic coffee maker that usually had a permanent home on the counter, and instead we started using French Presses.

French presses are much smaller, fit in the dishwasher easily and make an incredibly good cup of coffee. We each have our own press, partially because of size and partially because I drink decaf. It’s extremely simple to use a French press with instant hot. One scoop of ground beans, turn on the faucet and in about 30 seconds you’ve got a pot going. Let it sit for three minutes to steep and BAM − great cup of coffee.

We have been doing this for several years now and a few days ago my instant hot started to sputter about five seconds into the pour. The filter was clean so I think we’re watching the beginning of the end for this little appliance. But for about $150 bucks I can buy a new one and keep enjoying the good java for another several years. I just love it.

Who knew an instant hot and a French press could bring you that special little joy when you wake up on a groggy day!

Johnny Prep Takes Over Management of Iconic Mr. B’s Pub in Royal Oak

I have some good news to share. . . Earlier in June, I took over over management of Mr. B’s Pub, the iconic, 30-year-old restaurant on Main Street in Royal Oak, Michigan. I’m officially a restaurant owner!

mrbspub1The B’s brand has been popular for a long time, and my plans are to build on that reputation. The team will enhance the menu by making more dishes, condiments, sauces and soups from scratch, and creating a culinary culture that’s focused on fun.

mrbspub2Diners will notice these changes as they are rolled out in stages over the next several months. I’m also planning on including an updated menu that retains Mr. B’s’ most popular items, state of the art sports viewing, live blues and jazz music in addition to existing DJ-driven dance nights and an expanded catering and events opportunities in the banquet facilities.

A little history. . . Mr. B’s was among the first sports bars in metro Detroit. It has expanded over the decades and now occupies 9,000 square feet at Main and Third Streets. In 2012, Mr. B’s added a martini lounge that flanks the main seating room. I plan to use the upscale space for craft beer, wine and food tastings.

I’m excited for this next venture! If you are ever in the Detroit area, come out and see me at Mr. B’s.

They Make Me Cry, But I Can’t Get Enough Onions!

Grilled Turkey Cheeseburger Double SlidersI just love onions. They are foundational to so many dishes, but by themselves they’re a star. The transformation that occurs from a raw onion to a cooked onion is incredible. That’s because they have so much natural sugar built into them. Yup, natural sugar, not the processed stuff in which people seem to perpetually overindulge.

And as the onions cook and start to turn brown, those sugars start to caramelize and the bite-y onion turns into a soft, sweet, savory gem. As I’ve been developing recipes for the pub I’ve purchased, I’ve decided to really highlight caramelized onions.

So I went to my restaurant supply store recently and bought some fresh onions that were already sliced. Making a few pounds of onions a day is no big deal, but if you’re going to go through 20 or 30 pounds a day I figure buying them peeled and sliced would save someone a lot of tears.

Wow, did this make things easy. I whipped up 20 pounds of caramelized onions in about 30 minutes. Worked like a charm. Of course, when I experiment in my studio kitchen at my house, I need to find people to eat these babies. But the beauty of these is that they keep very well in the fridge for a few weeks if you store them properly.

Seeing these babies in the fridge inspired me to whip up a Swiss Onion Soup. If you have the onions in the fridge and keep some stock around, this soup will take about 20 minutes to make and… what nice flavor. Then I needed a good salad dressing, so I took some of the onions and threw them in the Vitamix and whipped up a delicious caramelized onion and garlic dressing. Not to mention that our sliders and sandwiches have been kicked up a few notches for the last few weeks as well.

So next time you’re working with onions, make a few extra. Throw them in a pan with some butter or olive oil and cook them gently until they are nice a golden brown. A little salt and pepper and you have onion magic!

Second Annual Clash of the Cooking Crews a Success!

My second annual Clash of the Cooking Crews at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital here in Michigan kicked off last week, and it was another fantastic success getting kids engaged with cooking and learning. Thanks to the Detroit Free Press for the write-up!

While Milford Muir took the top spot, all the kids came away winners, said Prepolec, who coached all the teams before and during the contest.

“They all did awesome, and all had nice presentations,” he said. “What was cool is they all did one egg omelet and realized it’s filling.” — Detroit Free Press

WXYZ-TV Channel 7 also came out to cover the event. . . Check out the kids in action learning how to cook healthy in the clip.

To learn more about Clash of the Cooking Crews, please visit the main website!

Are You Yearning for the Great Flavor of Mushrooms?

With Morel season just beginning my taste buds are yearning for some great mushroom flavor. With this really crummy weather, the season has been slow in arriving, so I’ve been making some mushroom duxelle to top my steaks and burgers and fulfill my desire for the taste. Mushroom duxelle is simply rough chopped mushrooms that are sautéed and then reduced with some liquids to make an incredibly flavorful sauce. It’s not overly saucy, but rather coats the mushrooms with just enough extra liquid to cover the meat it is served with.

Here are the tips: Clean and dry your favorite mushrooms and cut them into quarters or halves if they’re small. Get a large frying pan really, really hot. Then add a very small amount of vegetable oil (like one tablespoon). Toss the mushrooms in the pan and don’t stir them. The mushrooms will actually start to softly squeak as they initially shrink from the high heat. This technique is important, because it keeps the liquids from oozing out of the mushrooms and it lets you get a nice caramelization on them.

Once the mushrooms are cooked, add about a cup of Madeira or Marsala wine and reduce it until it is almost dry (au sec). Then add a cup of cream and once again reduce it in half. Then season with salt and pepper to taste. This stuff tastes incredible and will top a steak, chop or even a breaded eggplant and turn it into heaven!

Homemade Dessert? Or Bought From a Pastry Shop?

apple-pieI saw a killer-looking dessert the other day. It truly was visibly impressive. I HAD to have come out of a pro pastry shop. I still had that delicious dessert on my mind, and though that it quite possibly could be an incredibly easy dessert to whip up yourself if you don’t mind using store-bought ingredients.

So for those who are looking for a simple approach to impressing your guests, here’s what I would recommend: Buy a good quality apple pie. Turn the pie upside-down on a serving platter. Buy a very good quality caramel and chocolate sauce. Heat the sauces to soften them and pour them alternately on top of the upside-down pie. Then take a can of mixed nuts, or any nuts you prefer, and while the sauces are still warm, spread a healthy helping on top. Let the sauces cool to a thick consistency and serve.

This desert will wow your guests and it will taste incredible, and it just called for a little creative thinking. I strongly encourage you to make your own dessert next time around, if for no other reason but because cooking is fun and inventive!

Getting Creative with Mac and Cheese

It seems that for years, macaroni and cheese was something you fed to your kids that was made out of a box or something they had at their favorite cafeteria. Over the last several years, mac and cheese has made a tremendous resurgence — it’s become a staple on barbecue menus as well.

Then it got even more fashionable as chefs decided to add lobster to this home-down, low-cost goodie and charge a hefty price, classing it up and billing it the quintessential comfort food. It is kind of funny because classical chefs often shudder at the thought of mixing seafood and cheese (it is a sad paradigm, but a strong one nonetheless).

Well, mac and cheese IS one of the classic comfort foods that really gives you the opportunity to be creative. Besides adding seafood or pork products such as ham or bacon there are countless combinations of cheese that can add a phenomenal taste experience. And to experiment with these cheese combinations is really easy if you know the basics. I have seen some very good diners toss grated cheese into already cooked noodles and then pour a custard mixture (one egg or two eggs per cup of milk whisked together and seasoned), top it with bread crumbs and bake it. This does work well and it gives you kind of a custard-y creaminess. But I’m not crazy on how this process actually mixes the cheeses.

The classic way is to make a cheese sauce, which is referred to as a Mornay sauce. A Mornay sauce is just a Béchamel sauce with cheese melted into it; a Béchamel sauce is considered one of the five “mother sauces.” Béchamel is a fancy name for a white sauce and is made from finely chopped onions (or shallots) butter, flour and milk. You simply sweat the onions in the butter and add the flour. Stir that for a few minutes and then add the milk while whisking constantly. As it comes to a simmer it will reach its full thickness (you can strain out the onions at this point, but it isn’t necessary). Once you have it to this point you can start mixing in grated cheeses at your pleasure. Get creative and see what you come up with. Salt, pepper and a little cayenne are the usual suspects for seasoning. In fact try it with some of the small leftovers of cheese that inevitably accumulate in your cheese drawer and save some money as well. Next thing you know you’ll be naming a mac and cheese dish after yourselves!

Gardening 2014: What I’m Planting This Year

tomatoes_0093It’s garden-planting time again and I’m excited. The length of this winter and the coolness of spring have been onerous and my cabin fever is busting out. It’s finally time to put some wonderful ingredients in the ground and watch them grow.

My gardening skills have really ramped up over the past few years. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs and eggplant are now staples that are reliable and plentiful. But last year I added kale and arugula and tried cilantro again with limited success. This was for various reasons.

I planted kale in a planter and it just wasn’t enough. I need a small patch in the garden. The arugula I planted last year was rocket arugula and it just wasn’t the right kind. I really love baby arugula, and this year I’m going gang busters on getting a good crop. The light bitter taste is an incredible foil for fresh fruits and tangy cheeses such as chevre. Cilantro seems to be the holy grail for me. It starts off good and then just turns to seed and thins out. I need to do some homework because I need more!

Making fresh salsa is one of the pure joys I get out of my garden. My tomatoes and my peppers are perfect for the cause, but I’m tired of having to buy cilantro because my crop is a bust. But this year, I feel a winning streak coming on. And this year I’m going to grow some zucchini. We don’t eat a lot of zucchini because I burned my family out on it many years ago. They cried ‘no mas.’ But I have a new strategy. Instead of growing it for the full grown fruit, I’m going to cut the blossoms early and stuff them. Stuffed zucchini blossoms are the real deal and I’m going to grow a plant just for that.

So as you can see my enthusiasm is bubbling up for a good harvest. Go out and get your hands in some dirt and have some fun too!