Crispy Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts with Garlic Roots and Panko (In collaboration with The Chef’s Garden)

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The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio is a renowned source of truly world-class produce catering to some of the most well known restaurants across North America. The sprawling 300-acre farm is run by a family of passionate farmers who produce some of the finest fruits, vegetables, and herbs to be found anywhere in the world. Owned and operated by the Jones family, the Chef’s Garden opened in 1981 and has been growing micro greens, edible flowers, and heirloom vegetables ever since.

I’ve been following Farmer Lee Jones’ adventures via social media for several years now, he has appeared at such prestigious events as the Bocuse d’Or, and is a James Beard award winner, so when he contacted me to ask if I would be interested in trying out some of his produce, I jumped at the chance!

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When the box arrived, I was immediately impressed by the intense aromas and freshness of the contents, especially the delicate earthy pungency of the super hard-to-find garlic root. The fact that the Chef’s Garden has supplied culinary royalty such as chefs as Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Charlie Trotter, and Julia Child had me feeling inspired and I immediately set to work photographing and sampling the vegetable box they offer for home cooks.

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Each vegetable was individually packed with care, and the box contained a surprising quantity of produce. When I laid eyes on the mixed baby Brussels and garlic root, I knew immediately what I would cook first. I can admit to being an especially late convert to Brussels sprouts, having had them for the first time while living in Germany. My husband Jason grew up eating them boiled or steamed, but I knew I could bring more flavor out of them with a careful pan searing. They have since become a favorite of ours in the colder months, their rich nutty flavor and crunchy texture lends itself to a range of accompaniments from sliced almonds to raisins, cranberries, and balsamic vinegar, but this time I have a different plan for them.

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Garlic roots have an intense garlicky aroma but a lovely, delicate flavor with much more subtlety than raw garlic making it a perfect accompaniment for the complex but mellow green flavors of fresh Brussels sprouts. To amp up the crunch factor I sear them in a hot pan with a little butter and add toasted bread crumbs. To enhance the rich savory earthy flavors I chose grated Parmesan cheese to create this quick, simple and delicious side dish that is the perfect addition to any holiday menu!

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Crispy Brussel Sprouts with Garlic Roots and Panko
Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs fresh brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
Small handful of garlic roots (use more or less to your liking)
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

To prepare the sprouts, trim the base of each with a small paring knife, being careful not to trim too much or the leaves will fall off. Discard bruised leaves then halve lengthwise.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat; I like to use a copper pan because it heats quickly and responds instantly to temperature changes. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in pan and combine with olive oil until it shimmers, add Panko and stir constantly to toast being careful to avoid burning, then remove to a small bowl. Melt the rest of the butter and olive oil in the pan and sear the sprouts cut side down for 2-3 minutes and check for caramelization before turning. A little charring here is nothing to fear, it adds another dimension to the rich flavor. After tossing sprouts add garlic root and cook for an additional minute or so to release their flavor. Toss with panko and Parmesan and top with freshly ground black pepper just before serving.



Grilled Tomato Bruschetta

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I have a love hate relationship with Autumn. I love the colorful fall leaves, cozy sweaters and hearty stews and soups; but the end of summer also means saying goodbye to my favorite taste of summer, ripe juicy tomatoes.

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My favorite summer tomato recipe is grilled bruschetta; crusty slabs of grilled sourdough rubbed with raw garlic, topped with sweet cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil. Originally served in Italy as an antipasto, basic bruschetta consists of grilled bread rubbed with fresh garlic and topped only with olive oil and salt, but makes an excellent base for experimentation.

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Variations add ingredients ranging from tomatoes, roasted vegetables, whole or mashed beans, to cheeses and cured meats, often becoming a meal in itself. My personal favorite bruschetta includes roasting the tomatoes to intensify their natural character with a bit of flavorful char, and is an excellent way to enjoy sweet, late-harvest tomatoes while they last.

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This recipe is quick and easy, and makes for a light summery dinner, or can be enjoyed as an appetizer and pairs perfectly with 2012 Sonoma The Cutrer. It’s a mild-creamy Chardonnay with notes of roasted nuts, honey, nectarine and honeydew melon. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Makes 8 large toasts

8 1” thick slices of sourdough or ciabatta (I prefer La Brea)
3 tablespoons olive oil (for bread and tomatoes)
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
20 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 lb grape or cherry tomatoes, I chose a gourmet medley
1 large clove raw garlic, peeled
Flaked finishing salt (I like Fleur de Sel de Geurande or Maldon for this dish)

Preheat one side of grill to low. Brush each slice of bread on both sides with olive oil, set aside. In a medium bowl toss tomatoes with a tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Make a foil pouch for tomato mixture, sealing edges well to create steam.

Grill bread 4-5 minutes per side, watching closely so it doesn’t burn. Transfer to cool side of grill to keep warm while grilling foil pouch for 10 minutes.

When bread has cooled enough to handle, rub each side with garlic clove and finish with a few twists of cracked pepper. Toss tomatoes with chopped basil to combine, adding a drizzle of olive oil if necessary. Some tomatoes will have burst but most should remain intact, providing explosive little bursts of flavor with each bite. Arrange bread around bowl, topping each piece immediately before serving. Enjoy!

An AirBnb Experience at Rolling Hilltop Way in Williamsburg, Michigan

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While living in Europe, Jason and I traveled around a lot and always opted to rent apartments on Airbnb rather than hotel rooms to better experience a slice of local life. Some of the apartments we’ve stayed in were quite basic when we were on a tight budget, but most often we would choose something really nice knowing we were still spending less than we would have on even a modest hotel room.  In Paris we rented a tiny but cozy flat in the city’s narrowest building; in Rome we had a gorgeous, sunny 15th century apartment with timbered ceilings; in Strasbourg we had a roomy one bedroom with a terrace just outside the city center.

Now that we are back in the states we still use Airbnb to book apartments when we travel, and my friends at Airbnb asked if I would like to write about my most recent stay. Last month we stayed a few days in Traverse City and booked a condo that we’ve rented previously, one that feels so much more like a home than a rental with charming seaside decor and a fully furnished kitchen including coffee, teas, spices and all the little things which are easily forgotten. The terrace overlooks a golf course and it even has a smart tv for those who need their Netflix fix in the evening.
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AirBnb Condo1_acookscanvas-copyright2012-2017_88Our host, Alexis provides a list of recommendations for sightseeing, local restaurants, wineries, and breweries with insights into what might interest us in particular. We spent the day driving up the peninsula to visit a lighthouse; on our way back we stopped at a few wineries and snapped photos along the shoreline. In the evening we dined at The Franklin for local beers and craft cocktails before heading back to the condo for some rest before starting another day of exploring.
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We always have a nice time at Alexis’s place and are already planning another short trip later in the fall. This time we will be picking apples, shooting fall colors, and look forward to a cozy evening enjoying a bottle of red wine in front of the fireplace.

You can book your next stay in Traverse City with Alexis here.

Aerie Restaurant at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Michigan


Situated atop the tallest building in the Traverse City area, Aerie offers a fantastic view of Grand Traverse bay and an elite dining experience to match. The name Aerie refers to an eagle’s nest, and true to its name, the rooftop offers a high perch attracting eagles and hawks who occasionally swoop by in a flash of shadow.

As we are led to our table, its hard not to be distracted by the view as we take our seats. Our server Michael walks us through the menu with an easy charm and formal yet relaxed confidence reflective of his three decades at Aerie. As we marvel at the view he shares some history of the restaurant and the surrounding area and explains that it is the great depths of the bay that moderates the weather on the hottest days of summer and softens the blow of midwestern winters.





As we dine the sun starts to set across the bay, and through the great expanse of glass the room fills with a golden pink glow. Up here at the 45th parallel, once the sun touches the horizon it will disappear completely in 3 minutes 12 seconds, and Aerie is a very special place to watch it set.




Earlier in the day I had the pleasure of sitting down with Executive Chef Steffes and Chef Petrick to talk about their approach to food at Aerie and the fresh, seasonal menu, so I was excited to sit down and enjoy a meal. They had selected an excellent pairing red and white wines to compliment our meal choices; a 2013 Arcturos Pinot Noir from Black Star, and a 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay from Chateau Chantel.




To begin the meal, we are presented with a warm loaf of crusty bread with tender garlic cloves throughout, alongside oil for dipping and soft butter. We sample but try not to fill up, although the savory garlic makes it hard to resist.



Heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomato, burrata, balsamic reduction, basil puree, garlic chips, fried basil
paired with Chateau Chantel 2014 Chardonnay Proprietor’s Reserve

A classic combination of my favorite summer ingredients; large yet delicate slabs of juicy heirloom tomatoes, their rich and meaty flavors enhanced by tangy balsamic reduction, alongside creamy burrata and a sunny basil puree. Crispy garlic chips and fried basil bring a welcome textural contrast. A simple and delightful start to a meal.




Braised short rib
Braised short rib, sautéed cabbage, miso soy grilled carrots, housemade sambal oelek, crispy garlic paired with Black Star 2013 Arcturos Pinot Noir

Meltingly tender braising and a delicately charred caramelized finish bring out the intense beef flavor; a bed of deliciously sautéed cabbage with garlic and spring onions enhance the richness of the short rib. The grilled, miso glazed carrots are wonderfully rich with earthy sweetness, and together with the delightful sambal add an unexpected but wonderful punch of umami.


Salmon panzanella
Seared Faroe island salmon, crispy bread, pickled red onion, cherry tomato, cherry peppers, pickled red jalapeno, fresh celery, balsamic reduction, basil puree paired with Chateau Chantel 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay

Tender salmon with a perfectly crisp texture and finished with lemon zest atop a sweet/savory combination of summer vegetables. A summery dish with cubes of crusty bread, a drizzle of balsamic reduction, basil puree. An excellent choice for a light dinner and flown in fresh several times per week, the salmon paired perfectly with the Chateau Chantel chardonnay.




Fresh mussels, bay scallops, lump crab, prawns and lobster cooked in a saffron tomato broth with pickled chile pepper puree, roasted yellow cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, basil oil, grilled baguette paired with Black Star 2013 Arcturos Pinot Noir

I love a perfectly seasoned cioppino, and this is excellently prepared in a deeply satisfying red saffron tomato broth. Pickled chile puree and roasted cherry tomatoes dressed with basil oil and a crusty slice of grilled bread perfect for sopping up the marvelous broth. A deliciously filling dish made even more delightful with the selected Pinot Noir.



Whether or not you’re staying at the Grand Traverse resort, the incredible views and equally captivating menu executed by Chefs Steffes and Petrick will not disappoint!  Recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for 2017 and an OpenTable Diner’s Choice award 2017, Aerie is an excellent choice for a dinner reservation.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Michigan


It’s no secret that I love visiting the Traverse City area. From May-October this area of northern Michigan becomes an irresistible attraction with wineries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, resorts, golf courses, farmer’s markets, apple orchards, creameries, stables, marinas, antique shops, boutiques, lighthouses, and even a casino.






There is literally something here for everyone, but culinary travelers in particular will find an endless string of tasting experiences and innovative cuisine. Having lived in the Chicago area for almost 20 years it’s easy to take for granted what visitors from other states find so breathtaking; the oceanic scale of Lake Michigan, to which the lakeshore up here with miles of scenic shoreline and lighthouses lend a salty Atlantic feel that’s still only a few hour’s drive outside of Chicago.






I try to make it up here at least twice each year, and always seek to experience a different aspect of what this area has to offer; this Summer I was invited to visit the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa to try out the amenities and to dine at Traverse City’s highest fine dining restaurant to sample the new menu at Aerie.

Our comfortable room was on the 11th floor of the hotel tower with sweeping views overlooking the 900 acre resort and the spectacular Grand Traverse bay. The wonderful hotel staff demonstrate an impressive attention to detail; from evening turn-down service with chocolates, to a late-night emergency corkscrew delivery at a moment’s notice, they swoop in effortlessly to save the day and never fail to make you feel welcome.







In addition to the world class golf course with its clubhouse and pro shop, for year-round guests the resort has extensive indoor and outdoor fitness facilities including tennis courts, a spa with massage and facial services, two indoor swimming pools, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool for lounging complete with a cocktail bar. 





Inside you will find a coffee shop with fresh baked goods straight out of the Aerie kitchen, a breakfast cafe with plated as well as buffet options, Dylan’s Candy Bar for little ones (and those of us with a sweet tooth!), a sports bar, outdoor gear and clothing boutiques, gift shops, and of course Aerie, the resort’s crowning jewel which I will be sharing with you in the next write-up. GrandTraverseResortandSpa7_acookscanvas-copyright2012-2017_85



Kir Impérial Cocktail


Bastille day is France’s national holiday commemorating the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. The French refer to it as la Fête Nationale, a national celebration of the event, which marked the turning point in the French Revolution. At celebrations held throughout France, revelers will raise a glass to toast the unity of the French people; many of those glasses bearing a variation of the Kir cocktail.




The original Kir dating back to the late 1800’s consists of white Burgundy wine flavored with crème de cassis, and was referred to simply as a blanc-cassis. In the years immediately following WWII it was a favorite of Félix Kir, a parish priest who joined the resistance during the war, and helped 5,000 prisoners escape a prison camp at Longvic. After the war he was made mayor of Dijon, often serving this cocktail to visiting dignitaries and delegations.



Over the years the recipe has been modified by substituting the white wine with Champagne, creating the Kir Royale; swapping out the cassis liquor in favor of Chambord makes a Kir Impérial. This most decadent iteration improves on the original by adding the tart, bright, floral qualities of raspberries to offset the overall sweetness of the drink.

I decided to pair my Kir Impérial with a smoked salmon, cream cheese, tart pickled red onions and fresh chives.




Kir Impérial
1 serving

1 oz. Chambord
3 oz. Champagne (I prefer Piper-Heidsieck Brut)

Pour Chambord into a nicely chilled glass and top with Champagne. Et voila! Santé!


Smoked salmon with cream cheese, pickled red onions and chives
4 servings

4 slices of smoked salmon (sliced in thirds), I prefer Echo Falls
12 Divina toast points, imported from France (located in your cheese department)
Cream cheese
Pickled red onions, minced (see recipe here)
Fresh chives
Freshly cracked black pepper

Place toasts on a platter. Take four slices of the smoked salmon and slice them into thirds. Place a dollop of cream cheese or crème frâiche onto the toast and fold a slice of the salmon on top. Thinly mince a few slices of pickled red onions and place them on top along with the freshly chopped chives.

Serve immediately alongside a Kir Impérial!

Fresh figs with Cambozola and prosciutto

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Fresh figs are only available for a short time so when I saw them in the supermarket the other day, I quickly sorted through them, choosing the ripest unblemished figs I could find, then turned to Jason and said “we need cheese and prosciutto!”

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I spent a few minutes at the cheese case gently squeezing and sniffing wedges of this and that, but mainly focusing on rich, triple-cream bries and the ripe, blue-veined cheeses I knew would be salty and assertive enough to balance out honey-sweetened figs and the salty richness of prosciutto. At last I selected a tender, generous wedge of Bavarian cambozola, then with a bundle of freshly-sliced prosciutto in hand I made my way home to my kitchen.

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To prep the figs I remove the stems, and slice an “X” about halfway down through, then opened them gently to reveal the vibrant red-hued flesh. I carefully packed each one with crumbled cheese, a floret of folded prosciutto, a drizzle of raw honey, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.

Fresh figs with Cambozola and prosciutto

6 fresh figs
3 slices of prosciutto (sliced in half)
Crumbled blue-veined cheese
Drizzle of honey
Fresh thyme

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