Archives for the month of: July, 2010

Written by Tom Brooks, Director of Food & Beverage at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa

My high school friend from Baltimore, Linda Rittelman, has been visiting the resort for a few weeks, and she’s been telling me all about the 100+ degree weather (with 113 % humidity) that she left behind. Of course I couldn’t help but be reminded of the first time I went to Baltimore to visit my Aunt Robin and Uncle Kit, when we undertook a somewhat futile effort to make vanilla ice cream.

My aunt is not known for her culinary prowess, but on this particular day it was so hot that we decided to give it a shot. The actual recipe is easy, but when you’re churning ice cream by hand in 100+ degree weather, it’s hard to have anything turn out remotely ‘icy’. (This was back when I was only nine, and we were not afforded the luxury of an electric ice cream maker.)

After a delicious dinner of Baltimore crabs (complete with mallets and newspaper), we got everything together to venture into the realm of handmade ice cream. We churned and churned, but Mother Nature won the day; our ice cream came out like a thick vanilla milkshake, but no matter—it’s still the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It was so cool and refreshing. (Side note: That semi-liquid consistency was the inspiration for the Chilled Cauliflower Soup we have on the menu today in Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern—cool, creamy, soothing, and the perfect remedy for the summer heat.)

The recipe couldn’t be easier, just be sure to use real vanilla bean. Once you’ve tried the recipe a time or two, you have the perfect base to which you can add puréed berries or any other flavor you like.


Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
7 oz. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
15 egg yolks

Combine milk, cream, vanilla bean, scraped seeds, half the sugar, and all the salt in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Meanwhile, blend the egg yolks with the remaining sugar. Temper ¼ of the hot liquid into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the tempered mixture to the saucepan and return to the heat. Cook on medium heat until mixture is napé (thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon)– usually about three to five minutes. Strain mixture into a metal container and cover and refrigerate for 2 hours until cold. Then process the ice cream in a maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Different Flavors
Chocolate: Before straining the ice cream base, stir 6oz. melted bittersweet chocolate into the mixture.
Coffee: Substitute 2 oz. coarsely ground coffee for the vanilla bean.
Raspberry/Strawberry: Omit milk from the recipe. After refrigerating the ice cream base stir in 2 cups of strained raspberry or strawberry puree.

Written by Tom Brooks, director of food and beverage at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort and Spa.

Sometimes you get inspiration in unexpected places. The other day I was concocting a recipe for this week’s Savorvore theme, “Backyard Pizza Hearth,” when I walked into the office of one of my colleagues. Immediately I noticed the marvelous smell of fresh pesto mingled with the unmistakable aroma of pizza.

“Whatcha eatin’ there?” I asked.

Collin Parker, our marketing coordinator, told me it was leftover pizza he had thrown together the night before, with “a little sauteed chicken, some sauteed mushrooms, pesto, mozzarella cheese … .”

It looked good, smelled even better, and tasted incredible! (He offered a bite, and I just couldn’t refuse!) And just like that, I’d found my Savorvore recipe. Well, yes, it’s his recipe, but we’re all friends here, and what’s a little co-opting between friends?

If you’ve never tried cooking pizza on a grill, it’s definitely worth giving a shot. Not only does your house stay cooler (and can’t we all use that right about now?), it gives the pizza a nice outdoorsy (in a good way) taste.

Just make sure you use a pizza pan, spray the grill liberally with non-stick spray, or brush it with olive oil. There’s not much that’s worse than having a big ol’ pizza stuck to your grill.

And now that you have a basic recipe, feel free to try it with your favorite pizza ingredients.


Recipe: Chicken-Mushroom Pesto Pizza
One-half pound chicken (one large breast), cubed
3 tablespoons pesto
3-4 large fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh basil
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 fresh or frozen 14- to 16-inch pizza crust

Saute chicken in olive oil over medium heat. Add fresh basil, salt and pepper. When chicken is almost cooked through, add mushrooms. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, and set aside. Set grill to medium heat. Roll out dough (sprinkle with flour so it doesn’t stick), and transfer to pizza plate. Spread the pesto onto the dough, add the cheese, and then top with chicken and mushrooms. Sprinkle another thin layer of cheese, and then place pizza onto grill. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.

Written by Tom Brooks, Director of Food & Beverage at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa

Before I begin, please allow me to make a small correction to the Cheese Fondue recipe from last week. I mistakenly called for one CAN of beer. I meant to say, “one CUP of beer.” So if you make the fondue, please only use one cup of beer, and you can just drink the rest yourself. My apologies.

Now—on to this week’s recipe. As many of you know, I recently moved here from Boston. While I’ve been enjoying all that this area has to offer, the Fourth of July found me missing some of my old friends and our Beantown traditions. No, I wasn’t ever crazy enough to fight the throngs along the Charles to be in the middle of the celebration, but we could always hear the Pops and the fireworks. And we always had a great time.

This year, as I taught a (delicious!) afternoon World BBQ class here at The Essex, I was still without plans for the evening. As it turns out, two of the class participants were a great couple from a neighborhood just outside Boston, and they invited me to attend the VSO’s Summer Festival Tour with them at Shelburne Farms that night.

I only had time to quickly walk through the kitchens and grab a handful of items I could turn into a picnic dinner, but I think I pulled it off pretty well. Smoked trout, an assortment of local cheeses, a loaf of focaccia, and some fresh fruit. I don’t know about you, but that screams “eating outside on the Fourth of July” to me. For those of you who have never perfected the art of using a smoker with your food, I thought I’d offer a how-to. Enjoy!

In the end, the meal came together really well, and the evening was amazing. The symphony played a beautiful mix of lilting harmonies, the sunset was magnificent, and the fireworks were a perfect ending to my first Vermont Fourth of July. I could really get used to this.

Smoke Your Own Trout
3 trout fillets
¼ cup sugar
2 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 cups hickory wood chips
1 tbsp. salad oil

Rinse trout and pat dry. In a small bowl, mix sugar, salt, lemon peel, and thyme. Rub evenly over the fish. Stack fish in a 9 x 13 baking dish, cover, and chill 1-3 hours. Meanwhile, soak wood chips in a bowl with 2 quarts of water for 30 minutes. If you have a charcoal grill, ignite about 60 charcoal briquettes. After 20-25 minutes, sprinkle in the wood chips, and make sure the cooking surface is about 6” above the chips. Leave the vents open on the grill cover, so the fire gets air. Gas-grill users, lay the wood chips in an aluminum foil “pan” on either side of the flame, and let it heat for 10 minutes. Coat the sides of the fish with oil, and lay the fillets skin-side-down on the grill. Close the grill cover, and cook until the fish is opaque and still moist-looking in the middle (approximately 8-10 minutes). Let the fish cool or serve when hot. Your choice.

Suggested cheeses:
Jasper Hill Farm Moses Sleeper
Boucher Family Farm Green Mountain Blue
Von Trapp Farmstead Oma
Blue Ledge Farm Chevre

Other essentials:
Loaf of fresh foccacia
Home-made cornbread muffins
Apples, grapes
Hard Salami

Written by Tom Brooks, Director of Food & Beverage at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa

Back in my younger days, my two best friends and I came up with the brilliant idea of spending an entire summer out on the Cape. I say “brilliant”, because none of us had any money to rent a house for the summer… but we weren’t going to let that stop us. And, in fairness, the only reason I was broke was because I had just bought a pristine new 14′ van for my fledgling catering business.

But then it hit me– the van could be our home. Shane, Thomas, and I loaded it up with the essentials: food, sleeping bags, mosquito nets, and citronella candles, and we were off! Later that day we arrived on the Cape in a big white van with ‘Seasoned to Taste Catering’ written in big purple letters on the side. After we pulled into the campground, we unpacked the food and started to cook our dinner. Within a few days people began stopping by our camp, because the food smelled and looked so good. Of course, had we been truly brilliant we would have opened up a little stand and sold the food. Oh well, chalk it up to being young and stupid.

Anyway, here are two of our more popular (and supremely easy) Campfire Cuisine ideas: a grilled stuffed burger and an ultra-easy cheese fondue. (Yes, Mrs. Shewalter, this is the very same fondue I brought into your high school French class all those times. Bon appétit!)

Grilled Stuffed Pizza Burgers
(Makes three 10 oz. burgers)
2 lbs. 80-90% lean ground beef
9 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced or grated
9 oz. sun-dried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
Fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. onion powder
Salt and pepper
3 Portuguese rolls (or any soft hamburger roll)
In a bowl, combine onion and garlic powders with ground beef. Form into three large, thick patties. Combine cheese, tomatoes, and basil, and place in the middle of the burger, making sure the stuffing is completely surrounded by the meat. Salt and pepper both sides and grill on each side for about 8 minutes to get the mozzarella cheese gooey. Lightly toast the buns, and serve.

Cheese Fondue with French Bread
8 oz. grated Muenster cheese
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup beer
½ tsp. mustard
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1 loaf French bread
Heat beer, and let it bubble up to top of pan to release some of the foam. Do not boil. Toss cheese and flour together, and add little at a time to the beer until it’s all melted. Stir in the mustard and the garlic powder, and start dipping.

Written by Tom Brooks, Director of Food & Beverage at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend some much-needed downtime off the coast of Cape Cod; my friend Gary and I hit the waters for a bit of striped bass fishing. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that (a) he knows how to fish and (b) I know how to cook.

Tom (l.) and Gary (r.) fishing off Cape Cod

I spent all afternoon in a futile attempt to have anything take a nibble on my line. Gary, meanwhile, was pulling in fish hand-over-fist, including a 33” and 34” bass. With the easy work done (well, he made it look easy anyway), it fell on me to come up with a tasty recipe, so we could enjoy our (ok… his) catch at dinner that night.

Voilà! Pan-seared striped bass with saffron-barley risotto and gingered shoestring carrots, all in a green pea & basil broth.

It may sound complicated (You’ll dazzle your friends when they asked what you’ve cooked!) but it’s actually a pretty simple recipe. I’ve adjusted the recipe to make it more Vermont-ish, using brook trout instead of sea bass. It serves six people.


Saffron-Barley Risotto
2 cups barley
4 cups chicken stock (or water)
1 tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped fine
1 pinch saffron
1 bay leaf
Bring liquid to a boil. Sauté onion and barley until onion turns opaque. Add half the liquid, the bay leaf, and the saffron. Simmer, and stir in rest of liquid until barley is tender and creamy.

Spring Pea and Basil Broth
2 lbs. fresh spring peas or frozen peas
2 shallots
1 bunch basil
1 ½ qt. chicken stock
1 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté chopped shallots and fresh peas until shallots are opaque and the peas are a pretty, bright green color. Add stock and basil, and bring to a boil. Simmer until peas are tender. Strain peas and basil out of chicken stock and purée until very smooth. To adjust thickness, add chicken stock to purée until the sauce is very fine and just coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain sauce if necessary to keep it very fine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Gingered Shoestring Carrots
4 large carrots, peeled and julienned
1 large piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated
2 shallots, chopped fine
1 tsp. butter
1 navel orange, zested
1 cup orange juice
Sauté shallots, carrots, ginger and orange zest in medium pan. Add juice, and reduce mixture until the carrots are tender and caramelized.

Brook Trout
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
12 3-4 oz. skin-on brook trout fillets
Salt and pepper
Season fillets generously with salt and pepper, especially on the skin side. Get oil hot in a cast iron skillet and start cooking fish skin side down to get the skin very crispy. Flip and cook quickly on flesh side being sure not to overcook. Lay on paper towel to soak up excess grease.

Putting it all together
While fish is cooking, ladle 6 oz. broth into a bowled dinner plate. Spoon out a generous mound of barley risotto and lay fillet on top, finishing with carrots.