A Meal In Which Freshness Counts

Cookbook author Kathy Gunst and Stonewall Kitchen co-founder Jim Stott are teaming up to take the Chef on a Shoestring challenge. They've agreed to prepare a three-course meal for four on The Saturday Early Show's budget of $40.

The folks behind Stonewall Kitchen preserves, condiments and dressings have just published their third cookbook titled "Stonewall Kitchen Favorites," full of fresh twists on American cuisine. Stott took all of the photographs in the book and is a co-author. Gunst has several cookbooks to her name; this is her second collaboration with Stott and his partner, Jonathan King.

The company, Stonewall Kitchen, began in 1991 when friends Stott and King set up shop at a local farmer's market. That day, they sold a few dozen vinegars and jams they had finished hand-labeling only hours before.

Stott and King, who have been waiters, cooks and avid gardeners, take a "hands-on" approach to their business, named for the stone walls that were on the farm where the business launched. It had started in a small kitchen at a private home in Hampton, N.H., before it grew into a farm in Kittery, Maine. A converted barn was used for production, offices and distribution center for more than two years.

In 1995, Stonewall Kitchen moved to York, Maine, and opened its first Company Store. That year, they won the top national award for Outstanding Product Line at the NASFT Fancy Food Show in New York City. That brought Stonewall national attention and business increased accordingly.

Their Chef on a Shoestring menu:

Tomato and Basil Soup
Chicken Hero Sandwiches With Garlic Aioli
Chocolate Mousse


The soup is good hot or cold, and all of the sandwich ingredients can be prepared the day before; the sandwiches themselves can be assembled up to six hours before eating.

FOOD FACTS

Aioli: A strongly flavored garlic mayonnaise from the Provence region of southern France, it's a popular accompaniment for fish, meats and vegetables.

Hero: This huge sandwich goes by many names, depending on where it's made. Among its aliases are submarine, grinder, hoagie and poor boy (or po' boy). Generally, the hero sandwich consists of a small loaf of Italian or French bread, the bottom half of which is heaped with layers of any of various thinly sliced meats, cheeses, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, peppers — anything for which the cook is in the mood.

Mousse: This is the French word for "foam." Chocolate mousse is a creamy, chilled dessert that was once only served in French restaurants. Chocolate mousse broke into American home cuisine in the 1960s and, as Gunst and Stott point out in their introduction to the recipe, was very overdone.

RECIPES

SUMMER TOMATO AND BASIL SOUP

Serves 4 to 5; makes 5 cups

Use the very freshest, ripest, plumpest, bursting-with-flavor tomatoes you can find — preferably ones from your own garden or that of a neighbor or local farmer. Fresh basil and slowly cooked onions add extra dimension to this delicious soup. Serve it chilled or hot, with or without the basil cream.

The soup can be made a day ahead of time or frozen for several months.

Soup Ingredients
2 pounds tomatoes (about 3 medium), cored
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound yellow or Vidalia onions sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves, plus extra whole leaves for garnish
2 cups low-sodium canned chicken or vegetable broth, or homemade chicken broth
A few fresh basil leaves for garnish

Basil Cream Ingredients
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method
  1. To make the soup: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Gently drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and cook for about 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately place in the bowl of ice water. Using your fingers or a small, sharp knife, peel the tomatoes. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and set aside.
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the onions, salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring well.
  4. Add half of the chopped basil and raise the heat to high. Add the broth and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes.
  6. To make the basil cream: Place the basil, cream, and salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and whirl until almost fully pureed. The basil cream can be made several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Bring the cream to room temperature before serving.
  7. Add the remaining chopped basil to the soup and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. Taste for seasoning.
  8. If serving hot, return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Alternatively, the soup can be refrigerated and served chilled. Swirl about a tablespoon of the basil cream into the soup, and garnish with the basil leaves.
Favorite Variations:

  • Serve with Parmesan croûtes.
  • Replace the basil cream with basil whipped cream: Chop the basil finely and gently stir into 1/2 cup (unsweetened) whipped cream; season with salt and pepper.

    GRILLED CHICKEN HERO WITH GARLIC AÏOLI
    Makes 4 sandwiches

    This is a sandwich you can truly sink your teeth into. Piled high with grilled or broiled chicken, warm red bell peppers, pickled onions, goat cheese, garlic aïoli, and fresh greens, this sandwich deserves the best baguette you can find. Don't be scared off by the long list of ingredients; you can prepare almost everything ahead of time and assemble the sandwich just before serving. The sandwiches also hold up really well; they can be assembled up to 6 hours ahead of time and chilled until ready to serve.

    Ingredients
    1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 2 large)
    1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips
    1 baguette
    4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
    1/4 to 1/2 cup Garlic Aïoli (recipe below)
    1 cup Pickled Red Onions (recipe below)
    2 cups greens, such as watercress, arugula, or mixed baby greens

    Method
    1. Preheat the broiler. Place the chicken breasts in a broiler pan or oven-proof skillet. Add the oil and season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Broil the chicken for 8 minutes. Flip the chicken, add the bell pepper to the pan, and broil for another 5 minutes. Flip the pepper strips over and broil for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked through and the peppers are tender. Transfer the chicken and the peppers to a plate to cool.
    2. Alternatively, you can grill the chicken and the peppers over a hot charcoal, gas or wood fire. Grill the chicken for 8 minutes. Flip the chicken over and add the pepper strips to the grill. Cook for another 6 to 8 minutes, turning the peppers over after a few minutes, until the chicken is well browned and cooked through, and the peppers are soft. The recipe can be made a day ahead of time up to this point. Do not slice the chicken but cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the sandwiches.
    3. Cut the baguette into 4 sections. Cut each section in half lengthwise. Spread half of each baguette section with a quarter of the goat cheese, and spread the other half with 1 to 2 tablespoons Garlic Aïoli.
    4. Slice the chicken into 1/4-inch-thick strips and layer the chicken, the peppers, the pickled red onions, and the greens onto one side of each piece of baguette. Top with the other bread halves.
    Favorite Variations
  • Substitute thinly sliced regular red onions for the pickled onions.
  • Use sliced Brie or blue cheese instead of goat cheese.
  • For a warm sandwich, toast the bread lightly and assemble the sandwiches while the chicken and peppers are still warm.

    GARLIC AÏOLI
    Makes about 1/2 cup

    If you start with good, store-bought mayonnaise, this sauce gives you a lot of punch with very little effort. Sweet, pungent roasted garlic aïoli makes almost any sandwich more exciting. You can also use it to make a seriously garlicky chicken or egg salad, to wake up a roast beef sandwich, or as a condiment for grilled steaks, fish or chicken.

    Ingredients
    1 large head garlic, roasted
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Method
  • Remove the garlic from its skin. Put the garlic in a small bowl and mash the cloves with a fork. Add the mayonnaise and stir well to combine. Season the aïoli with salt and pepper to taste.

    Favorite Variations
  • Add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, basil, or parsley.
  • Add 2 tablespoons chopped roasted sweet red pepper to give the aïoli a sweet flavor and a gorgeous rosy color.

    PICKLED RED ONIONS
    Makes about 2 cups

    This recipe is almost too good to be true. Thinly sliced red onions are tossed with cider vinegar for about an hour and, well, that's it. These crisp, vinegary quick pickles are terrific on sandwiches or tossed into salads. They add a tart, fresh taste to rich soups or stews, or served as part of an antipasti platter. These pickles will keep refrigerated for over a week.

    Ingredients
    1 large red onion, thinly sliced
    1 cup cider vinegar
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    Generous grinding of black pepper

    Method
    1. Place the onions in a medium non-reactive bowl and pour the vinegar on top. Add the sugar, salt and pepper, and toss well.
    2. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, stirring once or twice. The onions can stay in the vinegar for about 2 hours but should be drained after that time.
    3. Cover and refrigerate. The onions will keep for well over a week.
    Favorite Variations
  • Add 1 tablespoon lightly crushed fennel and coriander seeds for a Middle Eastern-tasting pickle.
  • Add a dash of red chile flakes for a slightly spicy pickle.
  • Substitute red or white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar for the cider vinegar.
  • Try making the pickles using sweet Vidalia onions.

    CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
    Serves 6

    Chocolate mousse was overdone in the 1970s, but we never really tired of it. Because you only need a few ingredients to make this French classic, it's important to use the best chocolate and freshest milk and cream you can find. You can serve the mousse as-is, or layer it into a fancy parfait (see Favorite Variations below).

    Ingredients
    6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet (about 55 percent) chocolate, chopped
    4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
    1/2 cup milk
    1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    Method
    1. Melt the two types of chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler or in a medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring with a spatula until melted and smooth. The chocolate should be warm to the touch but not hot.
    2. Meanwhile, place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering.
    3. Using a mixer, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks; whisk in the vanilla.
    4. Whisk the hot milk into the warm chocolate until smooth. Using a spatula, slowly fold the chocolate mixture into the whipped cream until well blended. Pour into a serving bowl, individual ramekins, or small bowls, cover, and chill for at least 2 hours to set before serving.
    Favorite Variations
  • Add 1 teaspoon grated tangerine or orange zest to the mousse.
  • Add a drop of orange or almond oil to the mousse.
  • Add 1 teaspoon Amaretto, Grand Marnier, or your favorite liqueur to the mousse.
  • Dissolve 1 teaspoon ground espresso powder in 1 tablespoon hot water and add to the mousse.
  • Add a dash of ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg to the mousse or sprinkle as a garnish on top.
  • To make a mousse parfait: Whip 1 cup heavy cream with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until peaks form. Divide half the mousse into the bottom of six wine goblets (wide-mouth red wineglasses work best), parfait glasses, or glass bowls. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top and divide the remaining mousse on top. Add the remaining whipped cream. Using a box grater, grate a bit of milk chocolate or dark chocolate bar on top as a garnish.
  • Garnish the mousse with fresh raspberries, sliced strawberries, candied ginger, candied citrus peel, or candied rose petals.
  • Top the mousse with a dollop of crème fraîche or mascarpone mixed with a touch of confectioners' sugar.
  • Use a wide vegetable peeler to make chocolate shavings from a bar or chunk of dark, semi-dark, milk, or white chocolate to garnish the mousse.