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Farm-Fresh, Organic Dinner for Four, on a Budget

Chef Michel Nischan is devoted to the cuisine of well-being, focusing on pure, fresh, local organic ingredients and simple, delicious cooking.

Nischan, chef and owner of the Dressing Room restaurant in Westport, Conn. and author of the new cookbook, "Sustainably Delicious," is a leading proponent of sustainable farming, local and regional food systems, and heritage recipes.

He accepted "The Early Show on Saturday Morning"'s "Chef on a Shoestring" challenge, and tried to prepare a three-course, farm-fresh dinner for four on our measly budget of $40.

Nischan was also automatically entered in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition, in which the "shoestring" chef whose ingredients cost the least will be invited back to whip up our year-end holiday feast.

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta
Summer Meatloaf with Grilled Vegetables & Mac n' Cheese
Angel Food Cake with Stone Fruits and Honey Compote

FOOD FACTS (Source: "Food Lover's Companion")

Bruschetta: From the Italian bruscare meaning "to roast over coals," this traditional garlic bread is made by rubbing slices of toasted bread with garlic cloves, then drizzling the bread with extra-virgin olive oil. The bread is salted and peppered, then heated and served warm. Often served with diced tomatoes.

Heirloom Seeds: The advent of mega-agriculture in America has seen the gradual depletion of ancient varieties of native non-hybrid plants. Unfortunately for those who appreciate full-flavored fruits and vegetables, produce-seed conglomerates focus only on those strains that have mass-market appeal - which means they're beautiful and hardy, but not necessarily the best-tasting. Fortunately, about 25 years ago some dedicated individuals began saving what they could of the remaining open-pollinated (without human intervention) seed varieties, which have become known as "heirloom seeds." Among the many heirloom fruits and vegetables grown today are beets, carrots, corn, dried beans, lettuce, potatoes and tomatoes. As the public becomes more aware of these wonderful alternatives, farmers are also becoming more interested. Heirloom produce can be found in some specialty produce markets and farmer's markets.

Parsnip: Europeans brought the parsnip to what is now the United States in the early 1600s but this creamy-white root has never become an American favorite. The first frost of the year converts the parsnip's starch to sugar and gives it a pleasantly sweet flavor. Fresh parsnips are available year-round with the peak period during fall and winter. Look for small to medium, well-shaped roots; avoid limp, shriveled or spotted parsnips. They can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. Parsnips are suitable for almost any method of cooking including baking, boiling, sautéing and steaming. They're often boiled, then mashed like potatoes. Parsnips contain small amounts of iron and vitamin C.


Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

2 pounds heirloom tomato
1/4 cup rough chop basil
1 ounce high quality red wine vinegar (vermouth)
1 baguette sliced 1/4 inch thick - toasted
salt and pepper
4 table spoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic

Pre-heat oven to 350°F
In a medium bowl, core and chop the tomatoes into a small dice removing some of the seeds. Add the basil, salt, pepper and vinegar and set aside.
Brush the sliced baguettes with olive oil and sprinkle with a touch of salt, toast in the oven for 5 minutes or until golden brown.
Once baguettes are toasted rub each with garlic, top with tomato bruschetta.

Summer Meatloaf

2-to-3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup peeled, diced parsnip (4 ounces; 2 to 4 parsnips)
3/4 cup peeled, diced carrots (3 ounces; about 2 carrots)
1/2 cup peeled, diced celery root (2 ounces)
1/3 cup diced onion (1 1/2 ounces)
3 pounds ground beef

2 cups soft, fresh bread crumbs (about 4 slices of quality bread)
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup ketchup (3 ounces)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, sauté the parsnips, carrots, celery root, and onions with a pinch of salt and pepper for 6 to 8 minutes or until softened. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, milk, eggs, ketchup, salt and pepper. Add the meat and cooked vegetables and using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix well.
Transfer the meat to a loaf baking dish.
Bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat loaf is heated all the way through. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf will read 145F.
Serve the meatloaf from the pan. Slice into serving pieces about 1 inch thick.

Mac and Cheese

6 cups heavy cream
1 pound good-quality semolina or semolina/legume-based short, chunky pasta, such as penne or ziti
Sea salt
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/2 pound cured, braised pork belly or thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/3- to ½-inch cubes
2 cups grated melting cheese, such as Gouda or Pecorino Romano, or a mixture of the two
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

In a large saucepan, bring the cream to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 50 to 60 minutes or until the cream reduces by half to about 3 cups. Cover and set aside to keep warm.
Fill a large pot with about 1 1/2 gallons of water and add enough salt so that the water tastes like the sea. Bring to a boil over high heat, add the pasta, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or just until al dente. Drain well by tossing in a large colander. This kind of pasta holds a lot of water in its nooks and crannies. Spread the drained pasta on a baking sheet to dry slightly.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Meanwhile, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and when hot, pour the oil into the pan. Add the pork belly cubes and cook for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned but still tender in the center. Do not cook until fully crisp (unless you really like crispy foods). With a slotted spoon, transfer the pork belly to a plate lined with a kitchen towel to drain. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan.
Bring the reduced cream to a gentle simmer and stir in 1 3/4 cups of the cheese, followed by the thyme leaves. Stir in the butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Taste before you season; the cheese is salty, so you may not need any salt.
In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the cheese sauce and pork belly. If the mixture is too stiff, thin the sauce with a little milk or cream. Transfer to a casserole dish large enough to hold the pasta.
Toss the bread crumbs with the reserved fat and remaining 1/4 cup of cheese. Sprinkle the crumbs over the casserole.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pasta is bubbling nicely and the top is crisp and browned.

For more of Michel's recipes, go to Page 2.

Angel Food Cake

1 cup cake flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups egg whites (10 to 11 large eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 3/4 cups vanilla bean sugar (see recipe below)
2 peaches, cut into thin slices

Preheat the oven to 250°F.
Sift together the cake flour and almond flour 4 times. Add the salt and then sift again.
In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a clean, dry whip attachment, whip the egg whites until very foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. You also can do this by hand, using a balloon whisk and a large, wide bowl or large, deep platter.
With the mixer running, slowly and gently beat in the vanilla bean sugar. Immediately add the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan with a removable bottom. If you don't have an angel good cake pan, you can use a Bundt pan or similar tube pan. As you scrape the batter into the pan, keep mixing it with a rubber spatula, as some of the flour will have sunk to the bottom of the bowl.
Put the pan in the oven, then, as soon as you close the oven door, raise the temperature to 325°F. Do not open the oven door for at least 15 minutes so that the cake can begin rising. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the cake is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted halfway between the rim and the center tube comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and immediately invert the pan to cool. Leave it inverted until cool, or for at least 1 hour. Angel food cake pans are fitted with little feet that hold the pan above the countertop when inverted. This promotes good air circulation. If you are using a Bundt or other tube pan, invert it over the neck of a wine bottle.
When the cake has cooled to room temperature, remove it from the pan, using a very thin metal spatula to loosen any stubborn areas. Traditionally, angel food cakes are gently torn apart with a large fork designed for the task, or cut with a serrated knife.
Garnish with fresh, ripe peaches or your favorite summer stone fruits.

Vanilla Bean Sugar

1 fresh lemon verbena sprig (9 or 10 inches long, cut into 3-inch lengths)
4 cups granulated sugar
3 vanilla beans split lengthwise

Stack the verbena lengths in a glass container large enough to hold all the sugar. Pour about 2 cups of the sugar into the container. Stick the split vanilla beans into the sugar and then cover with the remaining sugar.
Seal the jar tightly and store for at least 1 week. Once the sugar is as aromatic as you like, strain out the vanilla and verbena. You can reuse the vanilla beans to perfume more sugar.

So, how did Michel do in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition?:

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta
tomatoes $3.97
basil $1.99
baguette $1.99
garlic $.39
total $8.34

Meat Loaf & Mac n' Cheese
parsnip $.50
carrots $.99
celery root $1.99
onion $.89
ground beef $6.78
bread crumbs $1.99
heavy cream $2.49
pasta $.89
bacon $2.00
pecorino cheese $2.24
thyme $1.49
total $22.25

Angel Food Cake
cake flour $2.79
cream of tartar $2.69
egg whites $1.99
peaches $.74
total $8.21

Grand total: $38.80

Our Leaders Board:

1. Amanda Freitag $37.17
The Harrison

2. Mikey Price $37.18
Market Table

3. Kelly Liken $37.20
Restaurant Kelly Liken

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