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Meal For A Summer Day

Debra Ponzek became the first female chef awarded a three-star review by the New York Times back in 1986. A few years ago, she left the hot kitchens of New York City. But she is still preparing delicious food at her gourmet food shop in Connecticut, and writing cookbooks.

Her most recent one, "The Summer House Cookbook," features recipes that are flavorful, but easy, so you actually can enjoy your summer afternoon. The Saturday Early Show is welcoming her back to take its Chef on a Shoestring challenge: preparing a three-course meal for four with a budget of $30.

Ponzek is the chef and owner of the specialty food shop, Aux Délices, with branches in Greenwich and Riverside, Conn. She has been featured in the New York Times, Food & Wine, and Redbook, and was the chef of New York's Montrachet. She has had numerous television appearances, from Food Network to David Letterman.

Ponzek is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and an award-winning chef. In 1986, Ponzek, executive chef at Montrachet, was the first woman in New York City to be awarded three stars. Her previous book is "French Food, American Accent." She lives with her husband and three children in Greenwich, Conn.

She was recently featured in "Child" magazine along with her kids. She believes that with a little planning, you can find joy in cooking with kids. Her dishes as a chef and as a mother are delicious, healthy, and easy.

Crispy Potato Cakes with Salmon, Sour Cream, and Chives
Individual Frittatas with Tomato and Basil Salad
Ginger Shortcakes with Summer Fruit

We're using half-and-half cream in our frittata recipe. A blend of light cream and milk, which produces a cream with about 12 percent milk fat.

Frittata: A frittata is an Italian omelet with diced vegetables and meats; traditionally, it is cooked until the bottom is set, then inverted into another pan to cook the top.

You may wonder what the difference is between an omelet and a frittata. In the strictest sense, the difference boils down to folding in a filling, rather than mixing it in. Omelets traditionally have the egg mixture cooked and folded around a filling, while a frittata just mixes it all up, cooked in a mish-mash combination all at once. Frittatas are often served at room temperature, making them perfect for brunches or larger groups.

Truth be told, the frittata most likely preceded the omelet. What could be easier than mixing vegetables or leftover cooked meats into eggs, scrambled into a dinner meal? Rather like a savory custard pie, it just made sense to use the protein in eggs as a meat substitute to add depth and sustenance to vegetables.

According to some historians, the word omelet comes from the Roman epicure Apicius, who called his dish "overmele," which was made with eggs with honey and pepper. The French are noted for their omelettes.

We're using both ground ginger and candied ginger in our dessert. Ginger is considered one of the world's favorite spices and comes in many varieties (for example, in India there are about 50 varieties of ginger). The more pungent varieties are grown in Africa and milder varieties, in China. Ranging in color from gold, tan, yellow, beige, white and a reddish hue, ginger's rhizome (okay, call it a root) should be peeled before use.

Fresh ginger can be chopped or grated into powder. In Japan, pickled ginger is served with traditional fare (such as sashimi and sushi) to clear the palate between courses. When selecting fresh ginger, look for a smooth, firm wrinkle-free rhizome that is also free of mold. Ginger's rhizome has thick lobes that sometimes look like gnarled and knotted fingers. Wrinkled or shriveled ginger is usually old. Ginger should be stored in a cool, dry area. Keep fresh ginger wrapped in paper towels in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. You can also freeze ginger.

Fresh ginger is available in two forms: Green or spring ginger has a thin, pale skin that does not require peeling, and this variety is tender and delicate in flavor. Generally it is julienned, grated or chopped. Green or spring ginger is often pink-tipped and is best refrigerated, wrapped in paper towels for no more than three weeks. The second type of fresh ginger is mature ginger whose tough skin should be peeled. Mature ginger has fibrous flesh and is generally grated.

Preserved ginger is mixed with sugar and salt and often is served with fruit or as a dessert.

Candied ginger, also referred to as crystallized ginger, has been cooked in a sweet syrup until soft, then coated with granulated sugar and served as a dessert or in desserts.

Powdered or ground ginger is used for confectionery items, desserts, savory dishes or added to curry mixes. It is dried, ground and has a different flavor and aroma (it's hot and slightly sharper) than the fresh forms of ginger. Purchase small amounts of loose ground ginger and, as the volatile essential oil responsible for the flavor is easily lost in the air, make sure to keep it stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. It is not advisable to use ground ginger in recipes that call for fresh ginger, which has a fresher, livelier flavor.

Availability: With the exception of young ginger, all other types of ginger are available year-round.

Crystallized or candied ginger has been cooked in a sugar syrup and coated with coarse sugar. These types of ginger can be found in Asian markets and many supermarkets. They are generally used as a confection or added to desserts.


Crispy Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon, Sour Cream, and Chives

4 small Idaho potatoes, washed and peeled
6 tablespoons melted butter
Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons sour cream
4 slices smoked salmon
12 pieces (3- to 4-inch) chive lengths

Method: Grate the potatoes into a bowl, and squeeze out any excess water. Add the 6 Tablespoons of melted butter to the grated potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Using hands, flatten into a round about 3 1/2 to 4-inches in diameter and 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick.

Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter and vegetable oil together using medium heat in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Add potato cakes to the pan. Saute the potato cakes for five to six minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

Place a potato cake in the center of the serving plate. Place a spoonful of sour cream on top. Finish with a piece of smoked salmon and chives. Repeat for remaining three cakes.

Individual Zucchini, Mushroom and Cheddar Frittatas

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small zucchini, shredded on large grate
1 shallot, peeled, thinly sliced
8 white mushroom caps, cleaned and sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs
1/4 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup shredded white cheddar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
Vegetable oil spray

Method: Pre-heat oven to 375-degrees. Heat oil in a medium sauté pan until oil is just shimmering. Add the shallot and sauté for a few seconds, then add zucchini, mushroom, and sauté 3-4 minutes until slightly wilted and soft. Season with salt and pepper. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, shredded cheddar, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Spray four cups of a muffin tin with the vegetable oil spray. Divide the zucchini mixture among the cups. Cover the zucchini mixture with the egg mixture, dividing the egg mix equally among the cups. Bake 15-20 minutes until puffy, golden brown, and just set.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Oven Roasted Tomato and Basil Salad

4 Roma tomatoes, washed and cored
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence (or a mixture of dried thyme, savory, and rosemary)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup fresh basil leaves
4 thin slices parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Method: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place tomatoes on baking tray and sprinkle with Herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Drizzle the two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes. Bake for about one to one-and-a-half hours until softened.

Once cool to the touch, cut each tomato in half lengthwise. In a small bowl, toss the tomatoes, basil, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss well. Serve along side the frittata.

Ginger Shortcakes with Nectarines and Blueberries

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus a handful to flour cutting board)
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ounces cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
2 ripe nectarines
1/2 pint blueberries

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt, using medium-low speed. Slowly add the butter until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Add the buttermilk and crystallized ginger until dough just comes together.

Flour a cutting board. Place the dough onto the floured board. Flatten with your hands or rolling pin until dough is 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Cut out four circles, about threee inches in diameter.

Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the shortcakes with the two tablespoons of heavy cream, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Meanwhile, whip the remaining cup of heavy cream with the confectioner's sugar until it reached stiff peaks. Reserve.

Cut each nectarine in half and remove pit. Slice each half into six pieces. Combine sliced peaches with blueberries.

To serve:
Slice each shortcake in half, then fill with a few tablespoons of whipped cream, the nectarines and blueberries. Replace the top and serve.

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