Category Archives: Cook it! With Veg Chef Sam

Fall Forward (Into Soups) Part 1

Good Afternoon, class. It’s been a long few weeks of “summer vacation,” and now it’s time to get back to making some RECIPES! Are you ready?

Fall is just around the corner (Geese are honking their way South past my window as I write this, a telltale sign of the oncoming season), and that means your gardens have been bursting with the season’s (almost) last Tomatoes, Zucchini, Eggplant, Peppers, and the like. The temperature is changing, the growing season is winding down, and it is time for some warm, comfortable food courtesy of your garden.

Soup making is a great way to utilize your bounty of vegetables, and that is what we are going to focus on today. This week’s recipe is one of my all-time favorite soups to make and eat, as it is simple, delicious, and uh…tastes good. You will need a food processor or an immersion blender to execute this pureed soup, There is also a quantity of Crushed Red Pepper in this soup, which you can vary to taste. I recommend going big on the spice, but that’s just me…


Zucchini Rosemary Soup

2 lbs Zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch rounds

1 med yellow onion, rough chopped

2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary, leaved stripped and finely chopped

6 Cloves Fresh Garlic, chopped

1t (or more) Crushed Red Pepper

Vegetable Stock or Water, enough to just cover the vegetables

Some Olive Oil

Sea Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper to taste

Tip: Since this is a pureed soup, you don’t have to worry too much about cutting the vegetables too small or uniformly.

1. In a large Saucepan or Small Stock Pot on medium heat, saute the Onion and Garlic in Olive Oil for about 5 minutes, taking care not to brown or burn either the Onion or Garlic. This is also a good time to toss in a little S&P.

2. Add the Crushed Red Pepper and Garlic to the pan, continue to cook for 3 minutes.

3. Add the Zucchini, then pour in the Stock or Water, just to the top of the Zucchini. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Note: Do not add too much liquid at this point. If you feel the soup is too thick after pureeing, it can be thinned out. Thinning out is much easier (and prefferable) to attempting to thicken.

4. Remove the soup from heat, and puree with an immersion blender. Alternately you can puree in batches in a food processor, but I find the Immersion route to be much easier and safer when dealing with hot liquids.

5. Return the soup to heat and adjust the seasoning and thickness to you liking.

6. Eat!

You can also “go the extra mile” and make a little garnish by mixing 1/2 cup sour cream with a teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar and a small dash of salt and pepper. Use a spoon to drop a dollop into the center of your soup.

There you have it. If you have WAY too much Zucchini on your hands, multiply this recipe and either freeze individual containers (the soup will last about 4 months frozen) or give some soup to a friend. Soup is a great cold weather gift.

Well, it is good to be back and I hope you enjoy today’s recipe. Until next time,

Happy Gardening and Good Cooking!



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Put Them In The Stock(s)!

You can use commercial base powders or those little stock cubes in your recipes that call for vegetable stock, but why not use your own, home made concoction? You get to control what goes or doesn’t go in to your broth. Those commercial substitutes are generally chock full of sodium and preservatives, and even the “natural” brands leave something to be desired.

I have been asked by a few readers how exactly to go about making this Vegetable Stock that is called for in a number of the recipes here on Timber Pine Unplugged. Well, today is your lucky day. (Surprise) This is another great way to utilize some of the extra onions, carrots, celery, and herbs laying around your garden. You can also use parsnips, cabbage, scallions, leeks, practically anything (don’t use beets, though) you want in your stock, and don’t be afraid to add or subtract anything from this recipe. You can make a good vegetable stock base with just Onions, Carrots, and Celery (otherwise known in the French Cooking world as Mire Poix). Another thing to remember is that you can make as much or little as you want, and can freeze the leftover stock for about 6 months. So…let’s get started with what may be the simplest recipe I will ever offer. Maybe.

Basic Vegetable Stock

For The Stock:

2 lbs Onions, quartered and peeled

1 lbs Carrots, washed and cut into 1inch pieces. (no need to peel)

1 lbs Celery, washed and cut into 1inch pieces

6 cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed

2 Leeks, Halved and washed. (use the whole leek, it’s ok)

4 Bay Leaves (if you have fresh, even better!)

2T Black Peppercorns

Some Sprigs of Fresh Herbs such as Thyme, Rosemary, or Oregano

Water to cover

You can also add:

Parsnips, washed


Fennel Bulbs



Napa Cabbage


and many others.

  1. Prepare all of the vegetables as instructed.
  2. Put the veggies, the herbs, and spices into a large stock pot
  3. Add cold water to JUST COVER the vegetables.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 40 minutes.
  5. While the stock is simmering, use a large mixing spoon or skimmer to skim any foam or impurities from the top.
  6. After 40 minutes, remove from heat and let cool for about 15 minutes before handling
  7. Using a wok strainer, scoop the vegetables from the stock and discard.
  8. Place a fine mesh strainer over an appropriately sized container and pour the stock through.
  9. Refrigerate to cool, or use right away. You can also place leftovers in freezer containers and uh…freeze. Your stock will last for about 6 months frozen.

Very simple, and worthy of the effort. You now have some good home made stock from your garden ready for some recipe use. I often just add a little salt or soy sauce and have a bowl of this vegetable stock with a tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella sandwich on Tomato focaccia and a bit of tea. Did I just say that?

Until next time…

Happy Gardening and Good Cooking


look me up on Twitter… @VegChefDSM

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Get on the Boat!

Get On The Boat!

Hello, all! This week has been a real scorcher! I am betting that it left your gardens longing for those weeks of constant rain and sent some of you scrambling to the nearest pool or lake for a little refreshing water activity of your own. At any rate, you should be seeing an abundance of herbs (of course), squash, the beginning of that cherry tomato harvest, green beans, and you should definitely be harvesting some zucchini (that is if you have all or any of those in your garden). This week our recipe will be focusing on light, grilled vegetable flavors (surprise)with a little healthy Quinoa protein.

Grilled Stuffed Zucchini with Grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Pilaf and Gingered Tomatoes

Stuffed Grilled Zucchini with Grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Pilaf and Gingered Tomatoes

For the Pilaf:

1 cup Quinoa

2 cups Vegetable Stock

½ lb Cherry Tomatoes or Tomato of choice

1 Green Bell Pepper

1 Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper, halved and seeded

7-8 Green Onions

2 Leeks, white bottoms only, split in half length-wise

1 small Zucchini, cut into ¼ inch strips for grilling

Olive Oil


Cook the Quinoa in 2 cups vegetable stock until tender and grains unfurl their “tails.” Set aside to cool.

Toss all vegetables except the tomatoes in a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper then grill, taking care not to burn the veggies.

Remove vegetables from the grill and let cool.

When cool enough to handle, chop all of the vegetables into small (¼ inch or smaller) dice, discarding any charred pieces.

Chop the Cherry Tomatoes in half or quarters

Toss in a large bowl with the cooked Quinoa.

For the Gingered Tomatoes:

1 28oz can Whole, Peeled Tomatoes OR 2lbs Fresh Tomatoes, skins removed

1 inch piece Fresh Ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

1 Jalapeno

1 T Coriander Seeds, cracked

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

A little splash of Red Wine (optional)

Olive Oil


In a medium skillet saute the onion and jalapeno for 5-6 minutes over medium-high heat until onions start to turn translucent

Add the garlic and coriander seeds and cook for an additional 1 minute

If using, deglaze the pan with a little red wine

Add the mined garlic and tomatoes. DO NOT ‘RACHEL RAY’ YOUR TOMATOES! Leave your kitchen shears in the block or the drawer or wherever you left them last. They are not for cutting tomatoes. Pick each tomato up, hold it over the pan, and crush it WITH YOUR HAND. You will find a much more rustic looking sauce, and get much more satisfaction (and maybe even a little stress relief) from hand-crushing your tomatoes!

Season with Salt and Pepper, then let simmer for about 25 minutes.

For the Zucchini Boats:

2 Large or 4 Small Zucchini

Olive or Vegetable Oil


Cut the Zuch’s in half length-wise.

With a paring knife, cut two 1/8 inch deep lines ¼ inch from the the sides, making a little “runway” for your spoon to scoop out the center

With a spoon, scoop out the center (I bet you didn’t see that one coming)

Toss with a little oil and salt&pepper

Grill the Zucchinis on both sides until they have a nice color and have softened up

For the Assembly:

Stuff the cavity of each Zucchini with the Quinoa pilaf mixture

Place the stuffed Zuchs on the top rack of your grill to bring them back up to temperature, or skip this step. These boats are good to eat hot or just warm

Ladle about ½ Cup of the Gingered Tomatoes onto a plate, then place a Zucchini Boat over the tomatoes.


Well, there you have it. A nice clean, fresh way to enjoy those Zucchini that are popping out of your garden. Enjoy with a little Sun Tea or a nice Torrontes.

Happy Gardening and Good Cooking,


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Ten Mothers Can’t Be Wrong

Have you about had it with the recent storms? The water has been good for the tomato garden, and great for making gardening and lawn care a floody, muddy mess. A few of my acquaintances have been getting colds (going into the first week of summer with the sniffles is rediculous) and have been asking my advice on what foods to eat to beat the Summer Sickness. This week I bring to you my own take on a classic Italian soup recipe that comes in handy when you are feeling a little weathered, Ten Mothers Soup. This soup is rumored to have the healing power of Ten Mothers (a Motherlode if you will) and is a hearty, healing, brothy soup of LOTS of roasted garlic and Swiss Chard. As they say in Italy…Semplice.

You are going to need to roast 4 heads of garlic, and either make or procure one quart of vegetable stock (you can use whatever stock you want, but I suggeest vegetable…we will get into stock making next week).

For the soup:

4 heads of garlic, roasted

1 quart vegetable stock

1 lb Swiss Chard (or similar green), roughly chopped


To roast the garlic, slice about 1/4” off of the bottom of each head then place them, cut side down, on a lightly oiled baking sheet and place it in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until the garlic head feels a little soft.

Let the garlic cool just enough to handle, then squeeze the pulp into a food processor and puree.

Combine the Garlic puree and stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with S&P to taste.

If the chard is very “stalky,” cut the leaves away from the stalk and discard the stalks.

While the broth is simmering, place the greens in a saute pan with a little of the broth and sweat down until just limp.

Pour the broth into bowl and garnish with a nice big helping of the wilted chard.

EAT and be well!

This is a great way to knock some sense into your body and to use that abundance of nice late spring greens you have sitting around.

If you want to go REALLY wild, drop a spoonfull of Cilantro Pesto in your bowl of soup and swish it around. The pesto makes a great addition to this brothy goodness.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening and Good Cooking!


Locally Grown

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Got Gloom? Think Mushroom!

The weather in our area over the last two weeks has lent itself to more of a warm fall feel than our normal expected sultry, summery sun fest. The constant rain and sporadic gloom has put me back into the mood for some colder weather cuisine. At the same time the weather is pointing towards comfort food, the soil is pushing up some fresh, tender early asparagus. And all of this at during grilling season? I think there is an all-inclusive solution to our Fall-in-Spring weather problem…

Note: when I say wild rice, I don’t mean that stuff from Pappy Ben’s or anything with rice included.  This should be long black grains.  Try getting some grown in Minnesota.  It’s Good.

Wild Mushroom, Wild Rice, and Quinoa Pilaf with Grilled Asparagus and Tomato Pesto

This dish can be served solo or as an accompaniment for any protein such as Ginger Grilled Tofu, or something meaty such as Salmon. This would also be a great dish for you lucky ones with Morrel mushrooms this year, just fry a couple caps in butter and place atop the pilaf.

For the Pilaf:

1/2 oz Dried Porcini or other wild mushrooms, soaked and drained. Strain and Reserve the Liquid

8 oz Shitake Mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced thin

¼ c Wild Rice

1 c Quinoa

2 c Vegetable Stock

1 yellow onion, fine dice

4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

a few sprigs of fresh Thyme, leaves removed from stem

1 Red Bell Pepper, finely diced

For the Asparagus:

1lb Fresh Asparagus, woody ends trimmed

Olive Oil


A hot grill

For the Pesto:

3 oz Sundried Tomatoes*

3 cloves Garlic

3/4c Olive Oil

The Pilaf:

Cook the Wild Rice in 4 cups of water until tender. Drain and set aside to cool.  The grains should be split and puffy. (like old school Sean Combs)

Cook the Quinoa in 2 cups vegetable stock until tender and grains unfurl their “tails.” Set aside to cool.

In a large heavy bottom skillet, saute the onion for 5-6 minutes on medium heat until they begin to turn translucent, then add the Shitake and Porcini Mushrooms then cook for another 7-8 minutes.

Add the Garlic and Red Peppers then saute an additional 4 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic!

Add the Quinoa and Wild Rice and a little of the Porcini liquid then cook until the grains are heated through and the liquid is fully absorbed.

Remove from heat and cover.

For the Pesto:

Cover the Sundried Tomatoes with boiling water and rehydrate for 10 minutes

Drain the Tomatoes, place in a food processor with the Garlic Cloves and process until it becomes a chunky paste.

Add the Olive Oil, then pulse until incorporated

For the Asparagus:

Toss the Asparagus in Olive Oil and a little S&P, then grill.


Although this dish can be served “family style”, I prefer to get a little fancy. You will need a circular form such as a biscuit cutter or small round springform.

Place the form on the plate, fill with some of the pilaf, and press down slightly. Carefully lift the form from the pilaf. You should have a nice round pilaf mold.

Drizzle some of the Pesto on the plate, surrounding the pilaf mold the rest 5 or 6 spears of the Grilled Asparagus against the mold.


*Making sundried tomatoes is a great way to utilize your extra ‘mater crop. We will cover a few techniques for this when tomato time comes ’round.

I hope that you enjoyed our time together this week.  I will be back next week with a slightly simpler recipe. Until then…

Happy Gardening and Good Cooking!


Locally Grown

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Going Green(s)

As I ride the back roads of Central Iowa, it’s fun to occasionally stop and check out what’s sprouting up from peoples’ personal gardens. A leisurely bike ride (or drive) around the countryside is a good way to relax and a GREAT way to get ideas for your garden. On a recent cruise down some gravel roads in Madison county I spotted a wonderful garden of assorted greens and some killer Arugula, which pointed me in the direction of this week’s recipe. Who likes Pizza? Who likes the spicy bite of fresh Arugula? Who likes Tarragon (clearly I do…I almost overuse the herb)? What we have here is a fragrant herbed cream sauce paired with a flat bread, cheese, and of course the afformentioned tangy greens. Think of it as a kind of “Pizza Salad” or is it a “Salad Pizza?” Call it what you will, let’s just get to making this bad boy…

Grilled Tarragon Cream Pizzetta with Fresh Arugula

We will be grilling our pizza salad, although you can also use a pre-heated 400 degree oven to melt that cheese.

For Assembly:

4 Whole Wheat Flatbreads, such as Pita

A few hand fulls of garden fresh Arugula (if you aren’t growing Arugula, try picking up some from your local grower such as the Cleverly Farms booth at the Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market, on the corner of 2nd and Court Avenue)

8 oz Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

For the Cream Sauce:

2C Heavy Cream (or half & half to cut the fat)

2T or more finely chopped fresh Tarragon

1 Shallot, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼C finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

freshly ground Pepper to taste

In a medium heavy bottomed sauce pan saute the garlic and shallot for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.

Add the cream and heat until it is barely at a boil

Add the Tarragon then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, keeping a close eye to ensure your sauce doesn’t boil over.

After the cream mixture has reduced by about one quarter, whisk in the cheese to thicken the sauce. Cook just long enough to incorporate the cheese and cream.

Remove from heat, set aside and let cool.

Now for the Assembly:

Spread a few tablespoons of the cooled sauce (it doesn’t have to be cold, just not boiling hot) over the flatbreads

Top each Pizzetta with about 2 oz of the Mozzarella

Place the Pizzettas on your grill and lower that lid.

Cook until the cheese has melted and is a little browned on top. Be careful not to burn the pita!

Carefully remove from the grill, transfer to a cutting board, cut into slices then mound a little Arugula on top of each pie.


This is a great little light (I know, the cream sauce isn’t light, but you really don’t use much) lunch or brunch idea that works well for entertaining outside as the sauce can be made a day in advance, making the prep and cooking minimal the day of your event. Cooking outside on the grill also lends itself to being social. Our Pizzetta pairs well with an unoaked Chardonnay or maybe my new favorite Italian white, the Scaia Bianca 2008.

And remember, it’s not cool to spy on people…unless you are checking out their garden!

Until next week, Happy Gardening and Good Cooking!


Locally Grown

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The Incredible, Edible… Eggplant

In our last visit we covered a simple recipe for one of my favorite garden treats, Cilantro Pesto. There have been a few questions this past week as to what uses there are for this wonderful herb-y treat. I am glad you asked… Aside from using as a spread for grilled Sweet Corn (Seriously, this is really amazing), it works well as a garnish for soups (especially Jalapeno Potato or Tomato w/Smoked Peppers…I will share those recipes soon), as a “sauce” for pizza (use a thin crust with a little Mozzerella or Asiago cheese, some grilled Asparagus or Zucchini, and a few halved grape tomatoes), use it as a spread on crostinis topped with a little queso fresco and diced tomato, use a Tablespoon with Buckwheat Soba Noodles and Oyster Mushrooms for a nice little twist, served with nice, big, fresh seared scallops, I could really go on for days here, and Cilantro Pesto really shines as a topping for TACOS. This week, our focus will be on Tacos. Specifically a long time favorite of mine (and of my catering clients), EGGPLANT TACOS. This version will be making use of your GRILL, which is a great way to bring out the fresh flavors in your veggies, so fire that baby up and let’s get cooking!


For the Taco Filling:

2 large eggplants, sliced lenthwise ¼” thick

1 red bell pepper, halved, seeded, cut into 1” sections

2 large, ripe tomatoes

*Brush Eggplant and Pepper with oil, sprinkle with a little s&p and grill until both have softened, but aren’t cooked through. Set aside to cool.

*For the Tomatoes, brush with oil and grill until the skins crack. Let cool, remove skins, halve, scoop out seeds and core, then cut into thin strips

1 yellow onion, Julienned

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into rings (if you want to kick the heat up, put these babies on the grill)

1T+ Ground Cumin

1T+ Ancho Chile Powder

1t Dried Oregano

S&P to taste

-Chop the cooled Grilled Eggplant and Red Pepper into a small-ish dice.

-In a large skillet (or cast iron skillet on top of your grill) Saute the Onion, Garlic, and Jalapenos over medium heat until onions turn soft and transluscent, about 6 minutes.

-Add the Cumin, Chile Powder, Oregano, and a little S&P. Saute for 1 minute

-Add Eggplant, Red Pepper, and Tomato. Continue to cook until all ingredients are heated through.

You can skip the grill all together and just work strictly from the Skillet, but the grill…oh the grill.


`-Juice and Zest of 1 Lime

-8oz Sour Cream

-pinch of Salt

Whisk all ingredients together. Just that simple.

Then, see last week’s recipe for the Cilantro Pesto.

Serve the tacos in corn tortillas, heated on the grill of course, the Lime Sour Cream, Pesto, Chopped Yellow onion, Sprigs of fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and maybe a pitcher of your favorite Margaritas or some other non-alcoholic Lime-based drink (I really like home made Cherry-Lime Ade). Serving all of the components separately in festive colored bowls really adds a nice touch (that’s how we do it at our house).

There you have it, a great veggie-based recipe that can be multiplied for larger parties, or served as is to a few of your closest friends. I look forward to our next encounter, but until then,

Happy Gardening & Good Cooking!


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