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August, 2009

Chef Miki Hackney

By Dennis Linden

Here’s a summer grilling recipe that is guaranteed to please the dietary requirements of vegetarians as well as the more carnivorous guests at your barbeque table.

Chef Miki Hackney
In fact, Guest Chef Miki Hackney’s Grilled Summer Veggie Stack demonstrates that a full bodied, medium-rare taste and texture can come on a stem as well as four hooves and be just as deliciously messy as a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich without the heart- clogging side effects! The secret to this dish is the combination of many fresh ingredients, but it revolves around a well marinated Portobello mushroom that is grilled on the barbie just like a steak. The stack consists of alternating layers of Red Bell Pepper, Anaheim (or Hatch) chile, zucchini and yellow squash, plus a red onion round. All are grilled to perfection, and then topped with Provolone cheese; this mix of tasty flavors is then sandwiched between slices of homemade Potato Foccacia bread slathered with Chef Miki’s own Easy Aioli Sauce. Tuck your napkin under the chin for this one and enjoy!

The bread and aioli recipes are completed first so that the grilled veggies can go from flame to stack quickly when ready. Both are uncomplicated formulas that will no doubt be filed in your Favorite Recipes box. While each can be accomplished by the inexperienced home chef, both will also satisfy the palate of the most critical foodie as well. Here are a few hints that will help with preparation. Save some teeth gnashing by arranging several of the onions rounds in an adjustable fish basket, which will keep them intact during the grilling process. I also found that placing a layer of three squash lengths one way and then crisscrossing them with another layer of squash then bracketing these layers with the peppers helped to hold the stack together. Cut each square of bread in half again lengthwise, using both halves to make a thin-slice sandwich; or be decadently doughy by using two squares so that the cheese and herb topping are at both the top and bottom of the stack. If you choose the thicker option, Foccacia bread can be pressed a little flatter with the palm of the hand. Though a bib is not the greatest of fashion statements, a case could definitely be made that it probably should be part of the ingredient list for this dish!

Chef Miki Hackney has been a member of Melissa’s talented test kitchen staff for the past five years. Each morning she puts on her chef’s whites and an ironic smile of satisfaction, for the culinary arts were not an aspiration for her until relatively recently. “Ten years ago I was a busy mother of two who could break down and reassemble a power lawn mower with ease as a salesperson for a wholesale garden equipment company. Though I had always enjoyed cooking as a therapeutic avocation since childhood, becoming a chef was never really a part of my master plan at all,” she admitted. “However, when the task of raising my kids had been accomplished, there was a kind of “now what” question that needed answering, so I took some time to reevaluate things. Actually it was about 4 years before I finally made the commitment to become a professional at what had always been an integral part of my life, which was working with food. My husband, Tom, refers to it as my mid-life crisis period; I say that there was no crisis involved, just a slow process in discovering my Muse and then following her.”

Chef Miki’s choice of recipes for this article demonstrates her approach to cooking. If the truth be known, her original recipe text needed to be edited down to some basic components as she included a plethora of grilled vegetable suggestions and other ingredient options. In fact, these alternatives took another half page that included tomato, eggplant, sweet or red potato slices, avocado, sprouts, coleslaw, baby greens, arugula and spinach, to name just a few. She also suggested using other cheeses such as Havarti, Swiss, cheddar or brie. The point being, use her recipe as a basic framework to enjoy your own favorite grilled flavors.

“Cooking brings people together and teaches life lessons in so many ways. As a mother, I used the kitchen to teach my kids to be flexible as well as organized,” Miki explained. “They learned to be original and creative, but with a respect for traditional preparations that will aid in that creativity. Too many parents today squander the opportunity to cultivate independence and self-reliance in their kids by opening a can, serving a packaged meal or, worse yet, making them dependent upon the PICK UP window; all of these circumvent the joy of cooking together as a family and fosters a TO GO recipe to life on so many levels.” Melissa’s test kitchen is a dynamic 1900 square foot center of innovation from which many of the company’s products begin their path to grocery store shelves and then on to the kitchens of quality minded consumers throughout the country. Chef Miki and the rest of the kitchen staff members are really the heart and soul of Melissa’s by providing practical applications to the foods that the company distributes. The hard work and creativity of all the chefs in our kitchen are worthy of applause for their culinary talents. However, Chef Miki is the only one amongst them who can prepare a delicate soufflé and fix a power mower while she is waiting for it to rise!

GRILLED SUMMER VEGGIE STACK
GRILLED SUMMER VEGGIE STACK
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 FRESH FOCCACIA, baked and cut into twelve 4” x 4” squares [see recipe below]
1 EASY AIOLI [see recipe below]
1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
1 ¼ cup olive oil
1 ¾ tsp Melissa’s Organic Italian Seasoning Grinder
6 large Portobello Mushrooms, stems removed
3 Organic Zucchini
3 Organic Yellow Straight Neck Squash
3 Organic Red Onions
6 Anaheim or Hatch chile peppers
3 Organic Red Bell peppers
6 slices Swiss or Provolone cheese
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

Preparation
Combine balsamic vinegar, ¾ cup olive oil, Italian herbs and a few shakes of salt and pepper. Lay mushrooms in large baking dish or large zip lock plastic bag, turning periodically to coat and marinate for 30 minutes. Cut off ends of squashes and slice lengthwise ¼” thick and then trim to fit Foccacia squares. Slice onions into ¼-inch rounds, keeping all layers together. Brush squash and onions with oil, or some of the mushroom marinade if you wish, season on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill all vegetables and mushrooms until tender, turning over once. Onion rounds need to be secured in fish basket to keep whole. Grill chiles and bell peppers until blistered on all sides, then place in a covered bowl or paper bag to steam so their thin skins can be removed easily. Once they have cooled, peel off skins, cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds and stems. Then, flatten out to make stacking easier. Once all ingredients have been grilled and are cool enough to handle, divide all veggies equally and stack on aioli dressed focaccia square. Top with a slice of cheese, remaining aioli dressed Foccacia square. Plate with a small side of mixed fresh fruit cocktail.

POTATO FOCCACIA
Makes two 9 x 13 pans or on half-sheet pan

Ingredients
2 pkgs. Rapid Rise yeast
1¾ cups tepid water
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 lb. Russet potato, baked and well crumbled (no chunks)
2 ½ lbs. Bread flour
4 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Garlic, finely minced
4 Tbsp. (total) Fresh basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano (chopped)
½ cup fresh grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil or vegetable spray

Preparation
Dissolve yeast and sugar with the water in a large mixing bowl. The yeast will begin to react and foam. Add potato and one-fourth of the flour. Blend well. Add the salt, garlic, and mix in gradually all but 2 cups of the remaining flour. Pour dough onto a lightly floured solid surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. You may need to add the remaining flour. Shape into a large ball. Transfer ball to lightly oiled or sprayed non-plastic bowl. Turn dough over once to lightly coat. Cover with a clean cloth, set in a warm area to rise until double in size; about 1 hour. Remove cloth, punch down dough, and divide in half if using baking pans. Allow to rest. While the dough is resting, lightly oil two 9 x 13 baking pans, or one half-sheet pan. Place one half of dough into each of the pans. With your fingers, gently shape dough to evenly fit pan bottoms. Brush a small amount of oil over prepared dough; sprinkle evenly with fresh herbs, cheese, and pepper. Place in preheated oven at 375°F and bake until top is golden, about 20-25 minutes. When done, remove from pan and cool on open rack. For even stack construction, you may wish to trim edges by ½ inch. Store up to three days if wrapped tightly in plastic or freeze up to 3 months.

EASY AIOLI
Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients
3 cloves garlic
2 egg yolks
1lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp dry mustard
½ cup olive oil Kosher salt to taste
White pepper to taste

Preparation
Using a food processor combine garlic, egg yolks, lemon and mustard until mixture is light yellow and thick. While machine is running on high, slowly add the olive oil being careful not to allow the emulsion to separate or break. If it breaks, add one small piece of crushed ice and process until emulsion forms. Finish with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Store in airtight container and refrigerate. Use within one week.