Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tomato Water Dressing: The Foodist Favorite New Recipe

A few goodies from our city garden

At this time of year, many of us are cooking, slicing, and chopping as many wonderful tomatoes as we can get our hands on at the local markets, as well as harvesting what our urban mini-farms are putting out. There's nothing like eating a freshly picked tomato off of the vine.  I don't make it back into the house most times with our Sun Gold tomatoes - I pick, spritz, and eat.  My big old Coon Hound loves them as well.  People come to the garden and say, gee, what were  these?   This while staring at a tall bush of, well, branches.  I inform them that the bush was - and will be again - the glorious Sun Golds.   Bless them, they just keep growing!  The time for these treasures, fresh at least,  is short - so we are compelled to use them in all sorts of ways. One of our favorite tomato "recipes" is, I am sure, one of yours:    Is there anything in the world like a really wonderful Jersey - or Lancaster County - tomato with fresh, soft, sliced white bread, thick slices of the tomato, a bit of salt, perhaps a few slivers of fresh basil ,and a spread of real mayonnaise? This, my friends, is the paradise of the summer months.  I am salivating just writing these sentences!  But you all know about that.  Now for a use of something "tomato" we discovered last weekend.

Many recipes calling for sliced or chopped tomatoes require that they be salted, placed in a colander and "drained" for awhile.  For many preparations, this makes absolute sense.  That said, we found ourselves wondering what we could do with this "tomato water" - this liquid is produced quickly and as such isn't the same depth and consistency as the wonderrful consomme made by hanging chopped tomatoes in cheese cloth for hours and straining it and flavoring it.  No, this is truly just the quickly produced - usually 15 minutes or so - juice that flows through the colander holes. We felt that this juice in most cases has a high acidic content - so why shouldn't it serve as the acid in dressings?   Here is one tested recipe; we are working on a number of others:

Tomato Water Dressed Potato Salad

Note:  when a recipe calls for salted and drained tomatoes, chopped or sliced, just place the colander in a bowl so that you catch the juice shedding off of the tomatoes.  Don't do anything to it - especially, don't strain it.  Your can store the juice in a jar in the 'fridge for a few days.

Cook  8 - 10 Baby Rose Golds potatoes - washed and skins on (cut into bite sized pieces) in boiling, salted water until just fork tender (if you can't find yukon golds or baby roses, use other larger potatoes, but chop them well)

While the potatoes are still hot, toss them with about 1 - 2 tablespoons of champagne vinegar and a pinch of salt - let the potatoes cool
Note:  go easy on the salt, the tomato water will be salty

In a large bowl, mix together finely chopped red onion, finely chopped celery, and some summer savory leaves

To the mixture in the bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of the collected "Tomato Water"; about the same amount of extra virgin olive oil; 2 tablespoons good mayonnaise; and some white pepper.

Mix this together and add the cooled potatoes and gently stir the potatoes into the dressing.

The layers of flavor are amazing!  The vinegar on hot potatoes is something we have been doing for a long time - it doesn't really identify as vinegar in the final taste of the potatoes - and the hot potatoes absorb all of it, but it gives a heightened "potato" flavor to the spuds.  The flavor of the tomato water comes through subtly and wonderfully in the dressing.

Frankly, we decided this could be a main course for us - with maybe some sliced tomatoes and salad greens on the side! - but it is obviously wonderful for potato salad as a side dish.

I"ve shown you mine - let's hear from you!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Starting to Harvest: Basil - lovely to have in February!

A Bouquet of Basil!
Hi Foodies in Philly.  Well it was quite a couple of days that's for sure - we started out frying and by yesterday afternoon we were enjoying what my frienbor (friend and neighbor) Craig calls, "real summer".  Given the heat and the fact that we had to give in and turn the AC on, we decided to use the weekend to start harvesting and preparing some of our - and other's - gardens' and farms' output.

The Fair Food Farmstand and some of the Lancaster County folks provided a collection of heirloom tomatoes, as well as some more fabulous corn and squash - the glory of this time of year.  If you haven't made a tomato salad with a mix of heirlooms using Jamie Oliver's "Mothership of all Tomato Salads" recipe, we believe it is the ultimate way to give these delicious tomatoes their due - I will be posting that and other recipes on "Recipe Day" - Thursdays of each week for those who like to get an early start on their shopping lists!   Keep an eye out for Recipe Day and feel free to share.

Anyhow, this weekend we decided to start focusing on when it wasn't "this time of year" and what we would want in our freezer and larder for when the weather's cold and the farmstands are resting.

We started in our own "mini-farm" by harvesting some of the 4 kinds of Basil we are growing. The plants are huge. It has all absolutely loved this hot weather - Basil especially loves hot nights. We decided it was time for "Freezer Pesto".  The best way we have found is to make the pesto (use your favorite recipe of basil leaves, pine nutes, great parmesan and extra virgin olive oil)  and then pour the pesto mixture into ice cube trays.  Sit the trays in the freezer until the cubes freeze solid, pop the pesto cubes out of the tray and bag them up in good freezer storage bags.  You can use them throughout the fall and winter the way you would use any pesto - you may need a few cubes for a substantial recipe, so make sure you freeze yourself up a few large bags at least!!  Remember you don't have to grow your own Basil (although for we city folks it is an easy one to grow) - just buy some local at the Farmstands - or buy up a lot and go ahead and make your freezer stash.

Another way to store good fresh basil is to wash it, dry the plant well and then pull all of the leaves off of the stems.  Store the leaves in a good freezer storage bag.  The leaves will turn black and sad looking, very sad looking - BUT - they will taste just like fresh basil in sauces, eggs, anywhere you can "blend" them in.  Obviously these leaves aren't for finishing off a plate or for salads, but again, the flavor will remain - and all you need to defrost them is two or three minutes on the counter.

The last way that Basil can be stored up is by drying it.  This is my least favorite way - in my opinion, dry basil has very little of the glorious flavor we expect from this versatile herb.  That said, if you want to dry some, I suggest using the same technique as for oregano (which does dry well) and other similar structured herbs:  Cut the plants down; secure the stems together at the cut end with good kitchen twine and hang the bundle upside down somewhere cool and dry.  You will know when they are dry.  Then, it 's merely a matter of running your fingers down the stems to rub off the dry leaves into an air tight container.  Stems do NOT make for good storage and will cause early mold.  Do NOT hang your drying bundle outside - if it gets wet once it is into the drying process, it will be ruined and should go to the composter.

What do you like to preserve for those months during which we can't just run to the Farmers Markets or the back yard?

Share some of your favorites!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Another Philly Foodie Event!

We were lucky to be able to attend the "Good Food Good Beer" event on Saturday evening, July 17th at the Head House Shambles - the site of our favorite and biggest weekly Farmers' Market.

The idea was to bring the Farm to the City and to raise funds for the Philadelphia conviva of the Slow Food Movement.  It was a great idea and one that we hope becomes an annual event.

The number of tickets you purchased dictated the number of "tastes" you could sample - and all you needed to drink some wonderful local beers was a wrist band saying you were "of age" - we didn't have any problem there!   It was a very hot evening but, even so, the event was packed!! What a wonderful showing by local foodies - taking the opportunity to have some wonderful tastes and drinks and to support Slow Food!

Here are some pictures of the event - including the Foodist's much better half digging into some pulled pork- as you can see everyone is eating, sipping, talking food, and having a ball!

Just a little about the fabulous food and who served it is of course in order.

Fork from Old City did a seared Scallop, Green Beans and Cashews with a peppery kick that was perfect in flavor and given the weather was both satisfying and cooling.  Noble's house made Chorizo was over the top delicious.  A pulled pork sandwich from Swathmore Coop was so much more than a bite and went so well with the dark ale offered by Earth, Bread and Brewery.  Le Virtu offered up a wonderful seasonal Timbale.  John and Kira's booth was busy, busy, busy!  I personally spent two of my coupons - one for a tasting of three chocolates and the other for three of their fabulous gel candies.  There were Tacos, Sandwiches, delicious baked goods and the hit of the night (can there be one?) for both of us:  the "Esquites" served by Xochitl.  This is a common Mexican street food and is basically a cold corn soup - but what a soup!!  Creamy, tangy (from lime), the corn kernels were just al dente, the seasonings amazing - it was wonderful!  Many folks were walking around talking about the esquites - the closest recipe that I have found is one from Jose Garces - our hometown Iron Chef.  I will post that soon.

Also represented were six - count 'em folks - six local craft beer brewers.  The times they have certainly changed for the good.

Look for this event next year and clear your calendar, don't hesitate.  It's another Fantastic Foodie event here in Philadelphia!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Foodist is on The Road!

Actually the Foodist is preparing to get off the road for awhile, but it has been an interesting food week for me in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Chattanooga is a small city, with a growing center city core.  The city planners - showing lots of smarts, isn't that wonderful? - are building up and promoting a residential section of the city.  My experience traveling around the country leads me to believe that unless people really live in the city - not commute in for work or school each day and then leave - the city will not be able to support the things we foodies have come to love.  Things like independently owned restaurants and shops, farmers markets, and also,  "events" that keep the city alive and vibrant.

I applaud Chattanooga for taking the next steps to insure a downtown center will thrive and survive - and a tip 'o the Foodist Phillies' cap to the stimulus monies that are helping with that effort.

So, to the food.  I have been traveling to Tennessee for about eight years now, but had never visited this particular part of the state.  I have  to say, I have been pleasantly surprised with what I was able to learn about the food scene here.  "Seasonal", "Local", "Humanely raised" -  appear regularly on menus all over town and at a very interesting grocery store that we frequented for room supplies called, Green Life.  Green Life is sort of a Whole Foods clone, but smaller, carrying many more local products, and lots of young, enthusiastic staff persons.  It was fun to visit and I was able to snack and eat really good food when I ate in the room - thanks Green Life! 

Most importantly, there were a number of intriquing restaurants in the small center city area of Chattanooga - and one in particular deserves mention.  It is called 212 Market - did I mention that in downtown Chattanooga we wandered on Market, Chestnut and Broad Streets!  At any rate, this is a family owned spot that specializes in dishes prepared with seasonal, local products.  I had local fresh water trout, for example. The sources of many of the products contained in the menu items were listed on the menu AND when they weren't and I asked, our server was able to tell us - right away, without returning to the kitchen or somewhere to figure out how to answer my question.  Our server also stood at our table and chatted with us for some time (it wasn't too busy on Wed evening) about eating and shoppng local, about how food is raised, and about the efforts of this restaurant and others to keep folks informed.  We also started talking to folks at a nearby table about the film, "Food, Inc.".  Now I know for many people this all sounds like cruel and unusual punishment but you know how we foodies are - I could have talked all night!  Our server also knew that the Philadelphia area had a large, well coordinated Farmers Market system. I was blown away. 

This was all such a pleasant surprise since  looking at a room service menu in our hotel led me to believe that my access to good food was going to be limited.    I wish I had been here longer - in order to try some of the other spots - folks in Chattanooga call them "green" restaurants - and I hope to get back to do just that.

Ok - to some of the local, what I like to call, "cheese steak" equivalents.  Let me illustrate what I mean:  when I meet people in my travels and I say that I am from Philadelphia, they almost always say - wait for it - "Cheese Steaks!".  "Yes", I usually respond, "Cheese steaks".    They then proceed to tell me how they or their friend or spouse or kid - or somebody - was in town for whatever reason and they went to - wait for it again - Genos or Pats.  I swear it never changes!  IF I dig further, they don't recall one other thing they ate while in our town. How can that be?  More importantly, and with all due respect to a good cheese steak - which in the Foodist's opinion are NOT the ones served at Genos and Pats - how do we change that as the ONLY lasting impression?  On this trip I got the exact same feedback from 3 trainees in the class I was teaching - 3 out of 15!  Amazing - and, I guess, somewhat disturbing.

At any rate, back to Chattanooga's equivalents - if it/they exist - of what is sadly our most famous food.  It seems there are a few. Like all good points South, bar-b-que is big.  Ribs are the most prevalent, as opposed to pulled pork, chicken, etc.  An interesting dip concoction made of spinach, artichokes, and various cheeses is everywhere - on every menu - even on 212 Market's appetizer menu.  Everywhere.  So, I tried it in a few spots; my feeling is it is the area's version of pimiento cheese dip.  It's OK, but I wanted to season it up a bit.  Grits of course are pretty available - both as a breakfast dish and also in the low country "Shrimp and Grits" dish.  Pies seemed to be a big dessert item in town.  And better yet, Fried Fruit pies were available in many places.  I personally think fried fruit pies are a gift of the goddesses - so, I was happy to see them be so prevalent.

I guess to sum up - I have to say that I was pleased and impressed to see so many green restaurants and stores in Chattanooga - I wish that I could have been around for the weekend Farmers' Markets as well.

Maybe next time??

Where are you traveling and what are you eating, Philly Foodies??  Share your experiences with your fellow Philly Foodies!

Friday, July 9, 2010

City Gardeners: How is it Going?

Hello Foodies and Gardeners.  Just to repeat, I am hoping that this blog can serve as a venue for urban Locavores, seasonal Foodies, Gardeners, and Farmers' Markets regulars, to share resources, challenges, recipes, questions - you know, all of the areas and issues that those of us who live in the city and want to be more self sufficient, green, and healthy have in common.  Today I am concentrating on the gardening side - and I know that many urban Foodies garden.  Also I couldn't resist adding a shot of our "Patio Princess" tomatoes - they are from Burpee and they are a wonderful cross between a cherry tomato and a full sized one.  Created for containers, very meaty and very good for "uncooked" pasta sauces.

So, a bit of rain today  here in Philly had me all excited!  How about the rest of you city/urban/container gardeners?  How are you and your gardens faring during this time of extremely hot weather and very little rainfall?   Are you finding yourself, as I have been, obsessed with watering?  Do you find yourself "testing" the soil constantly - you know, the "finger test" - down in - is it dry?  Should I let it be dry?  Why is it dry so quickly?  And then there is that laundry list of maladies that can attack your precious growing things - due precisely to the heat and the lack of rainfall.  More about one of those later.

This year, we are growing a list of the usual "back yard" produce - well, certainly "usual" for South Philly neighborhoods:  4 kinds of tomatoes (yes, we have an addiction problem); a couple different kinds of peppers; carrots; swiss chard; and tons of herbs - lots of basil (4 types) to go with all of those tomatoes, and for pesto; and a couple kinds of oregano, and summer savory, chives, sage, rosemary, etc. We also have a couple of small cutting garden areas and gorgeous flowering things and ferns in the "real dirt" areas of our backyard city plot.  There's also a bit of lavendar here and there which we have just harvested and hung to dry. We also inherited a lovely well established grapevine (concords) which provides cover for our dining table and lots of snax for the local birds and furry friends and us.  The grapevine is a breeze - if you have them you know - it's really just a matter of clipping and tucking and then harvesting when the time comes - a piece of cake.  Hopefully, now that I have said that, the vine won't develop some strange and usual disease!

It's mostly the edibles that are taking up most of my gardening time.  As of today, one of our tomato plants is exhibiting signs of "blossom end rot" - which may or may not be caused by "inconsistent watering".  Huh??  I am obsessed with watering! - the right time, the right amount, the aforementioned constant checking . . . hmm, maybe I should just step back a bit.  Anybody have experience with this particular rot?  It is NOT getting my Patio Princess - that's all I can say!

On a lighter note:  what are you cooking this weekend?  It is, without a doubt, the most glorious time of year - and we should enjoy some things early and sadly, quickly too.  The weather is playing hell with local farmers' crops of corn, tomatoes,  . . . frankly everything.  We are in danger of having very slim pickings very soon - and the poor farmers will not be having the kinds of summers they count on to survive.

And yes, I know that you can get corn and tomatoes and other produce from "other" growing areas - but trying to be locavores - AND having fully functioning taste buds - we ain't going for the 1000 mile produce!

Please!  Get out to your Farmers' Markets this weekend!!  You will probably do as we do and buy too much and then need to figure out how to use it all, but that's part of the fun isn't it?  And please share what you did with your bounty here at the Philly Foodist.

We are currently trying to figure out what we want to do with lots of fab sour cherries - something immediate and something for the dark days of winter, I suppose.  We also have Gooseberries - interesting and delicious - any ideas for them?

I guess this weekend it's going to be more corn, more tomatoes - reds and greens, some squash  (a friend is promising a delivery soon, as well!), those wonderful onions and fava beans if we can still score some, and of course, some of the fruits that are showing up at the Markets.  And need I even mention, our local eggs and butter- for me, that's an entire separate conversation! Who can eat supermarket, caged hen eggs after you buy eggs directly from the farmer?  "Egglands Best"????  Are you kidding me?  Those farm fresh,  "neon" egg yolks make my day when I crack one!  And wow do they make a beautiful homemade pasta!

So, how's the gardening? What are you eating and cooking?  What Markets are you shopping?  Have a happy, happy weekend and join the conversation!

Thought for the Day:  "The greatest single act of independence and rebellion is to maintain a garden" (Wendell Berry)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Let's Share Some Holiday Menus!

So  - for the first dinner of the big summer holiday weekend we are doing a Tuscan Garden Dinner.  The goals here are to start off the weekend with a bang - have a big dinner and fire up the hard wood charcoal before the heat wave returns, and, frankly, have some great left overs!

Almost all of the products needed for the meal are either local products OR have been purchased from local, independent purveyors - in other words, nothng on this table came from a supermarket, although the wine and vodka did come from the Pennsylvania State Store!  The steak is grass fed, hormone - free and humanely raised. The white truffle balsamico was a gift from Italy.

The Menu:
Vodka Negronis
Sliced Cacciatore, a Hot (spicy hot) Dry Sausage
Celery and Olive Salad
Fresh Fava Beans (grown in PA!) with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and ribbons of Parmigiano
Caprese Salad:  sliced heirloom tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella (from Mr. Mancuso's) and our own basil leaves, sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and white truffle Balsamico vinegar
Grilled Bread and Grilled Spring Onions
Bistecca - grilled steak, marinated in extra virgin olive oil, pepper and rosmary and topped with a compound blue cheese butter

The Wine - Rizzi Barbaresco

and for Dolce (dessert):  Grilled Stoned Fruit Skewers served with ricotta and honey

So,what's on your table?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Philly Foodies Let's Talk!

Greetings Food Loving Philadelphians! 
I look forward to some fun, informative, delicious exchanges and, yes, debates on this Blog!
I am hoping that this site will be a haven for those of us who consider ourselves dedicated city dwellers,  Philadelphians (either here now or transplanted), Locavores and Slow Fooders - along with just being happy with the label of "Foodie".
It is an exciting time in Philadelphia's food culture.  Many of us urban types are not only dedicated to our numerous Farmers' Markets and Farm to Table restaurants,  but we are also growing our own - or at least a wee bit of our own. Many of us are also attempting to "live green" in a major city - which has challenges all  its own!
So fellow food adventurers - what are you planning for the Holiday weekend?  Where are you shopping?  What are your favorites?  What are your not so favorites? What are you growing?  What are you trying to find that you can't? And, what have you found that you think the rest of us should know about?
Let's have some fun and learn from each other.