Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Delicious Tomato Salad; A Delicious Gazpacho! Same Tomatoes!

The picture just shows some goodies from the Farmers' Market, some citrus (important during summer cocktail season!) and some dried Hydrangea from our garden plants - I just like the way they look.  Dig those Heirloom Tomatoes - I hope to have some Brandywine Pinks in September, but these Heirloom babies are gorgeous, aren't they?

Without a doubt, we are lucky to live in a region with access to the best tomatoes in the country. South Jersey, Lancaster County, Northampton County, some areas of Delaware, and of course, our own urban farmers here in Philadelphia all grow amazing, delicious and very varied types of tomatoes.  The bins are beginning to fill up at all of our Farmers Markets and at Fair Foods Farmstand. I don't know about you, but it is so hard to resist these gorgeous orbs of juicy flavor.  In other words, I over buy!  Now, come September, we will be over in South Jersey buying our flats of Plum Tomatoes, which we will "put up" (can) for fabulous sauces all winter long.  And we'll freeze our own Sun Golds and other tomatoes from our garden, smashed in freezer bags - another great sauce base. But right now, as they sit there in front of us, and while it's a bit hot for big pots of marinara sauce, what do we do?

Here are two of my all time favorite summer tomato based recipes.  The first is courtesy of Jamie Oliver - it's in his great book about growing and cooking your own, "Jamie at Home".  The second is one I have been working on, using the left overs from Jamie's recipe.  I think you will find them both easy and delicious and a great way to satisfy your tomato cravings.

The Mothership Tomato Salad
Ingredients:  1 - 2 pounds of tomatoes, different shapes, sizes, and colors if you can; sea salt; freshly group black pepper; a tablespoon or more of dried oregano; red wine vinegar; extra virgin olive oil; 1 clove of garlic, peeled and grated; 1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped.

Slice, chop, halve your tomatoes.  How you cut them will depend on what types you are using but varying style, color and size just makes the recipe all that much better. Put the cut tomato pieces in a colander - I put the colander over a bowl because I love tomato water - salt the tomatoes, toss them once and salt them again.  They won't be overly salty, the salt will actually draw out the excess moisture.  Let them drain for about 15 - 30 minutes (I have let them drain for up to an hour with no problem).  
Put the tomato pieces in a bowl and sprinkle the dried oregano over top.
Make a dressing of one part vinegar to three parts of extra virgin olive oil, the grated garlic, and the chopped chili.
Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes - use enough dressing to fully cover all of the tomatoes.
This salad is amazing and is even better with grilled bread and some fresh made mozzarella.

Note: now what pretty much always happens when I make the above salad is that there is some left over; I usually refrigerate it - even though I never actually refrigerate tomatoes, with this salad, I like to keep the whole mixture cold.  You don't have to refrigerate it if you are going to use it in a day or two.  The following is what I have discovered using left over "mothership tomato salad".

Easy Mothership Gazpacho
Ingredients:  Left over mothership tomato salad; red wine vinegar; a cucumber; extra virgin olive oil; Worcestershire sauce; hot sauce; and croutons and optional diced celery and cucumber. 

Peel the cucumber, chop it and add it to the left over tomato salad.  Add a bit more vinegar - you can add more at the end too, so go light the first time.  Pour the mixture into a blender or a food processor.  Add a few drops of hot sauce - really to taste. Add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce - again to taste.  Add some extra virgin olive oil to give the mix a bit more of a liquid nature.  Not too much to begin with, you can always add more later if it is not thin enough. Process the mixture until it is liquid.  I process it until smooth (it will be pink) - you can add diced celery and/or more cucumber diced, along with your croutons, to each serving.  Adjust seasonings to your taste.  Chill. To each serving, you can add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche along with the diced veggies, hot sauce and croutons. 

This is the easiest gazpacho you will ever make and you will not lose any of the fabulous tomatoes you enjoyed as a salad!

Try it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guilty Food Pleasures - Confessions of a Foodie

Over the weekend I was exchanging some of my favorite "bad" foods with a good friend.  His suggestion was that, as a self professed, very vocal Foodie, I should "come out" and tell people what guilty pleasures I engage in from time to time.  His point?  People think those of us who are obsessed with fresh, local, humanely raised, non-processed foods need to let the rest of the world know that there are some less than perfect, less than fresh, highly processed, food products we find comforting and good and that we eat once in awhile.  In other words, "get off your high horse".  So, OK, I am sharing here in the hopes that some of you will share your favorite bad for you/processed foods, too.  This could be interesting so don't hold back - let's hear from you too!

I have to start with probably the most offensive product and my all time favorite:  Stove Top Stuffing.  Yes, as much as I adore my own, and others, home made stuffing, I likewise adore Stove Top.  I will sit down to a plate of it - with nothing else.  The "by serving" container they came out with a few years ago is perfect for me too.  I can get a "fix" - in a small amount.

But wait, there's more:

Kraft Mac 'n Cheese (the original box) - which I don't eat so much anymore - it was an addiction I developed way back during the college/poor years.  I still look at their commercials with lust.

Lipton Dry Chicken Noodle Soup Mix - a bowl of this "soup" is a real comfort to me, especially when accompanied by Matzoh crackers with a bit of butter.  Lots of pepper in the soup.  Recently they came out with a "double noodles" version - heaven!

American Cheese (preferably Land 'o Lakes) - always in our 'fridge.  Cheese sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, on 'burgers, and "straight up" with French's bright yellow mustard spread on each slice.  Frankly that last treatment is the one I eat the most.

Campbell's Cream of Tomato Soup (made with milk of course) - I sometimes throw a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce in a bowl of this, again, with lots of pepper.

Iceberg Lettuce/Russian Dressing/Bacos - It's the green with no food value - maybe that's why I love it so.  Tear up the iced cold lettuce, make a dressing of ketchup, mayo, and relish, glop it on the lettuce, sprinkle with Bacos and enjoy!  I tend to get heavy with the fresh ground pepper here too. What's with the pepper theme!?!

Bugles - How can you not love those crispy little snacks?  In my opinion, they go with everything or nothing at all.

OK, so these are my main offenders, I think. I was a serious junk food addict for years, even though I was buying fresh, local, well raised food products, I found a way to sneak in lots of the bad stuff.  I have gotten that under control for the most part.  The above represents most of what has remained - as an occasional Guilty Pleasure.

What are yours????

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More Scenes from an Urban Garden; A Summer Pasta

Absolutely no argument with this!
I love that sign.  It was found by the folks at the Food Trust - apparently posted originally by the Maine Organic Growers Association.  Anyhow and whoever, it's very accurate.  I realized this morning, drinking my tea and doing my usual "inspection" walk around the garden, that this is what I truly miss in the winter months - and I miss it a lot.  I feel like I start the day without those calming, pretty moments, and it doesn't get me started at all in the right way, I have to admit.
That said, we ain't too Zen in our approach now are we?  Even during this accelerated growing season, we gardeners & mini-farmers still get impatient!  I can't tell you how many times I've been inspecting everything for just a sign of a squash or a cucumber or an eggplant or pepper.  And just how long are those tomatoes going to stay green!?!
Well, it seems like the ship is coming in!  In the past few days - and in some cases I swear overnight - there are tiny cukes and very cute little zucchini; we already harvested a few of the Fairy Tale eggplants and the Long Purple plants have little eggplants starting.  We have a wide array of peppers this year - some from plants and some from seeds and they are all displaying peppers - in the case of the Seed Savers Chocolate Beauty and Ancho Gigantea, we have some really big peppers and lots of starts.  And at last those green tomatoes are turning orange (Sun Golds) and various colors (Sweet Pea Currants).  The Brandywine Pink, an heirloom full sized tomato is a much slower grower, so we are being patient with those plants. The potato pots are looking good, too.  The herbs have been very very prolific.  I have cut and dried herbs now twice before the 4th of July.  It seems we will definitely be stocked in dried and frozen herbs over the winter!
The plant above, while not edible, deserves a special shout out.  This is our "Hibby".  The first time we went to Key West on vacation, we returned in love with the tropical hibiscus;  they grow everywhere in a gorgeous array of colors.  We especially loved the daily hibiscus flowers left on our pillows when we returned to our room at the end of the day.  So we decided to add a tropical hibiscus to our garden.  The key word here is "tropical".  This tree winters by a southern window in my office on the 3rd floor of our house - quite the job each year:  up in the Fall, back down as soon as the Spring warms up enough.  She is 13 years old this summer.  She is just starting to bloom but we will have these blooms all summer - and hibiscus flowers only last for a day - whether you put them in water or not.  So you can let them die on the tree, or snip them and lay them on the table, or in the house, or - maybe - on someone's pillow.  Lovely.  
Some other pics of what's happening in our urban garden, followed by a delicious recipe for those cherry tomatoes.

Recipe:  Spaghetti Con Pomodorini e Pecorini

1 pound of spaghetti; salt to taste; 4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil; 3 garlic cloves, crushed; 25 or so cherry tomatoes, halved; a bunch of fresh basil; freshly grated pecorino cheese

Put the pasta in boiling salted water, stir it
While pasta is cooking, heat up olive oil in a chef's pan and saute the garlic until golden
Add the cherry tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes become soft, season them with a bit of salt (not too much pecorino is a salty cheese)
Right before the pasta is al dente - about two minutes before suggested cooking time, drain the pasta, keep a cup and a half of the pasta cooking water.
Add the spaghetti and pasta water to the chef's pan stir the pasta, the pasta water and the tomatoes and oil together - the water will "lengthen" the sauce - cook speak for making the sauce a bit more saucier, thicker if you will.

Turn off the heat!  Leave the pan where it is.

Add torn basil leaves and mix again for just a minute so that the basil gets incorporated
Mix a generous handful of grated pecorino over the pan, mix the pasta again.
Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil
Transfer to a serving bowl, top with more grated pecorino, and a few basil leaves and serve immediately.

Simple and so delicious.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy, Hot 4th of July! Boozy Water Ice Redux

Well, Friends, we are for sure in the thick of summer and July has so far not disappointed!  And for all of the friends who have asked if we are still living the "non-AC" life.  Why, yes, we are!  Actually, we're pretty well adjusted by now.  The house is full of high power fans, the windows are shaded, and we spend most of our time out in the garden/backyard.  Being the end of the row on a street of a row homes is a BIG help!  We have a nice, steady breeze all day and windows on all three floors on the side of our house.  Our spool/splash pool/spa is certainly another big help.  We always take a dip right before bed; relaxing and nice and cooling.  That said, yes, we sweat a lot and take a lot of cool showers when we're working on projects around the house.  We try to avoid turning the oven on. We, for sure, eat a lot cooler and lighter and sweeter.  The central AC compressor on the side of the house is home to two huge barrels of Swedish Peanut fingerling potato plants, so it's not like we're not using it!!! It's funny but we find that we freeze our butts off in stores and at sites where we are working. It seems to us now that - not only are places air conditioned - they are freezing!!! All in all, we're feeling pretty good and enjoying the heat!  But, thanks for asking if we are still acting crazy!!  We appreciate it.

Lots of us will be grilling over this upcoming long holiday weekend (at least I hope it's a long one for a lot of you).  Don't forget to pick up that Chimney Starter for your briquettes - and avoid that stinky gross lighter fluid at all costs.  And, whenever you can get it, buy Hardwood Lump Charcoal.  It burns clean and very hot; it also burns very fast, so you need to be paying attention to your fire. Once you get hooked on it, it will be your fuel of choice.

I hope all of your city gardens are flourishing and that you are enjoying those regular two a day waterings!

Here's a recipe for a very summery cocktail that I believe is worth re-posting given this heat.

John's Lemon Water Ice Vodka/Blueberry Slushies

Get a quart of the best lemon water ice you can find (in Philly, that's John's where the President stopped last year; if you can't get to the Italian Market, Rita's will suffice as a substitute)

Put some fresh, local blueberries in the bottom of a tall glass; muddle the berries a bit so some are smashed, some remain whole

Fill the glass 3/4's full of the water ice

Depending on the size of the glass, pour anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces of plain vodka over the water ice

You can stir it ever so gently with an iced tea spoon if you wish.

Sit in the breeze, sip and enjoy!
Have a glorious 4th of July!  Enjoy Fireworks, Cook - Outs and Summer! And one more thing . . .

Happy First Birthday Josh Baskin!  Our Yankee Doodle Boy!