Jun 292014
 

Tomato-watermelon salad

It’s summer and peak tomato season is nearing, which means one thing for sure: I am soon to be entirely in the grip of Tomato Madness.

I wait all year for tomato season to roll around, abstaining from buying those cardboard-like, sprayed-with-ethylene-gas-to-make-them-turn-orange facsimile tomatoes through the cold months, biding my time until the (swoon!) heirlooms show up in the farmers’ markets. (I grow a paltry number of them at home but am not yet proficient enough at it to satisfy my appetite for the fruit.) They’re beautiful, aromatic, colored all the way through, and the taste? Unlike any tomato you’ll find in a grocery store.

The inevitable result of this is a tomato binge in the summertime. One weekend last August, our trip to the market yielded just such a thing: in addition to the 2-3-ish pounds I already had in the house, I came home with 6 pounds of my all-time favorite Black Krims (gazpacho, anyone?), along with a whopping 1.75-pound Gold Medal tomato that my favorite farmer gifted me when he saw me going crazy on the Krims (for they are his favorite too), figuring that he’d never be able to sell it because it was so huge. Seriously, the thing was as big as The Wee Baby Om-Nom Sauce’s head.

Huuuuuuuge tomato!

Huuuuuuuge tomato!

(Oh, and speaking of Krims: I had a plant in my back yard last summer and I got so excited at one point because I had two beautiful tomatoes on it that were just a few days away from ripeness. I went out there one morning and they were gone. I’m not going to blame the squirrels, or the bunnies, or the birds, or the odd deer that comes through the neighborhood, because I suspect that the culprit was THE DOG. She developed a taste for tomatoes when I was growing black cherry tomatoes in Tucson and I haven’t been able to break her of it: I catch her with MY harvest now and then. And this year? A bunny came through and ate two of my five tomato plants — that’s right, not tomatoes, but the plants. But I digress.)

I came home and immediately busied myself with making my favorite soup (because if cherry-pie-making-day is Mr Om-Nom Sauce’s favorite day of summer, then surely mine is the one when I make gazpacho), but upon finishing that, I had to face the (1.75-pound) elephant in the room: what to do with the Gold Medal? I sifted through lots of ideas in my head and finally settled upon re-making a tomato-watermelon salad I had thrown together on a whim earlier that week for a cook-out. Because after the guests had left, Mister Om-Nom Sauce said “I’m going to clean up the kitchen” and I responded with, “Ok, Imma gonna stand here and eat this salad,” and predictably, the left-overs disappeared with breakfast. So clearly, more of this (delicious, healthy, refreshing, nutrient-packed) salad needed to be made. And if you have any ginormous tomatoes on hand that you don’t know what to do with, send them my way, because that is a problem that I love to have.

Tomato-watermelon salad

Click for the recipe →

Jun 092014
 

Salmon gravlax

Of all the culinary vices I have to look out for, I think the most insidious for me is the rut. I am so very much a creature of habit that it is easy all too easy for me to slip into the comfortable and familiar. Lamenting the salmon-related Tasty Rut is no new thing here at Om-nom Sauce (exhibit A, exhibit B), so here I give you one of my more off-the-beaten-path methods of preparing the eminently tasty fish, which makes for a striking presentation and delicious flavor.

The method of salt-curing the fish transforms an already gorgeous hue into an intense jewel for the eyes. It’s like you were viewing the fish on a monitor and then hiked the saturation slider all the way to the right. It looks absolutely nothing like, well, the salmon-colored crayon from your scribbling days (as heat-cooked salmon does). The flavor is concentrated and infused with all the goodness you cured it with — and for bonus points, experiment with different citrus zests to experience a completely different flavor profile.

We made this last year as the sockeye season was waning, the fish having largely finished their runs, so I deemed it too late to post this recipe for anyone to get any benefit of it. This year, however, things are in full swing, but I probably won’t get to partake since something tells me this is verboten in pregnancy. So I hope you get a chance to indulge in this and break out of your own salmon rut!

Salmon gravlax

Click for the recipe →

Aug 182013
 

Salmon cakes

I am trying to break out of my salmon rut, I honestly am. But when one is confronted with a beautiful, fresh, vivid red sockeye fillet, it is really, really difficult to avoid cooking it as simply as possible. The fact that I live in an area where it’s quite difficult to get fresh sockeye now isn’t helping matters.

But then my favorite local grocery store came through in a huge way: a sockeye salmon sidewalk sale! They flew in a bunch of whole sockeye overnight from Alaska and sold them whole. We bought a lot, and I started dreaming big.

These fillets were large, so when we used the first one, I had the opportunity to make not one, but two new dishes out of it! Be still my heart! I cured part of it for gravlax — more coming soon on that endeavor — but the larger measure of fish I reserved for these cakes, which had oh-so-fortuitously floated across my computer screen a whole of days before. And they proved to be everything I dreamed of. Some may say it was a bit of a waste to use such an extravagant fish in such a humble way, but I really don’t care what the haters think. This stuff was delicious.

Click for the recipe →

Jul 282013
 

Mexican shrimp salad

It’s summer. It’s hot. You’ve been asked to bring a side along to a cook-out or pot-luck or other food-type party and you’re stumped. You and eight of your closest friends all brought slaw to the previous shin-dig and you desperately want to bust out of the boring BBQ-sides rut and bring something fun and unique, but if someone even thinks about suggesting that you turn on the oven, it’ll be their head that ends up in that appliance. Oh, and also? You’ll only have about 30 minutes to throw together your inspired creation.

Enter: Mexican shrimp salad! This delight is bursting at the seams with fresh summery flavor, comes together in no time, and is definitely better when made well-ahead of time. The best part? Everyone adores this stuff. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser. Consider yourself delivered from side-dish-purgatory!

Click for the recipe →

Feb 242013
 

Guac-o'clock

As you may have inferred from The Law Of Avocados, I am shamelessly in love with guacamole (and with plain ol’ avocados, for that matter). It wasn’t always this way, and the only way I can think of to explain my erstwhile guac-shunning ways is either willful ignorance or deliberate stubbornness. Who or what I was rebelling against, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you the exact moment that I fell in love with this creamy green nectar of the gods. It was seventh-grade history class: we must have been studying something Mexico-related, because one day our teacher had us bring in avocados, limes, tomatoes, and all the wonderful other trappings of guacamole and we made it right there in our classroom (which used to be a chemistry lab, so as far as I’m concerned, my love for avocado is pure science). I was in love.

There are a zillion different ways to make guac (some more unorthodox than others, as shown in this delightful short film), so I’m not about to proclaim that mine is the end-all be-all. And really, I don’t use a recipe per se — it’s more like I just keep a list of ingredients that must be included (avocados being the exception: there are always three). Honestly, I probably prefer my brother Brian’s guac, but what he does differently and awesomely I couldn’t tell you, aside from only using two avocados and making a generally chunkier texture than I do.

What I do know is that guac is a food my family can rally around. We all have slightly different philosophies on food (though we all share the tenet that it should be real), but we all agree on guacamole. I have fond memories of digging into a bowl of the freshly-made stuff with my Mom while my Dad looks on helplessly as it disappears before his eyes (though he’s probably dreaming of the elusive perfect nacho, which is one of our mutual quests) or watching Brian effortlessly throw together a batch of it before dinner. And you can bet that everyone has learned that they really shouldn’t utter the phrase “we have three ripe avocados” in my presence.

Click for the recipe →

Feb 032013
 

Eggs are magic.

Many food cultures seem to agree and have come up with their own version of savory eggy dishes. Omelets and quiches as pretty well-known, but have you ever had a frittata?

The Italians dreamed this one up. Envision a crust-less quiche without the usual addition of cream to the filling and you’ve got the measure of this bit of deliciousness. These things, like omelets, can be as simple or as fancy-pants as you’d care to make them, which makes them ideal for situations when you’re short on time but don’t want to sacrifice the yum-factor — no matter what time-of-day you’re cooking for. They go as effortlessly from the dinner table to delicious left-overs warmed-up for breakfast.

I’ve been making this version of frittata for years. I like it because I nearly always have the ingredients on hand, prep is done in five minutes, and about twenty minutes after that, I’m pulling dinner (or breakfast/brunch/lunch) out of the oven. Feel free to add and subtract ingredients to suit your whims. Nearly anything goes, so next time that carton of eggs in your fridge challenges you to a staring contest, show it who’s boss and whip up a frittata!.

Spinach and feta frittata

Click for the recipe →

Jan 272013
 

Quack corn

Poor popcorn: once known as a healthy, super-easy treat, it has now been hijacked by the likes of microwave-food-companies who would really like you to forget that making said treat at home is really easy and inexpensive so that they can milk you for lots of money for an inferior product. And lets not even mention what movie theaters have done to this humble grain. It’s time to take it back!

Lucky for us, it’s still really simple. Forget all of those companies out there who are trying to sell you popcorn-making gadgets. They don’t have simplicity in mind: they are only trying to separate you from your hard-earned cash. All you need is a pot with a lid and a stove.

And popcorn kernels, of course.

But do you really need me to tell you how to shake some kernels in a pan and pop? Of course not. I am here to offer some inspiration, however! So, let’s begin.

Let’s focus first on the grain. The better-quality kernels you can buy the better your popcorn will be. My personal favorite is crimson popping corn. The only drawback with this variety (and other darkly-colored types) is that since the grain is darker, the finished product can look burned when it most certainly is not.

Crimson popcorn, about to meet duck-fat

Now, let’s discuss the medium. Butter has a long and storied history with popcorn, and for good reason. But let’s get off the beaten path and look towards other fine cooking fats. Olive oil can lend a subtle taste, which is fine, but if you want something a bit more exotic, seek out our feathered friends. Duck fat reigns supreme in the land of rendered cooking fats. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but like so many of my ideas in the kitchen, this one was inspired by the owner of Rancho Gordo, my favorite new-world-foods purveyor.

I had thought about doing this for a long time and finally had the opportunity when Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseburger In Glacial Ice came to visit. Heather shares my passion for all things yummy, and though her husband can sometimes need to be cajoled into food-adventure-territory, he’s often game for it (and at any rate, he would have been over-ruled this time), so I decided that the time of the Quack Corn had come. Now, I could just tell you that it was a resounding success, but I think that this paints a better picture: Mr. and Mrs. Cheesburger moved into a new house shortly thereafter and I sent them a house-warming gift that included some popping corn. Mr. Cheeseburger, seeing another parcel in with the popcorn and unable to contain his hopes and dreams, asked “Is that duck fat???”

I rest my case.

Duck-fat popcorn!

Click for the recipe →

Sep 142012
 

Pasta Fazool

I am such a huge sucker for hearty bean stews. The moment that the summer heat shows that it might be wavering in its resolve, I’m pulling out all my cookbooks and playing match-maker with my stash of beans. Borlotti beans often find a starring role in my kitchen in every imaginable application, and this soup is no exception.

Pasta e fagioli (aka pasta fazool) is a dish born of frugality, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be boring. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to find bland versions of this soup, with boring beans, mushy pasta, and a lack-luster broth. This soup rectifies all those wrongs and then some, all without requiring you to slave over a stove for hours or leave a pot simmering all day. Served in small portions, it makes an excellent appetizer (or primi if you’re going authentic-Italian-style), or scooped up into bigger bowls, it’s hearty enough to be a meal in itself. Either way, it’s a delicious and welcome addition to any table — whatever the weather!

Pasta Fazool!

Continue reading »

Sep 082012
 

Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz

My favorite summer soup is also one that can go disastrously, epically wrong. It all lies in the tomato: use super-market tomatoes or try to make this soup in the winter, and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even local restaurants can get it wrong: why on earth would you ship in insipid dyed-with-ethylene-gas “tomatoes” when you can get perfectly ripe ones in the peak of tomato season? There was a restaurant in Tucson that I absolutely loved, but when I noticed that the tomatoes on their sandwiches were exactly this type, I swore to never sample their gazpacho.

Gazpacho is one of the best vehicles out there for peak-of-summer, flavor-saturated, eat-them-over-the-sink tomatoes. When it comes time to make a batch, I head out to the farmers’ market (because I have not yet mastered the art of tomato -growing) and load up on whatever looks — and more importantly, smells — the most flavorful. I tend to flavor black heirloom varieties (like Black Krim, Black Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple), but there are plenty of other varieties in other colors that pack just as much flavor.

This Spanish treat is an ideal one for summer for another reason: it’s completely raw, so there’s no need to add to the heat in your kitchen by turning on a stove! Another bonus: it’s extremely healthy! Be sure to drizzle plenty of fruity olive oil over the top, though: not only is it delicious, but it will help you absorb all the vitamins in the soup! Oh, and one more thing: I like vegetables for breakfast. I know, weird. When this soup is in the fridge, I can’t think of a better meal to start my day. Give it a try some time!

A side note: this summer I had a watermelon gazpacho for the first time. I was amazed at how well the ripe watermelon and tomato complemented each other (though I know that this is by no means a well-kept secret in the food world). I’m going to have to try to find a good recipe for that too, so if you have one, by all means, please share it!

Continue reading »

Sep 012012
 

Tomato medley | Savory Summer Caponata

Summer is probably my favorite season for fresh produce — but really, if you ask me in the fall or the spring what my favorite seasons are, you’ll probably get a different answer. Despite that, there’s one jewel of summer that makes me especially prize its produce, and it’s a gem that eclipses and asparaguses and strawberries of spring and the delightful hard squashes and greens of fall. If you know me at all you know that I am absolutely bananas about summer tomatoes. I wait all year for them and when they show up at the farmers’ market I go absolutely crazy buying them (alas, I haven’t mastered tomato-growing yet, and we moved across the country this summer, so I didn’t even get to try this year). This year has been trying for my tomato mania, as the pregnancy has caused incredibly awful heartburn since the beginning of the second trimester, and tomatoes are a major trigger for me. I’m stubborn though, and as my tomato lust has continued unabated, I haven’t tried to hold back from slaking it.

Diced jewels | Savory Summer Caponata

One of the things about Ohio that’s made me really happy is that heirloom tomatoes do really well here, unlike Arizona, where it’s just too damn hot and the pollen literally burns up in the flowers. I wasted no time finding an amazing farm that’s less than six miles from my house that produces all of my summer favorites, including a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes! Every week I go and stock up, buying several different varieties, for the week’s cooking and noshing.

Eggplant disks | Savory Summer Caponata

It turns out that the farmer also grows everything else that I could possibly want for another favorite dish of mine: caponata. This is a dish that I liked pretty well the first time I had it, even though I was cooking it in the winter and the ingredients were so far from peak-of-flavor that it wasn’t even funny. Since I started making it in the proper season, I’ve completely jettisoned the original recipe I was using and re-worked it to play better with in-season ingredients. Of particular importance is getting the tomatoes to fully complement the eggplant: eggplant readily absorbs flavors, so if you salt the diced tomatoes and let them sit for a while, lots of juice will be drawn out of them and they’ll lend lots of tasty flavor to the eggplant. Who knew these two relatives could play so well together? So go, hurry: summer is waning, so grab the last of the summer produce and whip this dish up!

It's caponata time! | Savory Summer Caponata

Continue reading »

%d bloggers like this: