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 →

Jun 012014

Strawberry cream scones

For the last week, through the wonder of u-pick farms, I have been awash in multiple gallons of fresh strawberries. This is in no way a terrible predicament, though I have been plagued by the question of what do I do with all of them??? I started simple by throwing them in a fruit salad and making strawberry-blueberry shortcake — pretty basic, but I figured that basic (and easy) was a good way to go when they were at peak freshness. Next came a pie (whose filling was delicious but whose crust we shall never speak of again, except to exclaim that, when given flour, butter, lard, salt, sugar, water, and vodka, I can make a kick-ass crust, but when I try to actually use a pre-made crust, utter ruin rules the day) and the decadent grown-up flavors of Jeni’s recipe for roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream. And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t repeat my strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam.

But this morning I finally got to try my hand at baking with the berries. A friend of mine hooked me on scone-baking several months ago, and though I’ve been in remission recently, I decided to succumb to the bug once again. There were plenty of fancy and complicated recipes out there, but I was looking for something that was a marriage of the simple goodness of a basic cream scone with plenty of room for strawberries to shine. Once again, Smitten Kitchen came through and delivered this gem. So if you find yourself in a situation where you might need to swim Scrooge McDuck-style through a glut of strawberries and you would like to vary from the technique that my tot is demonstrating below, may I suggest that you give this marvelous scones a try?

Leah and her strawberry

Click for the recipe →

Aug 042013

Desert lime lentil soup

As someone who likes to be able to cook on a moment’s notice, I believe in having a stocked pantry. This is great in principle until I get stricken with “OOH shiny!” syndrome at the grocery store. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it: you’re browsing the aisles and then you come across some item or ingredient that sounds unusual but delicious and even though you don’t have something immediate in mind that you’d like to do with it, you bring it home with you. Repeat this over the course of a couple of months and before you know it your pantry bears a disturbing resemblance to a curio cabinet.

I recently found myself in such a pickle, seeing as how I live near some pretty cool grocery stores and I also have less time to experiment in the kitchen than I used to. Before I knew it, I found myself elbow-deep in the pantry, pulling out ingredients, determined to re-organize that sucker. (Yeah, it’s still a work in progress. The kitchen and the baby have yet to figure out a custody schedule for me.)

One of the most disastrous shelves in my pantry is the chocolate & tea area. The chocolate is in a border skirmish with the tea, as both have spilled out of neat little piles and are encroaching on the other’s territory. There’s a huge mix of chocolate that I bought before Leah was diagnosed with her allergies and I thus can’t eat anymore and chocolate that is really more vegetable than candy, since it’s like 90% cacao. It’s also almost the only chocolate I can find without soy lecithin in it. So it was pretty easy to re-organize that stuff into a His & Her piles, ta-da, done. Time to start negotiations with the other side!

The tea side is a bit trickier because tea comes in big boxes and the size of the box doesn’t decrease as you use the bags within. I consolidated a few boxes, threw out some tea that was by all rights fossilized, and then started making massive quantities of cold-brewed tea to kill off some of the dwindling boxes. Then, deep within the recesses of the little food-closet, I found this box of lime tea that I had bought way back when I lived in Tucson. It wasn’t really my favorite tea to drink, which is why it was still hanging around all this time, so I really didn’t fancy drinking it. I opened the box to count the remaining bags so I could rationalize throwing it away or something, but then I found a recipe — for soup of all things — on the inside flap.

And see, this is where having a stocked pantry comes in handy. The soup called exclusively for pantry staples (hooray!) so I decided to give it a shot. If it sucked, then it wouldn’t be a huge loss, because lo, rice and lentils, they are cheap. I made several modifications, opting to go pilaf-style to maximize flavor out of the relatively meager ingredients, but I have to admit, I was expecting disaster. Much to my surprise though, this was actually pretty tasty! Rice and lentils aren’t exactly the most exciting combination in the world, but the lime goes a long way towards brightening up the tried-and-true pairing. Now I find myself kind of sad that I don’t have enough tea-bags left to make another batch of this stuff, so will I find myself buying another box of it? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose (cleaning out the pantry) of making this in the first place? Has that ever stopped me before? Nah, didn’t think so.

Desert lime lentil soup

Click for the recipe →

Jul 072013
Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

Strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam

A glut of fresh fruit is one of the best things about summer, wouldn’t you agree? Last week I found myself in a situation where I came back from the farmers’ market with strawberries so ripe that you could smell them from five yards away (how can anyone resist such a siren’s song?) only to discover that I still had some left-over from the previous week’s excursion. So I had a lot of strawberries — certainly great for just eating out of hand — but I decided that I wanted to try something I had never done before and make some jam.

Not having, well, any canning equipment except some stray mis-matched Mason jars, I decided to go the easy route for my first foray and settled on freezer jam. I took some inspiration from a jar of freezer jam a friend gave me when I lived in Alaska, from the Freezerves at Snow City Cafe that were so sublime, I’d always order extra toast (and then would get all sneaky stealing jars of the stuff from other tables if they had the flavor I was coveting), and from opening the pantry and seeing the container of bourbon-barrel smoked sugar sitting just so atop the regular sugar canister when gathering supplies for jam-making.

And let me tell you, having enjoyed the fruits of this labor so much, that I’m hoping that the whole “really good fruit + booze = om nom sauce” equation holds true for other tasties and spirits too. I couldn’t help myself and already proved that cherry-brandy is a delicious combination, but how about others? Nectarines + white wine? Blackberries + rum? Raspberries + kahlua? The possibilities are endless and it’s so easy to whip up a batch of this stuff that I really have no excuse not to!

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

Cherry-brandy freezer jam

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Jun 232013

Cherry pie!

Living in western Washington state (as I did in my late teens), there are certain things that one begins to take for granted. Yes, the weather will be oppressive for fully three-quarters of the year. Yes, you’re living under the ever-present threat of volcano eruptions. Yes, the coffee is ubiquitous and awesome. Ditto the beer. (They’re called coping mechanisms.) Yes, the seafood department will be larger and better-stocked than the meat department. (This is awesome.) But by far, one of the best things that you start to take for granted around there is the summer fruit.

I have memories of midnight runs, galloping past strawberry fields that I couldn’t see, but could smell. I have memories of picking up flats upon flats of freshly-picked berries from local farms on my way home from swim practice. And yes, I have memories of the splat-pattern they made on the dash and windshield when I had to slam on the brakes. But perhaps most of all, I remember the pies: oh, the pies. Blueberry & raspberry, strawberry, and of course, my favorite: bing cherry.

Super-dark and delicious bing cherries

It’s something I wait for all year. Around May, the too-red bings start showing up in the grocery stores. Mister Om-Nom Sauce — whose absolute favorite fruit is the cherry — starts badgering me then to buy them. But he doesn’t understand (or, more likely, care). He’s never lived in the Pacific northwest and he doesn’t know that the proper color of a bing cherry is black. These will eventually trickle in to the produce departments, but not until June (or even July), and which point I pounce. I buy pounds and pounds of them, eating them until my fingers are stained black, fighting off Mister Om-Nom Sauce so that I too can get my fill. And I also have to zealously guard the extra cherries I buy for the fresh cherry pie I will make. Look, people, I only make two (sweet) pies a year (pumpkin for Thanksgiving is the other), so this is like the main event of summer in my kitchen.

But now we live in Ohio, far far away from the Pacific northwest — farther, in fact, than I’ve lived since, well, before I moved there at 15 — and I’m starting to fret, for it is three-quarters of the way through June and there are no cherries in the grocery stores. I had initially been wondering what the heck I was going to do about the crust since butter is currently grasa non grata for me and an all-lard crust is so delicate that a lattice would be impossible (I’ve since solved this problem; see the variations section at the end of the recipe for details if you need ’em). But now I find myself with an even worse conundrum of no cherries!

(Sour) cherry pie!

I have found a modicum of solace at the local farmers’ market though: a local vendor was selling sour pie-cherries, so I promptly bought up a pie’s worth. It’s not quite the same as a bing pie, but it’ll do until the good stuff makes its way to Ohio.

I will post this nonetheless though, because surely there are those out there with a happy surfeit of bings who are looking for a recipe. I offer up photos from pies past which are doing nothing to slake my desire of this pastry and am only now beginning to understand that last summer, when I made two pies simultaneously (which required being on my feet for hours, making crusts and pitting fruit) despite being seven months pregnant, that it was a really good idea to make all those pies because the extra tastes I enjoyed then are likely to have to last me through a sadly cherry-less (and thus cheer-less) summer.

(Sour) cherry pie!

Cherry pie (albeit with sour cherries). No one has ever given me a prize for clean pie-slice extraction. True story.

Click for the recipe →

May 262013

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with maple syrup

It’s been an interesting week here in Casa de Om-nom Sauce. I had finally gotten the hang of this whole dairy-free thing and we had seen real improvement in The Babe’s symptoms. Things still seemed off though, so I decided, for kicks, to eliminate soy too to see if that helped, since a decent chunk of babies who are allergic to dairy also have issues with the omnipresent legume (and the only advice my kid’s doctor gave me was to wean and try a formula that is like $100 a can). It turns out that while eliminating dairy was not too tricky, soy is a different beast. Soy, it turns out, is in everything (thanks a lot, poorly-targeted far-subsidies). While this is not a big deal at all at home because we make everything from scratch and thus bypass soy additives, dining out is a different matter. I could eat out at restaurants I trust with dairy-elimination, but eating out with soy? Ridiculous and bordering on impossible, unless you have a really good server who is willing to interrogate the kitchen staff. Luckily, I have a fabulous relationship with the people at Olive, an Urban Dive, and I trust them and they’re willing to work with me (to the point that yesterday they joked about making up a special menu just for me) so The Hubs and I can still enjoy our weekly brunch date. But I digress.

So one of the huge bummers of populating elimination-diet-land is that breakfast options are severely limited. I started really missing pancakes, waffles, and crepes, but knew myself well enough to know that if I just tried to make simple substitutions, the recipes wouldn’t work as well and I would feel deprived. (See: vegan cheese. Yes, I miss cheese horribly but I don’t eat the fake stuff because I would be very disappointed in it and would feel even more deprived.) There was only one thing for it: I was going to have to make something up.

Banana-pecan oat pancakes

Going into my kitchen experiments, I knew that without buttermilk, that ethereally light texture would elude me. So I decided to forget everything about traditional pancake recipes and employed a few tricks I’ve used before. A friend of mine who eschewed gluten made pancakes using homemade oat-flour. Intriguing: let’s give that a try. I remembered that I had once made pancakes with mashed-up bananas and loved the result, so I put that into the bag of tricks. I knew I’d be using almond-milk instead of dairy, and in my experience it doesn’t “sour” well when you add lemon juice, so I decided to skip an acidic ingredient and use baking powder instead of baking soda. And I love toasted pecans, so I decided for kicks to add them to the oat-flour. Before I knew it, I was Frankensteining together my first batch, expecting a learning experience (code for disaster), but I ended up with something not only edible, but eminently delicious! Yes, I have tweaked the original formula that I basically made up on that first Saturday morning, but this is very, very similar to my beginning experiment. The results are not only something that I love to eat, but are food that people who can eat normal dairy-laden pancakes also enjoy — and I hope you do too!

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with almond butter

Click for the recipe →

Jan 132013

Overnight apple-cran steel-cut oats

Let’s face it: very few of us have tons of time in the morning to cook breakfast. Sure, many of us would love to have a hot breakfast in the morning, but the reality is that when push comes to shove, what we actually would prefer to do is to slap the snooze button a few more times.

Until recently, breakfast was a huge priority. I would always cook something, usually involving left-over veggies scrambled into an egg with some home-made toast and beans. I would still love to be doing that because it’s an incredibly delicious, healthy, and filling breakfast, but with a baby in the house now it’s just not realistic. However, I’m not willing to turn to cereal because I just don’t like it and it’s not remotely filling.

To my happy surprise, I discovered that steel-cut oats and slow-cookers are totally BFFs. This is happy because I can make a week’s worth of healthy and flavorful breakfast for a total time investment of about five minutes, which is how long it takes me to measure everything out, chop up the apples, stir, and turn on the slow-cooker. I haven’t historically been a fan of this appliance, but something like this could totally change my mind.

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Dec 022012

Banana chocolate-chip bread

As I have said here before, there is something eminently comforting about a loaf of quick-bread. When one finds oneself in the throes of a Banana Corollary situation and is simultaneously in need of some comfort food, banana bread is an obvious choice. I previously only jonesed for a good loaf of quick-bread when battling a cold or some other malady, but in the final weeks of my pregnancy I could. not. get. enough of the stuff, which perhaps explains why Leah was a little yellow when she made her grand appearance.

There are two things that banana bread should be and a third thing that is awfully nice, but by no means required. They are, respectively: excessively banana-y, super-moist, and chocolatey. You’d be surprised how many recipes fall short in the required categories. So, at thirty-eight weeks along and sporting more than a few water-polo-balls’ worth of bulk in the front of my abdomen, you can imagine that I didn’t want to waste time on sub-par banana bread recipes. Another recipe I’ve tried (from Cook’s Illustrated) delivered on the banana front but was excessively fussy (don’t tell a woman who’s full to the brim with child that she has to microwave bananas and then reduce the juice on the stove-top: I can assure you that the last thing she wants to do is be on her feet longer than she has to. She just wants to eat banana bread) and it was frankly not as good as this recipe that I’m going to share with you.

So the next time you find yourself in need of a quick-bread fix, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try. I think you’ll find — like we do — that it never lasts long!

Note: February 23rd is National Banana Bread Day in the US! Mark your calendars and use up those brown bananas!

Also note: dairy-free variation at the end of the recipe!

Banana chocolate-chip bread

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Nov 282009

Ok, seriously – does anyone actually cook the day after Thanksgiving??? Who isn’t sick of the inside of their kitchen by then? And aren’t the contents of your refrigerator quick to take away any reason for one to turn on the stove (except to reheat leftovers, of course)?
Well, I’ll admit it: I wasn’t as kitchen-adverse this Friday as I have been in the past.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to actually cook anything for lunch. The last thing I wanted was a plain turkey sandwich – I was craving something healthy (no surprise there, given the gluttony that took place the day before) and even though my Thanksgiving table is laden with far more veg than most (without having to resort to green bean casserole! Boo-yah!), I didn’t want to just nosh on leftovers. I’m all about re-inventing last night’s food whenever I get a chance, and when I spied the unused greens in my fridge that didn’t quite get turned into a salad with poached pears, candied nuts, gorgonzola, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, I had my inspiration.

I scooped the spinach into a bowl, tore off chunks of turkey breast, added some leftover roasted butternut squash, topped it off with some juicy pomegranate seeds and toasted pecans, and finished it with a drizzle of shallot-cacao nib vinaigrette that had graced the roasted squash the night before.

Chances are you don’t have those exact ingredients on hand the day after Thanksgiving unless you stole my menu, but no worry, there are plenty of ways to make your own. Try using homemade cranberry sauce instead of pomegranate seeds or perhaps some roasted Brussels sprouts or cauliflower instead of the squash. The point is that you’re only limited by your imagination. Unless you’re like me and you’ve already transformed your turkey leftovers into a steaming pot of delicious soup, chances are you still have plenty of food on hand with which to make your own creation. So go nuts and go fix yourself a salad while you’re waiting for me to get to the really good stuff: the Thanksgiving menu, plenty of food porn, and bread that flowed continually from the oven!

Who would eat a turkey sandwich when this beautiful and delicious gem was an option?
Nikon D50
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