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

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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

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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

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May 182014
 

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh: in which I give my first-trimester nausea the finger and talk about delicious, delicious food (that I can’t eat right now).

Summer will be here soon, and with it, tomatoes! Oh tomatoes, one of my favorite summer foods: so flavorful, and such a short season. It makes me a little misty. I bought my Black Krim plants last week, so to summer I say bring it. I will so be over all this nausea by the time your fruit is ripe.

A tomato for tabbouleh

Black Krims are my tomato of choice for just about everything, especially things like gazpacho, caponata, and tomato and bread soup. Their intense, pure tomato flavor is unrivaled by any other variety I’ve sampled. It only seemed logical to try them out in tabbouleh, where it often seems that the veg are not so much the centerpiece as an afterthought. I adore this recipe because it turns most tabboulehs that I’ve tried on their heads by amplifying flavor and texture. Once you’ve had it this way, you just can’t go back.

So I know that this is getting posted a bit early, at a time when the only tomatoes you see in the farmers’ markets is in whole-plant form, but tuck this gem away and dream of summer days when the produce will be ripe and a cool veg-and-bulgur salad will be the best idea imaginable.

Tabbouleh

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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!

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Jul 142013
 

Alio e olio

Excuse me while I state the obvious: I’m a food snob. Even worse, sometimes I’m that judgy food snob that no one likes to cook with because she can’t shut the hell up about how she would do it. I really, really try to shut that bitch up whenever I can because she is rude and ungrateful.

There is one occasion that stands out in my mind as a time that I’m really happy that I was able to do just that. I had moved to Tucson not that long before and a new friend had invited me over for dinner for the first time. She had spent the summer in Europe and eaten all sorts of fabulous food so she decided to make aglio e olio for me. Having never had this dish before, my sniveling jerk-face inner monologue was just horrified — horrified — that she wasn’t using fresh basil but I didn’t know Kyla very well at the time so I decided to hold off on saying something that could flush this nascent friendship down the toilet.

Prepping for aglio e olio

And it’s a good thing I did too, because the meal she made? Delicious! It needed none of the things that I probably would have added (and actually, anything I would have added would have detracted from the simplicity, which is the key to its deliciousness). Not only was the food good for my taste-buds, it was also good for my too-big ego, which sometimes needs to be brought down a notch with some humble pie. Or, in this case, some aglio e olio.

I’ve happily been eating this dish ever since, but it wasn’t until I started writing up this article and decided to see what the internet had to say about aglio e olio that I made the startling discovery that most people don’t use tomatoes in it! I had always thought it must include it, despite not being named, say, aglio, olio, e pomodori. Well, to all of Itay, I say that Kyla had it figured out. That’s right: Kyla, 1; Italy, 0.

Alio e olio

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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 302013
 

Spring duck risotto

It was spring, and finally the stars were aligning: asparagus was coming into season, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice was coming to visit, and I had a freezer stuffed full of duck and ducky accoutrements.

I was going to make good on my threat to make a duck risotto!

But first, a little back-story: Heather and I both seem to share a certain fascination with risotto. I think it’s a fantastic blank canvas on which you can splash any number of food flavors and in the end get this warm, gooey (in a good way) starchy comfort food that accentuates your favorite flavors. And Heather? She adores the creamy deliciousness with everything in a single bite. And as I’ve said before, whenever she and I get together, ridiculously awesome things tend to happen. And when there’s a kitchen involved, hoo boy, look out.

Heather also shares my obsession with duck, and since she had been awesome enough to be one of the two people who gave me the idea for a duck risotto in the first place (when my clueless self was all like “I have duck stock: now what do I do with it???), I decided that she had to be there when I finally made it.

What actually happened was a little different. More accurately, she made the risotto while I tended to a fussy baby. But what matters is that we got to eat it together (and as you can see below, expose The Babe to the world of duck and risotto in one fell swoop)! And thus our foodie bond was further cemented.

(I did finally get the opportunity to make this myself about a month later when Mr Om-Nom Sauce’s birthday rolled around and he got this risotto foisted upon him. But the photos on this post were food that was totally not cooked by me. Heather makes good eats.)

And speaking of good eats: we’re right on the cusp of seeing her and her husband again, which means OMG DUCK, we are so excited! What ridiculousness will we make this time around? Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it here. We might even have to do a summer version of this risotto, because once you’ve had it, you completely understand the phrase OM NOM DUCK!

Babies love risotto too!

The Babe makes a grab for the risotto. Photo provided by Mrs. Cheesburger in Glacial Ice

Click for the recipe →

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 →

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