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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Feb 172013

Mimi's waffles

If there’s one thing that every kid needs, it’s a partner in crime. Growing up, I felt as though my Dad’s step-mother was that person. We always delighted in each other’s company and getting to spend time with her was simultaneously a treat and an adventure because she totally cashed in on Grandmother’s Privilege and spoiled us rotten.

There was a comforting ritual that came with visiting her house overnight: I (and sometimes my brother too, but sometimes not) would get dropped off. I’d go visit the stuffed buzzard in my grandfather’s study, then I’d go play Candy Land with Mimi, and before bed she would conspiratorially make me a bowl of bananas and whipped cream. When I’d awake in the morning, the crown jewel of my visit would be waiting for me: golden, crisp, delicious, I-never-got-these-at-home waffles. With real butter, no less — something I only ever saw at her house, since I grew up in the 80’s when everyone (excepting Mimi, of course) thought that margarine was better for you.

Along with the food, of course, there are other memories: the way Mimi and I would talk over those contraband goodies she’d make for me every visit, the way we were always so excited to see each other, the way she would giggle when something I would say just plainly tickled her pink. The way she could listen to you like you were the only person on the planet that mattered. I don’t remember a ton of specific conversations, but like my maternal grandmother, I remember the way she made me feel, which as my cousin Lindsay pointed out, is the best legacy you can leave behind. She was a great partner in crime for a kid to have growing up.

And so, when she died last November, I was very sad to realize that my own daughter wouldn’t get to know her as I remembered her. So I clung to what I could: I claimed that tattered old box of Candy Land, the novel we all considered integral to her personality, and this recipe, which I got from her on a phone call twenty years ago and which I’ve been making ever since, and I’ll hold fast to the hope that these things can help culture the same things for Leah as they did for me: a sense of warmth, safety, love, and compatriotism that will last her a lifetime.

Mimi's waffles

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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 are 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

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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!

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Sep 112012

Salmon with Spanish green sauce

If you asked me to rank my favorite fish, salmon would definitely sit near the top of the list. Specifically, it would be Alaskan sockeye salmon. I ate the stuff constantly when I lived in Alaska, and I would usually stick with a pretty simple preparation.

I may have mentioned before how The Hubs and I tend to get stuck in tasty-ruts. It’s not so terrible, because it’s tasty, but still, it’s a rut. The way I typically prepare salmon is a prime example of such a rut. It’s good to branch out and live a little. (To give you an idea of how quickly we get into such a rut: within three weeks of moving to Dayton, we had firmly established a rut at Olive: an urban dive. We are nothing if not efficient!)

Well, one night The Hubs, knowing that he was about to be subject to the garlic-rosemary-and-pepper treatment yet again, decided that he had had enough and found this gem of a recipe. Lucky for us that he did: this completely different treatment of the fish is light, refreshing, colorful, and most importantly, delicious!

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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
Oct 022009

Everyone needs a recipe that can answer a host of dietary and culinary questions single-handedly. These questions might be along the lines of “How am I going to use this vat of spinach before it goes bad?” or “How can I make canned beans interesting?” or “What can I make that is attractive, delicious, very nutritious, and quick?”

Cannellinis star alongside tomatoes and wilted spinach
Nikon D50

For me, this recipe answers all those questions, plus a few more nagging ones about lean proteins and just how, exactly, one can get all the benefits of spinach without smothering it in salad dressing. It also answers the call when it hears the stomach thinking “Oh my god I am so hungry but I don’t wanna cook anything involved and I don’t want any meat today” but the tastebuds are all like “Dude, don’t forget about us!”

This recipe seriously comes together in a matter of minutes, tastes and feels like genuine comfort food, but packs in a lot of nutrition when you’re looking the other way. Serve it alongside some whole-grain pasta tossed with a fruity olive oil and couple of tomatoes you didn’t use in this dish, some brown rice, or a whole-grain bread, and you’ve got a complete lean protein and a satisfying well-balanced meal.

Cannellinis star alongside tomatoes and wilted spinach
Nikon D50

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Jan 302008

There are some days at work that are just way too hectic for me to break away for a bit, drive home, and prepare a delicious meal.

Luckily, I have this recipe, and I can make a delicious, healthy meal at work.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one who’s occasionally too busy to get the much needed lunch respite, so in honor of all of us eat-at-our-deskers, I present this, a throughly modern, healthy, and delicious version of the typical American baked potato.

Rosemary and cumin: the major flavor players
Nikon D50

If you’re like me, that previously mentioned russet potato (a starchy root whose super-nutritious skins are largely discarded), piled high with butter (artery clogger #1), cheese (A.C. #2), sour cream (A.C. #3), bacon (A.C. #4) and chives (woah, an innocuous one managed to get in there) is pretty unappealing. Try this take instead: a yam (not candied, but left in its pure fiber- and vitamin-rich form), piled with tangy plain yogurt (pretty healthy, especially when compared to sour cream), cumin (a wonderful spice), and rosemary (another fantastic flavor). See, the beauty of this lunch is that not only is it as easy and quick to prepare as the four-fold artery clogger, it’s much more flavorful because you use herbs and spices and not lots of animal fat on a root veggie that already has plenty of flavor on its own. (Quick note: yes, that is a jar of ground cumin – I buy most of my spices whole but I go through cumin so fast that I don’t take issue with buying it ground. I do keep whole cumin on hand, but for a quick, easy recipe like this it’s just easier to take the shortcut.)

And I must admit it: I’m a sucker for the yogurt, cumin, and rosemary blend. I first ran across it in middle eastern lamb spread I make around Easter and for some reason it just works with the yam. And really, with fresh, flavorful ingredients like this, what’s not to love? Unless, of course, you count the glares of envy that your Lean Cuisine-reheating office-mates will be shooting you when they smell the lunch you’re walking around with.

Healthy, delicious, and ready to eat in minutes
Nikon D50

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Nov 032007

Many years ago I was very, very anti-fish. I eschewed that which went forward on no legs — just fins — preferring my critters to cluck or moo.

As I got older I started to get skeptical about my anti-fish rule. There were some species that were tasty, and swordfish is really the first actual fish that was prepared like a fish (i.e. not in stick form) that I would readily ate. A couple of years later we moved to Washington state and my parents fell in love with all the salmon there. I refused to eat the stuff, hating everything about it. At some point when we lived there I started to come around — really, it’s tough to resist fresh wild salmon, especially when it’s prepared well like my parents do.

Before too long I was eating the stuff enthusiastically and my salmon-hating days were all but forgotten (in fact, I hadn’t remembered that I used to hate salmon for a good eight years or so until I sat down to write this entry). But there was trouble in paradise — I started going to college in Texas, the land of beef, where if a fish and a cow met they would probably annihilate each other just like matter and antimatter. So for many moons I was salmonless, refusing to eat that Atlantic and farmed pale facsimile of salmon.

Salmon salad
Nikon D50

After college I moved to Alaska though — and soon re-discovered my favorite fishy friend. It’s so abundant and readily available out here — even in the winter — that I soon started to look for different ways to prepare it. Don’t get me wrong, sprinkled with rosemary and garlic and grilled is awesome, but there’s more than one way to cook a fish. I needed something that would fit into my diet more easily (i.e. not just dinner) because I certainly wasn’t eating enough of the stuff.

A couple of weeks ago I ran across an article on NPR’s Kitchen Window that featured canned wild Alaska salmon. I was immediately intrigued and mentally filed it away. A couple of days ago I ran across a couple of cans of the stuff in the grocery store and the recipes could sense that their time had come.

So today when I was feeling pretty peckish for lunch, I mixed up the salad, pulled out some greens, and sliced into a fresh loaf of my favorite sandwich bread. First impressions? This salmon salad is superb — it almost reminds me of a super-gourmet tuna salad, but with much better flavor and no mayo (and hence a heck of a lot less fat). To me, this is the perfect way to re-create a bad recipe: add a couple of very flavorful, very healthy ingredients (dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, dill, and cranberries) and omit the unhealthy and untasty bad stuff (mayo, yellow mustard, egg yolks, and pickles) and replace one fish (tuna) with another that has less mercury and more omega-3s. You’re left with something much better tasting and much better for you. If that’s not a winner I don’t know what is.

The salmon salad sandwich, ready to be devoured
Nikon D50

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Oct 202007

Like so many other things worth eating, once you’ve had homemade salad dressing you can’t go back.

I learned this lesson when I made my first batch of balsamic vinaigarette. When you buy this stuff off the shelf, it’s overly sweet, oily, bland, and one-dimensional tasting. But when you make it yourself, it’s wonderfully assertive, bold but not overpowering, subtle, and complex.

Plus, it’s super-easy to make.

Are you sold yet? Seeing the stuff in action ought to do the trick….

A simple salad of red leaf lettuce and roasted butternut squash seeds dressed with basalmic vinaigrette
Nikon D50

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