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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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!

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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

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Sep 062009
 

As I mentioned in the previous entry, since moving to Tucson, Cory and I have really gotten into grilling our dinners. I’m enamored of the ease of it all – after so long of being confined to a kitchen in a cold climate, making fairly elaborate meals, it’s a relief to so some basic prep work and then hand off the food to Cory to cook it. The wonderful part is that we’re not sacrificing any flavor or quality with the method.

Fresh mango salsa for the tacos
Nikon D50

Fish is our protein of choice as often as we can get it – not as easy as it sounds in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Cory and I started enumerating our favorite fish tonight over dinner, and it turns out that Cory’s favorite happen to be one his plate. We got especially hooked on it when we were in Hawaii a year and a half ago because, really, does it get any better than when it’s fresh off the boat, raw, and prepared in a poke? If you can’t get it that way, it’s best prepared simply, with as little cooking as possible.

Orange bell peppers and broccoli cook on the grill
Nikon D50

With that in mind, we set out to create something yummy that would complement not only the flavor of the fish itself but also the memories of our time on the Island. What we whipped together tastes fresh and light, with just the right texture between the rare ahi and crispy slaw and the sweet and tart flavors brought in by the salsa and lime. The avocado ties it all together and just makes everything better, just like it always does. Enjoy the tacos with the grilled veggies and a chilled dry white wine to tie together a healthy and satisfying summer meal!

Fresh ahi wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla, topped, with salsa, served with grilled vegetables and white wine
Nikon D50

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Aug 302009
 

In an effort to get back into the swing of this blogging thing, I’m going to make a post today devoid of any real substance (i.e. recipes) because I have no new substance to report. Rather, this I’ll be posting gratuitous shots of some of the food I cooked today, all of which has been seen here before.

First up are the beloved pumpkin spice cookies. Last week whilst in the grocery store I was literally flabbergasted to find Halloween candy for sale. My brain was seriously thinking it was still July or something and was wondering why they were hawking old candy. I was happier when I realized that the appearance of the sickly sweet stuff on the shelves means one thing: it’s time to start baking these jewels again. I particularly enjoy the third photo when blown up to take over the entire screen and viewed with the benefit of a few feet of distance. It almost made Cory start drooling in his tracks.

Pumpkin spice cookies: cooling their heels
Nikon D50
Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
Nikon D50
Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
Nikon D50

Cory and I have been loving the grill recently. It doesn’t get much more simple than slicing up some veggies, crumbling some dried Greek oregano over them, and throwing them over the fire to blacken and soak up that flavor. We usually also grill fish, especially right now while the Alaskan seafood is so good (but admittedly not quite as fresh as I’m used to). Tonight we feasted on King salmon — a true indulgence — prepared in the usual manner, also pictured here and here — along with grilled zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and julienned onion (alas, the light was gone by the time it was prepared, so no photos tonight) and – another special treat – caprese salad.

[Hold on, I think I hear a riot forming in the back. What’s that, you say? I’ve never actually posted a recipe for caprese salad? Ah, that’s right, I’ve just posted a photo. Don’t fret. It couldn’t get any easier. It’s a pity because it’s certainly a favorite but I don’t know that it justifies its own entry. Anyway, here goes: take a large very ripe (preferably local because it’s really hard to find truly ripe tomatoes that aren’t local) tomato, heirloom if you can get it. Take a half-pound of fresh mozzarella cheese. Slice both into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange on a plate. You can put the tomatoes flat and place mozzarella on top of them or you can place them vertically – it’s up to you and how fancy-pants you’re feeling. Made a chiffonade out of some basil and sprinkle it over the arrangement. Finish with a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh cracked pepper. Skip the balsamic — good caprese is only hurt by it. Proceed to dazzle your tastebuds with one of the most simple and delicious foods out there. If you’re into, y’know, kicking it up a notch (oh god, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth), use buffalo mozzarella – mozzarella di bufala. It’s spendy but the flavor and texture are beyond compare. In further kicking-it-up action, spring for an heirloom tomato. My favorites are the Black Krims. Oh, and do yourself a favor – save those seeds and plant them next year! Another variation – great for parties – select some good cherry or grape tomatoes and find mozzarella sold in similar-sized balls. Get a bunch of basil. Take a wooden or bamboo skewer and put a tomato, a basil leaf, and a mozzarella ball onto it. Repeat until your ingredients are exhausted. Arrange on a tray and drizzle with olive oil and pepper.]

Whew. That was quite an aside for an entry that’s supposed to be all pretty pictures. But I digress.

But this was no mere caprese salad! This was, indeed, the fancy-pants variation described above! Marvel Stripe heirloom tomatoes! Buffalo mozz! Basil from the garden! And the clouds parted and Lo, the angels did sing, and it was good. And then it was in my tummy.

Black Russian heirloom tomatoes.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with Russian Black heirloom tomatoes in the background.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with mozzarella di bufala and basil from the garden.  YUM.
Nikon D50
May 142008
 

I love orzo. It’s such a hybrid – it looks like it wants to be rice, but it’s got the taste and texture of pasta, and because of its small shape it’s perfect in side dishes and salads. This dish that I’m about to share with you is my favorite orzo dish. There’s really nothing not to love about it – it has lots of highly flavored elements that manage to not compete with each other, a couple of highly nutritious veggies, and a wonderfully textured sauce that tastes rich and creamy without actually being either of those things.

Fresh cherry tomatoes star in this dish
Nikon D50

This recipe also has the bonus factor of minimal stove use, which is key in the summer. You use a stove but it’s much more about mixing things together at the end than it is about simmering for hours. I love taking this dish to dinner parties because people tend to expect a typical pasta salad dish – made with mayonnaise and flat-tasting – until they actually try it and realize how much complex and fresh tasting it is than what they were expecting. So give it a try and let it change your ideas of a pasta salad.

Perfect on a summer day!
Nikon D50

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Jul 062007
 

Green beans with red pepper and garlic

Around this time of year I’m always looking for delicious, light food that really takes advantage of the season’s freshest produce. If it happens to pair with the fresh bounty from the sea that Alaska has to offer, all the better.

Right after I got back from my honeymoon I realized that halibut was in season and that was, of course, a perfect reason to have people over. Halibut needs little accompaniment on its flesh — but that’s another post. The tough question was what to serve beside it. Really, just about anything could go next to, but I needed something bright in color, texture, and flavor. Then I remembered green beans with red pepper, lightly sauteed and adorned with garlic.

Green beans with red pepper and garlic

It was perfect — this light, flavorful, and wonderfully textured vegetable side dish just screams “SUMMER!” to me.

This is also a great dish to serve while entertaining. It comes together in mere minutes and is visually pleasing, thanks to the red and green. I’ve also found a couple of key substitutions that help adapt this recipe to different palates — if you want something with a bit of spice to complement the garlic, use the red pepper flakes. If you want to add a different kind of crunch that brings some white to the presentation, use sliced almonds instead. You could also substitute other vegetables in, or just add them. It’s a great, versatile, healthy dish that often finds its way to my table.

Green beans with red pepper and garlic

Click for the recipe →

Jul 032007
 

Grilled Copper River Sockeye Salmon

I hate to tell you this, but if you live anywhere that is not Alaska or Washington and you think you’ve been eating salmon, you’ve been lied to. That pale, flavorless fish dubbed “Atlantic salmon” that is farmed and sold all over the country is a very poor facsimile of the real thing.

This time of year in Alaska, salmon doesn’t get any real-er. The reds are running and the prized Copper River salmon is in season. This wild fish is deep red in color when raw — it’s as deep in hue as a tuna steak but much, much brighter. Think Crayola red, and you’re just about right. It has superb flavor unrivaled by its commericalized cousin. It’s just asking to be grilled simply adorned and devoured.

It only comes around once a year — get it while it’s here!

Grilled Copper River Sockeye Salmon

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