Sunday, August 29, 2010

Recipe: Nicoise-style Potato Salad

You hear it everywhere: Fresh. Local. Sustainable.

These three words are said so often together that it's almost a cliche. I mean, who wants to eat something described as rotten, shipped 5,000 miles and planet-killing? However, for this recipe "fresh. local. sustainable" actually is rather fitting.

Now, I've seen enough Masterchef to know that you don't call an interpretation of a classic dish by it's name, especially if you leave out ingredients. Hence the name: Nicoise-style Potato Salad. I don't like hardboiled eggs and we were out of capers and anchovies. Oh, and I replaced the tuna with a more sustainable Maine-caught smoked mackerel (which you should really try if you haven't already, by the way.). Because lettuce is not in season right now, that went too. And, finally, I mixed it all together instead of making it a composed salad. Whoops.

This isn't really a recipe as you can ultimately add or subtract whatever you have on hand or like/dislike, put more or less dressing, etc.

Ingredients (Serves 4 hungry adults for dinner)

5-7 new potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2-3/4 lb green beans
handful of olives (I used nicoise & kalamata)
1/2 lb black-eyed or other field peas (untraditional optional), cooked
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 c chopped mixed herbs (I did a 50/50 mix of french thyme and greek mountain oregano from my garden, but chives or parsley would also be nice)

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 c red wine vinegar (I think a 50/50 split of oil & vinegar is nice here to brighten up the potatoes)
1/4 c good quality olive oil (Like, nicer than the stuff you cook with. It's important here)
1/2-1 red onion, sliced thin
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

1. Toss all the ingredients together for the vinaigrette. Let sit for as long as possible, ideally at least 1 hour until the onions are softened.

2. Place cut potatoes in a large saucepan. Cover with water and add salt. Bring to a boil & cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife (mine took about 5 minutes).

3. Add green beans to the pot and cook until tender-crisp (mine took about 2-3 minutes)

4. Drain potatoes and beans. Quickly add tomatoes, herbs and peas and then toss with vinaigrette. Serve with smoked mackerel and crusty bread, if desired.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What I Hope To Teach My Son

Sometimes I hold the little fella we call Sprout (that's not his real name, by the way. I'm not Gwyneth Paltrow!) looking out the window that faces our garden. Occasionally, it seems like he's actually seeing the orange tomatoes ripening and the kung pao peppers turning red. Other times, he's clearly not as he's cross-eyed, staring at the ground or, my favorite, looking up at me very seriously with his big brown eyes.

As he discovers that his hands contain fingers and that these taste pretty good, I start to think about what I'll teach him. There is of course the thought of teaching him to say "Please" and "Thank you" and to not chew with his mouth open. Oh, and using the toilet instead of diapers to do his business; that will be a big one. But beyond the things that essentially will make him a functioning member of society, I find myself more excited to teach him where food comes from and, hopefully, developing a sense of food culture with him.

I am increasingly finding this more & more important as it becomes apparent that both our environment and our waistlines depend on how and what kinds of food we eat. Conventional agriculture pollutes our groundwater (via run-off), air (via dependency on oil) and soil (via chemical fertilizers). Think that crops can only be good for you? Corn & soybeans, a large percentage of crops, are primarily destined to become junk food that we'll mindlessly stuff into our gullet. Not good.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not a junk food or fast food hater. I love me some mac & cheese out of the blue box (or if I'm feeling spendy, the yellow one) from time to time. The difference, I feel, is that I'm aware I'm not eating "food," I'm mostly eating chemicals that have been combined to look and taste like food. Additionally, I treat these overall as treats and less of apart of my actual diet. And I'm also not a totally in-season, local eater. I have been known to purchase celery in winter for a soup or lettuce in summer for a salad. But I try to keep that to a minimum as in-season, local food does taste better as well as being the more sustainable choice.

Food, for most of us, comes from the grocery store where it is clean and misted with water every 15 minutes to make it look "fresh" (nevermind this encourages rot...). Overall, we don't know how to grow it, we don't know how to cook it and we might even be afraid of eating it despite "it" being what our great-grandparents ate.

I find this very sad as a food lover.

In the US we are less fortunate as we don't have a distinctive food culture. When I visited the Cotswolds in England, as you walked into a pub, you were greeted by a chalk board that listed where all their meat, dairy, vegetables and beer came from. In France, the release of possibly my favorite red wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, is cause for celebration. We don't have anything like that here. Certainly there are regional cuisines (some of which rely on processed food) but even then we have no sense of when tomatoes are in season or whether grapes grow in our state.

While little Sprout may never be a horticulturalist or chef or farmer, he will be an eater. I want him to know where his food comes from. I want him to celebrate the first strawberries and tomatoes. I want him to be able to have an idea what is in season (or, at the very least, have an idea what isn't). And, most importantly, I want him to know how much work growing quality food that respects the environment, the workers and the food itself (in the case of animals) really is....and that it's worth every penny.

Review: Annandale Farmer's Market

I had been alerted that the Annandale farmer's market is a less hectic, more affordable and slightly smaller weekday alternative to the Falls Church farmer's market. Always up for checking out a new place to get produce (and a place easier to bring a baby), I woke up this morning and decided to check this market out.

This isn't a year-round market and it's only open from 8am-noon on Thursdays. Located off Columbia Pike in Annandale, this market also was a small trek for me. A bonus of the Annandale market is that all farmer's markets in Fairfax County require vendors to be the producers of their product and to be within 125 miles of Fairfax County. To my knowledge, the Falls Church market does not make this guarantee, but most of the vendors I frequent there are within that range as well.

It was indeed less of an elbow-to-elbow crowd making it easier for me to bring a baby in a stroller. There was also a good variety of sellers: multiple fruit & veggie purveyors, 2 meat sellers, a spice blend seller, honey seller, and one baker.

Prices, to me, seemed to be a bit on par with Falls Church, at least for what I buy: 3 ears of corn for $2, baskets of cherry tomatoes for $3, heirloom tomatoes for $3.50/lb, etc. There was one seller at Annandale that is also at Falls Church selling their tomatoes for $0.50/lb cheaper, though. Here is what I bought with $15 (plus a pumpkin whoopie pie I ate immediately for breakfast):

Since I kind of went on a whim, I didn't really go with a plan thus making it difficult for me to figure out what to buy. Hence, not spending the $30 I usually allot to farmer's markets. But, the corn and half the onion, along with some Sungolds from our garden, become a side for a roasted chicken tomorrow night. Half the green beans, all the potatoes, half the onion and half of the purple cherry tomatoes (along with some olives) will become a potato salad, Niciose-style. And, finally, the other half of the green beans and purple cherry tomatoes will be added to quinoa and feta to become another side dish for this week.

I did miss the cheese vendors, Potomac Vegetable Farms and some of the bakers at Falls Church.

Verdict: Annandale market is great if it's within an easy distance for you and/or you're wanting a less busy market so that you can really talk to the growers (or not bump into people as you try to get your goods!).

I think I still prefer Falls Church because it's closer to me and I've got my favorite vendors. However, if I'm not able to make the Saturday Falls Church market because of class, I'll definitely be heading to Annandale!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Harvest Update!

Just after I bought 27 lbs of tomatoes 2 weekends ago, I actually had a large harvest from the garden:

11.25 oz tomatoes
9.6 oz hot peppers (these largely became 2 batches of tomato and hot pepper salsa)
3 lb 4.25 oz pickling cucumbers (these became 4 qt of pickles)
2 lb 4.5 oz zucchini (this got shredded & frozen for future zucchini bread)
1.75 oz thai basil (this became kra pow)

This adds almost 7 lbs to my total harvest, bringing it to 19.03 lbs. Not bad for my small, not-completely-planted garden, but not great. It hasn't been a good year from my garden and via eavesdropping at the local nursery and farmer's market, I'm not alone.

My goal (maybe I should call it "my hope") this year was to average $3/lb in produce (harvest divided by this year's start up costs, $115). Thus far I'm at $6.09/lb with tomato plants that aren't looking so good and zucchinis that are almost refusing to set more fruit despite looking perfectly healthy. I don't think I'm going to make it. I suppose the upside is that I've estimated that buying the organic produce from my garden would have cost me about $85, with herbs doing most of the heavy-lifting there.

The year isn't over. I've ruled out doing a fall garden this year (that side of the house doesn't get good light in the fall/winter), save for some arugula, mustard greens and carrot seeds thrown into a pot or two, though, so I guess there is a tiny chance I'll make it.

In a few weeks, when the season is really over, I'll review and post the hits & misses of the season.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Need More Ideas for a Bumper Crop of Tomatoes?

You mean, besides tomato & hot pepper salsa, pasta with raw tomato sauce, gazpacho and Edisto tomato pie?!?!?

Well, there is BLT salad with homemade blue cheese dressing along with traditional BLTs taken up a notch with chipotle aioli. Or maybe you want to preserve them? Try canning or freezing them quartered. Another idea would be to oven roast and freeze those. If you happen to have a bumper crop of green tomatoes, there's always green tomato & apple chutney which is great with roasted or grilled chicken or pork or even aged sharp cheddar on crackers. And, finally, consider using sliced tomatoes instead of sauce on a pizza.

Enjoy the taste of summer, now and in the depths of, can and freeze!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Recipe: Edisto Tomato Pie

This recipe comes to you via my internet friend that lives in RoVA. As you may know, NoVA (Northern Virginia) is not really part of the deep south like the rest of the state (RoVA). As such, you'll find fewer casseroles served up dinner round these parts and you'll certainly find less use of mayo in cooking.

I know what you're thinking: "Warm mayo sounds foul." I once shared your beliefs until I found out some of my favorite casseroles included mayo. I had been eaten warm mayo! And lived to tell the tale!!

Thus, if you find yourself with a ridiculous amount of tomatoes and are willing to be brave, I urge you to give this recipe a shot. I doubled the recipe below, used Pilsbury pre-made pie dough & threw in into a baking dish instead of a pie plate. It would be especially nice served up with fresh field peas or butter beans (cooked with bacon or ham hocks, of course!).

Ingredients (Serves 6)
1 deep dish pie crust, pre-baked for 10 minutes at 375*
5 large tomatoes, cored & thickly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp of your choice: dried basil, dried thyme, dried oregano or mixture of all 3 (I did an equal part mix of all 3)
3/4 c mayo
1.25 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1. Turn down oven to 350*
2. Mix salt, pepper, garlic powder & herbs in a bowl.
3. Arrange one layer of tomatoes in pie shell. Sprinkle over with seasoning mixture. Repeat until all tomatoes are used. (I left the ends of the tomatoes for the top.)
4. Mix mayo & cheese in a bowl. Top pie with mixture.
5. Bake for 35 minutes or until bubbly and brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Looks harmless & delicious, right? That's because warm mayo is neither scary nor gross.

See? Told you! Delicious!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recipe: Gazpacho

The tomato saga continues...

I never liked gazpacho even though I never had it. Cold soup? Blech! Don't need a taste to figure out that would be g-r-o-s-s. Not to mention I went through a finicky stage with tomatoes (no chunks of tomatoes in pasta sauce, but I could eat them on a sandwich or salad no problem) in my youth. As I, and my tastes, matured, gazpacho fell off my radar.

Until my husband & I spent our first anniversary exploring the Andalucia region of Spain. In a fantastic tapas bar in Granada, you got a "free" tapa with each drink order. The "free" tapa the day we went was gazpacho. (Note that I rarely turn down free food, no matter if I'll like it or not.) I took a hesitant was *delicious*! And perfect for the hot weather. What was wrong with me & why hadn't I given this a try earlier???!!?? (Don't answer that.)

This recipe is a Jose Andres incarnation. Except mine doesn't look as pretty as I just topped it with freshly cracked black pepper and fleur de sel. And doesn't have sherry or sherry vinegar. I completely omitted the sherry as I don't drink it & wasn't going to buy a bottle of the good stuff (simple recipes are not the place to use suboptimal ingredients). I substituted red wine vinegar for the sherry vinegar as some of my tapas cookbooks had that in their recipe. Thus, I feel that substitution is legit. Serve this with little garlic toasts.*

Word on the interwebs is that pureed gazpacho like this freezes OK. Not sure this stuff will last that long, but if I give it a try, I'll update this post.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

1/2 English/hothouse cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, diced
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil

1. Throw everything in the blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (Note: that this almost exceeded the capacity of my 9 cup food processor, so you may want to do in batches)
2. If desired (I didn't do this), pour through mesh sieve into serving vessel (pitcher, bowl, etc.)
3. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for flavors to combine.
4. Top with salt & pepper or Jose's fancy, schmancy toppings

*Slice crusty bread & toast both sides. While still warm, take a garlic clove & rub one side of each toast. Season with salt & pepper (this is critical).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Recipe: Pasta with Raw Tomato Sauce

This was the first recipe my husband ever gave me. You see, we met over the interwebs and in one of his emails he raved about what he recently made with a bunch of tomatoes. Except, his directions left me a bit confused & I made it wrong. And it was so gross.

Luckily, he redeemed himself shortly afterwards with a delicious dinner of puttanesca with prosecco-soaked berries topped with cassis for dessert. :::swoon:::

Anyway, back to *this* recipe...

Made properly, this is remarkably good and an excellent choice for a potluck or picnic. And, by "properly" I don't just mean technique; this recipe is so simple that you really need fresh, perfectly ripe tomatoes, tender basil and quality olive oil. The other keys, are to use the proper amount of oil even though it's kind of alarming and to let the mixture marinate as long as possible. You see, the tomato juices and olive oil make kind of a vinaigrette which forms the "sauce." I like using more acidic tomatoes for this, rather than sweeter ones. Additionally, if you aren't a fan of the garlicky bite, then pop a few of your garlic cloves into the pasta pot for the last few minutes of cooking.

Ingredients (Serves a crowd)
3 lbs of tomatoes, chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
1 large bunch of basil, leaves torn
Salt & Pepper

2 lbs of farfalle (or other fun pasta shape)

1. Mix first four ingredients together in a large bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
2. Prepare pasta according to box directions.
3. Combine hot pasta with cool tomato sauce.
4. Devour. Possibly right out of the pan.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Recipe: Hot Tomato & Pepper Sauce/Salsa

In theory, this is supposed to be a salsa. But thanks to me using my bumper crop of kung pao peppers (and only de-seeding half) this turned into quite the spicy condiment. Because I didn't use paste tomatoes it was kind of thin out of the pot to be what most Americans would consider to be a salsa, but it thickened up when I canned it. Either way, it is wicked good. I can't wait to try it on tacos. Or greens. Or tortilla chips. Or anywhere I want a spicy, vinegary kick.

This recipe is from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I *highly* recommend this book for all things canning. There are loads of delicious recipes and good explanations of canning techniques.

Ingredients (Makes 2-3 pints)

3 cups chopped tomatoes
3 cups chopped peppers (I used 1 bell pepper & the rest kung pao, with half of the kung pao seeded & the other half with the seeds intact. Ball's recipe uses seeded jalapenos.)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup cider vinegar
6 cloves garlic, finely minced (from my garden!!)
2 tsp dried oregano
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin

1. In large sauce pan, combine all ingredients. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Reduce heat to gentle boil and cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes or so.
3. If you want to preserve, you may either can this recipe (using sterilized cans & processing pints in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes) or freeze cooled sauce.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Declare This To Be The Week of Tomatoes

Look forward to all-tomato-all-the-time posts this week in honor of the massive box I got at the farmer's market for a fabulous price.

As it turns out, 27 pounds of tomatoes is a lot. Like, way more than I anticipated.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What You Get For Your Money: Summer Farmer's Market Update

I suppose I should title this "Late Summer Farmer's Market Update" but that might just be wishful thinking...

Every summer I have one goal: To get sick of tomatoes. I'm thinking after this week, that just might be happening.

Bargains were to be had this morning at the Falls Church Farmer's market. Check out my haul:
(uh, yes, that was me that took a slice before I took the picture. Whoops!)

All this eco-organic produce (2 heirloom tomatoes, 2 red tomatoes, 2 red bell peppers, and a bunch of eggplant) plus a ginormous onion & tomato foccacia were exactly $20. The eggplants were a great deal at $1/lb. No, they aren't pretty (hence the price, probably), but they will be great for grilling up & freezing. I am kind of kicking myself for not buying more...

Another great deal? This *huge* box of tomatoes:
How much? It was $15 for what my scale says is 27 lbs! Woohoo. I don't think these are organic, though. However, they do save me a trip to the You Pick farm which isn't organic either (not to mention that I probably shouldn't being doing that kind of thing right now). Plus, this was like $0.55/lb and the You Pick place is like $1.50...and I have to do all the work! I'll be canning most and the husband will be making his specialty: Pasta with Raw Tomato Sauce. Yay!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Recipe: BLT Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

What to do when you have an abudnance of tomatoes and just 1 leftover heart of romaine? Well, a BLT sandwich would be my normal answer (assuming you have bacon & bread around...which I always do!), but if most of your tomatoes are in the form of Sungolds, then you've got to rethink things. Thus, the BLT salad was born. I had considered making a ranch dressing for it (for some reason I really think creamy dressing is the way to go here), but I had a hunk of blue cheese leftover from Sprout's meet & greet party.

This salad would have been infinitely more delicious (and seasonal!) with baby mustard greens instead of romaine. I think the peppery bite would cut through the creamy dressing really well.

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing
Inspired by Ina Garten

  • 4 ounces blue cheese, chopped (the stronger the better, IMO. Roquefort would be best. Gorgonzola is a bit mild so add extra if that's all you have on hand)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (Ina uses tarragon, but I don't have that around)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix everything together and spoon over your salad.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Harvest Update

The garden was busy while I was in the hospital and getting used to being a mom of a human. Over the past few weeks I've harvested just over 6 lb of produce (mostly in the form of zucchini and tomatoes).

That's the good news.

The bad news is that it looks like a fungus is hitting my nightshade vegetables in the worst way. The Sungolds don't look as peppy as they did last year and my eggplants are pathetic. And my Mexican Gherkin Cucumbers have been taken over by my pickling cucumbers. I think the record heat of this summer and the mild drought are partly to blame. I'm the other part as it's been difficult to be vigilant this year for pests & diseases.


I'm thinking maybe next year I should focus on just a few vegetables (definitely tomatoes, ground cherries and arugula, maybe cucumbers) so that I get lots of those & just get the rest from the farmer's market. My garden just isn't quite big enough to accommodate a wide variety and still get enough harvest of one thing to cook with.