Friday, February 09, 2007

It's Time!

Omigod! How could I have been so stoopid or deluded?

Work is scheduled to get started on my new kitchen on Monday and all this time that I've waited (since before Thanksgiving) I simply thought "I'll just empty the cabinets." What was going on in my addled brain that I didn't realize that means the equivalent of moving?! I knew the cabinets are packed to within an inch of their lives. Where will all this stuff go?

Now I can finally appreciate why military families like my friend Donna's have learned to live light. But what does an "accumulator" who's married to an "accumulator" and bred three more do in these circumstances?

Well, I'm digging in and putting in 15 minutes at a stretch. After that, I have to take a break and think of why I'm doing it. ...and watch a bit of Pride and Prejudice. I think watching all that beauty and romance may get me through. At least I'm hoping.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the photos of where we're starting.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Maggie's Getting into Quilting

...or at least she's sleeping on it. ::groan::

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Look! There's a Package Grinnin' at Me!

Yesterday the letter carrier came to my door with a wonderful surprise.

It only took me a minute to remember that I had signed up for Blogging by Mail 2 at The Samantha File . The concept of reaching out to some unknown person in the bloggesphere with something as tangible and reassuring as homemade goodies sounded like fun when I first learned about the opportunity too late for the first round at bakingsheet . It sounded like even more fun when I got a chance to sign up for the second round on Samantha's blog. Now just guess how much fun it was when a package was right there within reach and smiling at me!

I gotta tell you, it's a little like when you're young and you get your first summer job. You do all the things you're supposed to do and then one day, long after you've gone back to school and forgotten all about it, a tax refund comes in the mail. What joy! Forty years later I still remember that rush of absolute bounty from an unexpected gift from the gods. And this felt just like that. Only this time around the gods have a name and the name is Chris Hanlon from Chicago!

I've always wanted to visit Chicago and have never had the opportunity. This was a nice way to touch base with that wonderful city through Chris' kindness. Chris, you made my day yesterday when the package arrived and you're making my day again today when I get to enjoy all the goodies inside!

So, "what is inside?" you ask. Oooooo! Let's have a look:

Right now I'm enjoying a warm cup of the tea that Chris included. It's from her own pantry (which I think is a great and personal idea) so, without packaging, I'm just guessing a little that it's a peach tea. I know it has a wonderful fruity aroma that I started enjoying even before I brewed it. I don't guess you'd know, Chris, but I just love tea!

I had to pull off a corner of one of those huge walnut brownies to go with my tea. They smelled so richly chocolatey when I opened the package and the bite did NOT disappoint one tiny bit. [Aside to Chris, they travelled beautifully and are as moist and fresh tasting as you could possibly hope while the crust has kept it's lovely bit of crisp flakiness. Well done, kiddo! I wouldn't have guessed brownies were good candidates for a trip sealed up in a box but my son, who's away for his freshman year at college, will be glad to know you showed me the way. ;> Perhaps it's because of the waxed, unsealed bags you used? Smart cookie! ]

I'm going to dig into that chocolate chip cookie later. I'm delighted that it's so large my husband and I will both be able to enjoy it. How nice of Chris to have sent his own brownie for him! He sends his appreciation of your baking skills too.

Then, look, there's candy as well! Feels just like Halloween already and that note of orange paper Chris packed them all in certainly helps seal the deal! There are wonderful hard candies and fruity toffees from Poland and Tootsie Pops. Oh my! See? I said it felt like Halloween. ;> And a BIG Scharffen Berger milk chocolate bar. Halloween in Beverly Hills! ;> And check out that upper lefthand corner where there's a box of toffee squares covered in dark chocolate from Trader Joes. YUM! Dark chocolate and caramelized sugar! What could be better?!

Chris, how wonderful that you have TJs in Chicago. I didn't have any idea that they were also outside of California. Chris is a California girl, she writes, so I know it must have been a nice surprise to find TJs there in the Midwest.

As I mentioned, Chris sent me tea from her own pantry. I love that idea and I actually did it in the package I sent as well. I think it gives you an opportunity to send something that you enjoy yourself but can't find in small packages. And it makes it possible to include more variety in packages without going completely broke doing it.

I hope I did a fair job of conveying what fun this has been. I want to thank Chris for her sensational baking and the great pleasure her package brought me. Then I've got to thank nic for the continuing fun of her excellent concept and Samantha for her efforts to get this all organized. And I totally owe a great thank you to Mia Luosang of The Skinny Epicurean because I really enjoyed myself choosing things and packing up her box (a couple of unintended disasters aside but Mia was much too diplomatic to blog about them...)

If you think this is something you'd like to be part of, I think there's still a little time to get in touch with Cathy at My Little Kitchen for the next round. In case you can't tell, I'd recommend the experience enthusiastically!

UPDATE: I've opened several of what I thought were hard candies. They're not. Some are the fruit-flavored soft toffees that I first tried but what I thought were hard candies are fruit gels encased in a chocolate that could perhaps be described as being like a soft, fudgy toosie roll. Most interesting and yummy too! I've never had anything quite like them. Hard candies would have been great but this is a new experience altogether.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

More from you say tomato

I am trying to put a dent in my tomato supply by working my way through Joanne Weir's cookbook you say tomato. A couple recipes seem very promising but the one I selected to start with is Tomato Galette. My Le Petit Larousse Illustré describes a galette as something round and flat based on wheat flour and oven baked. That definition would fit this recipe, except for the fact that the ingredients have a more Italian flavor. The crust is made with polenta as well as wheat flour and the cheese base was equal parts of mozzarella and fontina. I've also seen similar things called pies, tarts and tortas. Whatever. Whether I should describe it as délicieux or squisito, I'll make it again!

The crust was excellent. The author intended it to be made with either polenta or cornmeal and all-purpose flour. I decided to go really rustic so I chose the polenta and used white whole wheat flour instead of the all-purpose. It turned out to be wonderfully flaky but also to have a very nutty crunch. And I like my food to be as kinesthetic as it is yummy and good to look at. This crust certainly filled that bill!

I've never, at least knowingly, had fontina cheese before. It seemed like it was time to correct that so I made a special trip to the market for the cheese. The bit I sampled before grating the rest up for the galette was very nice. I liked the smokey quality I tasted in it. I'm glad I took the time to do that, too, because I certainly would have missed that note when it was all finished and gooey crisp.

Besides mucking with the crust (I don't think I'm capable of not messing around with a recipe...) I also added a layer of thinly sliced onion and garlic tossed in a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.

The construction is simple as can be: roll out a circle of pastry, layer on the cheeses tossed with a chiffonade of fresh basil leaving a 2 inch margin of pastry bare, top with the onion and garlic, arrange tomatoes on top, sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and pepper, then turn the bare portion of pastry up over the toppings. I improvised again by patting the top of the crust with a bit of olive oil and grating some Parmesan over the exposed tomatoes. The hardest part was moving the galette with it's molten cheese to a serving plate. When I do this again, I'll put some parchment down over the silcone mat so that I can lift the whole thing onto the serving plate and then simple rip away the parchment without disturbing the softer bottom crust.

Bottom line: Tomato Galette is definitely a "keeper". Small slices would make a very nice appetizer. More generous slices served with a tossed salad would make a great Summer lunch and served with roasted chicken it would make a complete dinner. Bravo!, Joanne Weir.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

It makes me sad to bump that beautiful flower and tomato arrangement from the top spot my my blog. But time moves on and so must I...

I've had some pretty wonderful tomato things lately. I did roasted cherry tomatoes with an assortment of red Stupice, orange Sungold and deep maroon/purple Black Cherries. It was wonderful — easy as can be to just roast unattended for 2 hours or more in a warm oven — and it was delicous! I had it over pasta, topped a burger with it and spread it on cheese on a wholemeal and parmesan cracker. I had a fresh tomato soup made with red Donas and Carmellos. I got the recipe from Joanne Weir's cookbook you say tomato. She recommends serving it with Crispy Polenta Sticks (I'll include the recipe at the end of this entry). That was terrific too and I cubed and toasted some of the leftover polenta to stuff one of my Eight-Ball squash using some tomato, aromatic veggies and feta. Only (maddening) thing is, for some reason those photos either disappeared from the camera when I was trying to free some memory or never got stored because the memory was already too full. Grrrrrrrrr!!!

So what pic did get stored? The Tomato Upsidedown Cake that I had to make just 'cause I came across the recipe and wanted to say I'd made a tomato upsidedown cake. =o Here it is:

Not quite so pretty as I had hoped when I arranged the pretty yellow tomato slices in the bottom of the pan. And tomato didn't really do a thing for the cake. It was a full-flavored spice cake made with molasses from an old-fashioned recipe. Very gingerbread-like and maybe intended to overwhelm the flavor of the tomatoes. Because I didn't have any fresh ginger in the house I substituted crystallized ginger in the topping and because I didn't have enough tomato to cover the top generously I filled in with chopped pecan. These two things turned out to be the best features of the cake. The tomato flavor just didn't belong. It sorta stood aside from the body of the cake and neither blended with it nor accentuated it. But now I can say I've made a Tomato Upsidedown Cake and I've got this entry to prove it!

I will cook my way through a bit more of this cookbook over the course of the summer. There are lots of promising recipes in it. For now, here's the one that I really enjoyed and want to remember:

Crispy Polenta Sticks

• coarse salt
• 1/2 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
• 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
• freshly ground black pepper
• about 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 4 cups canola oil

Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Lower the heat to medium and slowly add the polenta. whisking constantly. Continue to whisk the mixture for 10 minutes. Change to a wooden spoon and continue to simmer, stirring periodically, until the spoon stands in the polenta, 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary, and butter and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the hot polenta in a buttered 9x1-inch loaf pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and let cool in the refrigerator until firm. (The polenta can be made up to 5 days in advance.)

About 30 minutes before you're ready to serve the soup, cut the polenta into sticks 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches long; this will make 18 to 24 sticks. Remove from the pan and toss the polenta sticks carefully in flour to dust them lightly.

Heat the canola oil in a deep heavy saucepan to 375 degrees F. Drop the polenta sticks into hot fat, a few at a time. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. (If you need to reheat the polenta sticks, place them on a baking sheet in a single layer and heat in a 400 degree F oven until hot, 10 minutes.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

TomatoMania Tomato Tasting

Yesterday Plant-A-Porter held their annual tomato tasting TomatoMania at the nearby commnity gardens in Encino. They've held a number of these things but this is the first one I've been able to make. It's a great oppor-tunity to sample things you haven't grown yet to see what you might want to include in the future. Soooo, what follows probably falls into the cate-gory of "Too Much Information" for anybody else but it's stuff I want to be able to reference and remember next Spring.

I would estimate that they had 35 or more varieties of tomatoes that were supplied by the attendees. There was, as you could guess, a lot of certain things like Sungolds and single examples of some other things. There was also a whole table of "Mystery" tomatoes. And (and I found this amusing as hell) it was popular! There were a lot of people tasting and comparing these mystery tomatoes. OK. If you enjoy a good tomato then you enjoy a good tomato. But how are you going to plant a "mystery" tomato? ...which is the point, I think, of these things. Or mabbee not — it's a powerful excitement this business of bringing your own produce out of the earth. And maybe equally powerful to share and appreciate it!

The set up was simple: tables of 5-8 paper plates indentified with the tomato variety on them; furnished with salt & pepper, napkins, toothpicks, plastic knives and saltine crackers. If it could have been improved, it would have been in the area of organization. People might have been invited in to see the selection of whole tomatoes while new entries were collected and plated. Then they might have been escorted outside for a time while one crew inside chopped up the samples and another outside regaled the assembled with a summary/promotion of what TomatoMania is about,the relative merits of heirlooms vs. hybrids, how voting for favorites would go. ...anything to create some time for the inside crew. But I think it would be worth it to ensure that more people got to taste more of what was available. The advantage of increasing the odds that everyone got to taste everything is that the results of the voting would be more reliable. As it was, I saw one man eat half of a popular Green Zebra when only two were offered for tasting. But with no guidelines and knifes available to take samples of whatever size, it was bound to happen. What's more, each person having to saw off their own segments slowed things down and caused a lot of congestion at some tables. But that's just one thought and another was that it was not only fun but it could save me years of experimenting by planting.

So! Let's see 'em! This is by no means all of the offerings or even the best. It's what appealed to me and what I was able to get photos of. It's also worth noting that, for some reason, the colors didn't photograph very accurately. I'll try to correct the misrepresentation in the text but keep in mind that those tablecloths and paper plates should be a clear, true red. If that's not what you're seeing, then the color of the tomatoes won't be reliable either. In alphabetical order:

Amish Gold Lovely but I've never been particularly interested in plum tomatoes.

Anna Russian This is a tomato Carolyn Male recommends in her book 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden. I am very fond of Black from Tula, Southern NIghts and Paul Robeson (other Russian tomatoes) so I was anxious to try it. My personal opinion: it was fine but it's not one I'll make space for.

Giant Valentine A graceful, unusual shape and lovely color — a clear pink that's not as intense as this pic. I didn't get to taste it but I wish I had been able to.

Goldie Another one I didn't get back fast enough to try but the color is very promising.

Green Zebra This is the tomato that Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley made famous. For several years it's been one of the standard bearers for the concept of modern American heirlooms. This one, as so many others are, was picked before it matured. It would have become a rich amber with dark green stripes and it would have developed much more flavor. I've always wondered if Alice Waters was referring to ripe ones or immature ones when she recommended them... No matter — I don't much care for them ripe OR immature. I'm glad I grew 'em once but I won't again.

Japanese Trifle Black The color is too saturated in this pic. Although the tomatoes had an deep dark color and are named "black" they weren't nearly this dark. I would have like to try them since so many people really like Japanese tomatoes but they were gone by the time I got back to them.

Large Oxheart OK, so I'm not impossible to please. I thought this tomato was terrific. It had the full, sharp flavor I've noted in other heart-shaped tomatoes in the past. I would consider planting this one next year but one concern is that these oxheart-shaped plants tend to have lower yields. Also worth noting is the fact that this is another photo that's much too saturated. This tomato actually had a pink color. And, in person and able to see it from different vantage points, it really DOES look like a flaccid heart!

Marianna's Peace The color is not entirely accurate on this one but not too bad either. Marianna's Peace is quite new. I think seeds have only been in circulation for a few years. It was the "must have" plant last year and the previous one so I was especially pleased to get to try it. Although I can see why people liked it, I found it on the sweet and somewhat watery side.

Matt's Wild Cherry When you look at these you have to imagine a bright primary red. They were the only currant sized tomatoes at the tasting. Currant tomatoes can pack a real wallop of flavor and Matt's Wild Cherries certainly did. In spite of the fact that they grow wild all along Texas roadsides, people are willing to pay for them nonetheless. Sounds good, no? I had looked forward to trying them at last! I can see why people who like sweet tomatoes would like them — they are very, very sweet. So much so, in fact, that I'm wondering if you dried them, if they would work almost like a savory/sweet raisin. It's an intriguing idea and if I had enough space I might grow some just to try it. You can also see from the photo what a productive plant it must be — that was only 1 or 2 clusters!

Odoriko Here is the pink Odoriko that is always so popular at Sperling Nursery where I buy many of my plant. I think Odoriko is a hybrid — I've never heard of a Japanese heirloom. I've never grown it and I really wanted to try it. But, being the only one offered for tasting it was gone before I got back to that table.

Orange Strawberry This is a very nice tomato that I'd compare favorably to Kellogg's Breakfast. I don't think I'd plant them both but, if some year Kellogg's Breakfast wasn't available, I'd go looking for an Orange Strawberry instead. The grower had taken the time to print out some helpful information but, unfortunately, it was a late entry and the tasting, with hungry crowds looming, was already underway so it wasn't possible to read or photo the sheet you can see under the plate. I'm hoping Plant-A-Porter will include these tips in their summary of growing experiences.

Roughwood Golden Tiger Is this is beautiful tomato? It certainly is! So why can't I remember a single thing about it? =o Rats!!! But I'm glad to have the pic...

Spear's Tennessee Green This is dramatic, isn't it? It was quite a nice tomato with a good balance between the acid and the sugar but I don't remember the special "spicy" flavor that some green tomatoes have.

Striped Roman This tomato was a lot brighter than it looks. Picture primary red striped with pale primary orange. If it weren't last in alphabetical order I might have saved it for last anyway because it was so dramatic. It's got my vote for absolutely the most beautiful tomato there. The flavor was a little on the sweet side for me but still very nice. If I were going to grow a plum tomato this would be the one I'd go looking for!

There were other tomatoes worth noting that I didn't get to take pictures of. One was called Argentine and the reason I didn't get a picture of it was because the table was mobbed and tasters were calling across the room to get more friends to come and taste. I'm betting it will turn out to be the most popular of the event. It was a red globe tomato and it was one that I'd pass on. It was way, way too sweet for me. I hadn't heard of it before but I expect it will develop a reputation.

I didn't get a photo of Cherokee Chocolate Green either. By the time I got to it it was seeds and jelly. But that was some tasty seeds and jelly! It's amazing how many variations on Cherokee Purple are showing up. I think I'd almost grow anything that included "Cherokee" in its name if it wasn't already so popular a variety that you can pick them up at Whole Foods or the farmers' markets. As reliably delicious and full-bodied a tomato it is, I think I'll give my garden space to plants that are more productive.

I really regret that I didn't get a picture of Northern Lights. This would probably have fallen into the category of "whites". It was a large beefsteak of pale yellow flecked with pale pink. It's flavor was delicate, as the lighter fruit are, but well-balanced. Northern Lights is one I will definitely look for next year.

So what did I learn? First, I absolutely — counter to prevailing tastes — prefer my tomatoes on the acid side. I'm turned off by sweet tomatoes au natur but I wonder if I should give them more consideration for grilling where that natural sugar could enhance caramelization. Second, and related to this, in the future when looking to experiment with an unfamiliar variety I'll weight claims about "Taste Test Winners" against that fact that I'm looking for different flavor than most people. That will help me save some time in future seasons, I think. And, third, I learned that I want to add Large Oxheart, Northern Lights and Striped Roman to my garden next year.

Finally, a word about that lovely arrangement at the top of this post. I saw a woman putting the finishing touches on it as I was leaving the event. I'm not sure if she was one of the planners who arrived late or a "taster" who was wonderfully ambitious in her presentation. Whatever! It was fantastic! Much too beautiful to spoil by tasting. Note the vivid green ribbon she used to identify "Lime Green Salad" and Pink "Brandywine". What flair!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Tomatoes Again?

Why, yes, since that's about what's left in my burned out garden. Besides, they're pretty damned good and the time when there won't be tasty, fresh tomatoes will come too fast for me! So, I've been having them a couple times a day. Good thing I've got several different varieties, no?

Here's one of the things I look forward to all those barren months of canned tomatoes — pasta alla vodka. Dawna on Chocolate & Zucchini asked if it was the new classic Penne alla Vodka and, of course the answer is "yes" except that it's made with sunny Kellogg's Breakfast tomatoes instead of conventional red ones and spinach tagliatelle because the color and flavor suit the sauce so much better than bland, white penne.

The ingredients are simple: onions and garlic; peeled, seeded and juiced chopped tomatoes; fresh basil; a bit of cream; and a bit of vodka, plus the essential salt and pepper. Yes, that's really tomato on the chopping board and, yes, it's really yellow. You can see the whole one in the entry called "At Long Last! Tomatoes!!!"

And here are the onions and garlic sweating just the merest bit. Doesn't look like very much, does it? But that was lunch for just me.

Next everything sorta happens at once. But the good news is that the chaos only lasts minutes and then comes the best part of all— tasting! Warm the cream a bit in the micro-wave while the tomatoes and basil go in the pan with the aromatics. The warm cream and the vodka are next to the pan. Look! Even the cream has turned a lovely pale yellow. Let it all just bubble together for a minute (this whole sequence only takes about 3!) and LUNCH!

Did I mention the tagliatelle? Everybody knows how to boil pasta! But what I recommend for this Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am 5 minute circus, is that you boil the pasta before you even begin the sauce. If you add a generous amount of olive oil to the boiling water you can hold the cooked pasta in a strainer for 5 or 10 minutes without any sticking. But save that hot pasta water and keep it on a simmer while you do the sauce. Bring it back to a boil and add the pasta for that last minute when you're warming the cream and vodka. That way nothing waits and what you DON'T want to do with this sauce is ruin it by letting it overcook. You want all the light, sunny, fresh taste of the garden and that's exactly what this is!

It's also great fun, no, to have a tomato sauce that's so surprising! At least it always amuses the hell out of me. ...and the BIG bonus is that these Kellogg's Breakfast tomatoes are as delicious as they are unconventional.