August 31, 2004

Fresh Tomato Toss (Tossed Two Directions)

During the summer, fresh tomatoes are plentiful. Whether from our garden, friends, or the farmers market, we always have several varieties of tomatoes available.

One of our favorite summer dishes is what my wife calls "Fresh Tomato Toss." This fresh and easy entrée consists of a simple combination of plum tomatoes, chopped green onion (scallions), a clove or two of garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper flakes, fresh chopped basil, and your favorite pasta. Feel free to vary the ingredients and their quantity in the dish to your own specifications. Parmesano Reggiano is the usual garnish at our house.

My wife prefers to sauté the garlic in the olive oil, then add her tomatoes, cooking them down a bit before adding the pasta, red pepper flakes, basil, and green onion.

My preference is to add all the fresh ingredients to the cooked pasta in a big bowl, letting the pasta cook the rawness out of the garlic. Either way, the dish is delicious, and a wonderful way to reap the benefits of our garden.

Posted by david at 10:29 PM | Comments (1)

August 30, 2004

My Lost Love For Cilantro (Cilantro Pesto)

The love of my life adds much to my daily existence. She adds appreciation to many things, but sadly has taken away my love for cilantro.

I used to love cilantro, there could never be too much of this herb in my food. I would go out of my way to order cilantro-spiced dishes at restaurants and always kept a couple of fresh sprigs ready in my refrigerator.

Then my wife killed my love for cilantro. Her weapon of choice: this cilantro pesto recipe (click "MORE" for the recipe). The pesto was a cilantro bomb in my mouth, and ever since, I can only tolerate cilantro as a background flavoring in limited quantities. I still love my wife, but cilantro is no longer my mistress.

Cilantro Pesto

2 tablespoon canola oil
2 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoon plain nonfat yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoon slivered almonds

Posted by david at 10:45 PM | Comments (2)

August 26, 2004

Limeade For Summer Refreshment

In my attempt to kick my Pepsi habit, I've been experimenting with fruit beverages this summer. Three shots of cranberry juice to a 16 ounce tumbler of water has gotten old, so I decided to try my hand at good old-fashioned home-made lemonade. I like mine strong and sour, so it doesn't taste watered down when the ice melts.

Shortly after I became fixated on lemonade, the price of lemons went up. Limes were 10 for a dollar in our local grocery, so the market decided that I would try limeade instead. David says the limeade has a more rounded citrus flavor than the lemon. Not only that, but when the citrus prices at the supermarket jumped, I found our local Hispanic markets still had reasonable prices on their limes.

To squeeze and enjoy this simple pleasure of summer, click "more."

Limeade

8 limes
1/4 C sugar
4 C water

Juice limes and combine with sugar in pitcher. Add water and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Adjust sweetness for taste. Serve over ice.

Posted by linda at 09:56 PM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2004

Feels Like A Family Farm

The summer brings many joys, and one of my favorite things is picking vegetables and fruits. Our garden is filled with herbs, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, beans and peas, but we often head elsewhere to pick other produce.

Our part of the country (north Alabama) is known for its agriculture, whether it's cotton, soybeans or produce. Luckily, we have several farms nearby that let us harvest produce. Supporting these local farmers is as important to us as the fresh food we bring home.

Our favorite u-pick farm is Gin House Branch Farm in Priceville, Alabama (just off Interstate 65), about ten minutes from our house. A couple has decided to make a life of growing organic produce on a large piece of land. Earlier this year we picked strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, and the strawberries were possibly the best I have ever eaten. This past weekend we stopped by for tomatoes (ours are regrouping), melons and more raspberries. The honor system was in place, so we left a check in their lock box. Most impressive is Gin House Branch farm's commitment to exposing the public to interesting produce. This year they planted two varieties of raspberry, French and Asian melons and several exotic varieties of watermelon (exotic for north Alabama, at least). If you are ever coming through north Alabama, stop by the farm and pick up some fresh produce. The owners are more than willing to talk about their crops, their beehives, and answer any questions you have with true southern hospitality. These are people I am proud to call our neighbors.

Posted by david at 10:25 PM | Comments (2)

August 23, 2004

The Fruits (and Vegetables) Of Our Labor

Some days, I am envious of my wife's chosen profession of massage therapy. This evening was a perfect example, when she walked in the door bearing a sack of tomatoes (freshly picked: romas, better boys and beefsteaks), a gift from a client.

Linda deals directly with her clients, and they love her. At various times in her practice she has been showered with gifts from her clients' gardens. Fresh spinach, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash have all unexpectedly graced our table due to the kindness of her clients. The preponderance of gentleman (and gentlewoman) farmers not only makes conversation a joy in her work, but also oftentimes lunch. Her clients have also given bread, cakes, cookies and fudge as tokens of thanks and friendship.

My job, unfortunately, is in IT, and I am more likely to have rotten vegetables figuratively thrown my way than fresh ones given to me, especially when deadlines are tight and problems arise. Now I know why my wife left the computer world for massage therapy...

Posted by david at 10:54 PM | Comments (1)

August 21, 2004

Picking A Perfect Melon

We made our weekly pilgrimage to the farmer's market this morning. The market has a wonderful set-up underneath an overpass next to the railroad tracks. As we hopped out of the truck, a train blew through, making me wish I had ear-plugs and a camera.

Tomatoes are winding down this time of year, but the melons are in fine form. I didn't like melon as a child, but as my tastes changed, I learned to eat honeydew and cantaloupe. My father was a cantaloupe connoisseur. He could thump a melon and check it's navel to determine it's ripeness and freshness. But his true gift was determining by appearance whether a melon would taste good. I have to take a more visceral approach by smelling it. If it smells like a pumpkin, it will taste like a pumpkin.

No amount of salt will save it. That's right, salt. Dad used to salt his melons, a taste I never acquired. He also ate raw potatoes and boiled peanuts.

This week's melon tastes pretty good, but last week's was better. My tendency, according to my dad, is to pick melons that were on their way out--too ripe and beginning to turn to alcohol. I wish I had learned his secret to choosing the perfect melon, but I guess, some things are just a gift.

Posted by linda at 09:40 AM | Comments (1)

August 19, 2004

A Chain Meat and Three

Yesterday, we faced in our usual quandary about where to eat lunch. Our small town has a couple of decent pork barbeque spots, but little else in the way of good food. The chain restaurants are less than thrilling, and we were about to head to Taco Bell when my mom arrived and had an inspiration: Cracker Barrel.

We are big fans of Cracker Barrel, especially when we take road trips. The vegetables are always fresh, the food is hot, and the service is usually prompt and courteous. For a chain, the food has great flavor, and reminds me of the small town "meat and threes" that exist all over the south. The biscuits are buttery bits of heaven, too. For these reasons, it is our favorite chain restaurant.

One other good thing about Cracker Barrel: when my wife and I lived in Salt Lake City, the only place in town (besides our kitchen) with a decent glass of iced tea was the local Cracker Barrel. Sitting there with a sweet tea always put me back in a southern state of mind.

Posted by david at 09:57 PM | Comments (2)

August 17, 2004

Grandmother Food Memories

When I was small, Sundays were a big event. My family would make the trek across town to the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia where both sets of my grandparents lived, just blocks apart. The centerpiece of these memories was family, but food played a big part in the day.

My grandmothers were different individuals when it came to food. We would often visit my mothers' parents first, for lunch. My maternal grandmother was a caring, loving woman, but not a cook. She would offer huge sandwiches, exquisite bakery pastries and cakes, and great take out food from the local delis. Accompanying the food was an endless supply of beer (usually the local Schmidt's), highballs, and soft drinks for the kids. She ran a corner store with a huge candy counter, so we were always happy not long after we arrived, our faces filled with sweets.

My paternal grandmother was also caring and loving, but a born cook. Dinner would consist of several meats, but I most fondly remember her "white ham," an unsmoked ham that was moist, juicy and melted in your mouth. She made her own horseradish, both mild and spicy, and in combination with either the pork or kielbasa, it was a true treat. Everything on the table was fresh, from the side items to dessert (often a babka), and we went home on Sunday evenings full and happy.

Posted by david at 10:58 PM | Comments (2)

August 16, 2004

Smörgåsbord Memories

On my recent trip home, I stopped by my grandparents' old house to get a rosebush clipping from the current owner. Being there set my mind to sifting through memories of endless afternoons of gin rummy with my grandfather and the lunchtime smörgåsbord set out by my grandmother.

My grandparents emigrated from Sweden in the 1920s, and smörgåsbord practically qualifies as Sweden's national dish. My grandmother knew how to lay out a fine spread. First out would be a basket of bread including pumpernickel, rye, hard white and kaiser rolls. Next came a platter of cold-cuts and cheeses: smoked Gouda, port-wine cheese, sharp cheddar, bleu cheese and farmer cheese. Then she marched out an army of condiments and side items: Dijon mustard, tub margarine, horseradish sauce, mayonnaise, pickles, carrots and celery, boiled eggs and, of course, pickled herring.

Beverages were kept simple. My grandmother usually drank strong black coffee, but for smörgåsbord she always drank tea. My grandfather would have a beer, and I would have a short glass of cold milk.

This was a Swedish mountain of food for just three people. To make it even more filling, it followed a complete breakfast with eggs, toast, bacon and some high fiber cereal like grapenuts or shredded wheat just a few hours earlier. Still, we all did our part to delve into this feast. Luckily, dinner was a modest affair served and cleared away in time for the Lawrence Welk show.

Posted by linda at 01:30 PM | Comments (2)

August 14, 2004

Basil Pesto

We not only appreciate food, but we enjoy gardening as well. This past spring we found a nursery in central Alabama that hosted a culinary herb lecture. The featured guest speaker was the owner of "Blooming Idiot" herb wholesaler and had work experience at Callaway Gardens. She taught us all kinds of neat things about caring for our herbs, when to prune them, and how to preserve them for culinary use.

Our basil was slow to emerge from our garden this year. We've been pinching it all season long for tomato sandwiches and other kitchen uses. Today we noticed that our basil was threatening to bolt (or flower) and decided to prune it back by 1/3 as instructed by our herb expert. We took our surplus of basil and made a deliciously fresh pesto. I've made pesto in the past and it has always tasted too green, so this time I used my blender instead of my food processor and remembered to add salt.

Click "more" for the recipe we made today

Basil Pesto
from Food TV's "How To Boil Water"

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (see Cook's Note)


Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw and stir in cheese.
COOKS NOTE: If using immediately, add all the oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

Posted by linda at 10:58 PM | Comments (1)

August 13, 2004

Eating Green

Many parents wonder how to get their kids to eat healthy. Experts believe that if you teach a child how to grow vegetables they will be more likely to eat them.

I lived with my sister for almost two years and sometimes played a parental role with her kids. I did my best to impart my knowledge about healthy eating to her children, and even tried imparting my love of vegetable gardening. It didn't work.

I finally resorted to bribery with her most intractable son who refused to eat any food unless it was white. I offered to give him money if he would eat one snow pea. Apparently, I didn't offer enough. He got it in his mouth but wouldn't chew. You'd think I was asking him to sacrifice a limb.

I'm proud to report that despite his diet, he manages to grow. He has expanded his culinary exploits into the orange food category. Maybe by the time he is 45 he will eat something green.

Posted by linda at 10:40 PM | Comments (2)

August 12, 2004

Honeymoon Flavor (Chocolate Cinnamon Ice Cream)

One of the first purchases my wife and I made as a married couple was an ice cream maker. After doing our research and gathering advice from friends, we bought a Donvier Ice Cream Machine. The machine is easy to use and clean, and the hand-cranking gives us a feeling of attachment to the final product.

Our second frozen dairy-related item was the Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book. Having been lifelong fans of Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia, we were willing to put our faith in Ben & Jerry. The book offers a variety of customizable recipes, and every recipe has turned out rich and flavorful.

We began making ice cream, and it became our dessert of choice. As the "contentment" pounds added up, our favorite flavor of homemade ice cream was chocolate cinnamon from the Ben and Jerry's book. Creamy and chocolaty with a touch of cinnamon, it fills the palate with flavor without being too sweet (click "more" for the recipe)...

4 oz Unsweetened chocolate
1 cup Milk
2 lg Eggs
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Heavy or whipping cream
1 tsp Vanilla
1 pinch Salt
1 Tsp ground cinnamon

Melt the unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling water.

Gradually whisk in the milk and heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes.

Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more.

Add the cream, vanilla and salt and whisk to blend.

Add cinammon, whisk in. Pour the chocolate mixture into the cream mixture and blend.

Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 1-3 hours, depending on your
refrigerator.

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions. Makes 1 generous quart.

Posted by david at 01:28 PM | Comments (1)

August 10, 2004

Spreadsheet Hot and Sour Soup

I just got back from a visit with my Mom, my cooking guru. Sometimes when she's been out to eat and found something she really enjoyed, my mother goes on a quest to replicate the dish. I always thought that my father, being a scientist (and not a hugely adventuresome eater), was the analytical one in my family. However, my mother has developed a unique technique for creating basic recipes. All it requires is time, a library of cookbooks, and a spreadsheet.

She did this one year with hot and sour soup. She found as many hot and sour recipes she could and found the common ingredients. Using this method, she created a tasty hot and sour soup (recipe below).

Feel free to try this recipe, or add your own special flourish that will add your signature to this wonderful recipe. (Click "more" for recipe)

Mom's Hot and Sour Soup

1 qt chicken stock
1 t salt
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs dry black fungus
1/4 lb. boneless pork
1/2 C shredded bamboo shoots
2 t sesame seed oil
2 sq bean curd (3"x 3"x 1/2") shredded
3 Tbs white vinegar
1/4 t white pepper
2 Tbs corn starch mixed w/
3 Tbs cold water
1 egg lightly beaten
chopped green scallion (garnish)

Shred soaked black fungus, bamboo shoots, bean curd & raw pork. Bring chicken stock to a boil, add salt, soy, fungus, bamboo shoots, pork. Boil over high heat. Reduce heat and cook 3 minutes. Add bean curd, pepper and vinegar, bring to a boil again. Add corn starch and stir until soup thickens. Stir gently while adding egg. Add sesame seed oil. Serve w/ garnish of chopped green scallions.

May be made hotter with cayenne pepper.

Posted by linda at 05:49 PM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2004

National Mustard Day

Today is the 14th annual National Mustard Day. If the country was made up of mustard lovers like me, this day would be on par with Christmas and the fourth of July.

My love affair with this mixture of mustard seed, vinegar and spice began early. In kindergarten and elementary school, I often packed a lunch. Inside was usually a sandwich, some fruit and a piece of candy. The sandwich grew as I did, eventually reaching Dagwoodian proportions when I was in college. The sandwich usually had the same components: meat, cheese, and condiment. My condiment of choice from an early age has been the golden nectar that is mustard.

In my travels I have tasted many, many varieties of mustard. Yellow, spicy, Dijon, grainy, horseradish... I love them all. The only mustard I cannot eat is a variety of garlic mustard. This is not because I dislike it, but apparently it makes me reek of stale garlic, and my wife will stay away from me for days after I eat it (and believe it or not, I love her even more than any mustard).

Posted by david at 11:13 AM | Comments (1)

August 06, 2004

The Frankfurter Friendly Home

Before we started dating, my wife would eat one hot dog a year. Her ballpark frank, consumed while attending a baseball game, was both a ritual and a necessary evil.

Then I came along, with a package of all-beef franks always in the fridge for emergency, no-fuss snacks. Slowly but surely, Linda became more wiener-friendly, but only if the cupboard was otherwise bare.

Earlier this year we discovered Hebrew National beef franks as we prepared to grill out for friends. Their rich flavor made believers (and regular buyer) of us. Their reduced fat beef franks are almost as outstanding as the high fat variety, an added bonus. Plus, they are kosher, so if we ever decide to convert to Judaism, we won't have to change brands

My wife now asks for hot dog omelets occasionally on the weekends. You could say she's already converted.

Posted by david at 10:37 PM | Comments (5)

August 03, 2004

Farmers Market Fun

Living in a small town, our access to exotic produce is limited. Luckily in spring, summer, and fall we have our local farmers market to compensate. The produce is always fresh, often picked that morning, and having the chance to chat with the people who grew the food is a true treat.

This weekend our first official act was an early morning trip to the farmers market. Before us lay various kinds of corn, melons, corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, and much more. We picked up beefsteak tomatoes (our ten plants are on hiatus after a fungal infection), pattypan squash, Silver Queen corn (my wife's favorite variety), and okra.

The benefits of our trip began at lunch, when my wife made her corn soup, served with a salad. For dinner we fried the okra, sautéed the squash with onions, and ate fresh corn on the cob. Sunday's meals were filled with leftovers from Saturday and more corn on the cob. Our weekend was filled with the freshest vegetables, and for that we consider ourselves blessed.

Posted by david at 11:00 PM | Comments (4)

August 02, 2004

Chocolate-Almond Biscotti

My mother is a recipe magnet. Not only does she have an extensive recipe collection passed down to her from her mother, she socializes with people who bring delicious things to the table. She appreciates good food and isn't afraid to request a recipe from a friend.

As a treat last Thanksgiving, she brought some lovely chocolate biscotti to have with the after-dinner coffee. I've never had a great appreciation for biscotti in the past, but these are good. They are rich, chocolaty, and crisp without tasting stale.

I can always count on Mom as a valuable source for advice when things don't turn out quite right. I tried my hand at these biscotti and was dismayed at how wet the dough was. A phone call to Mom was in order and, true to form, she talked me through the steps. She suggested I wet my hands with water while shaping the dough on the cookie sheet and the biscotti came out just fine.

Click "more" for the Chocolate-Almond Biscotti recipe.

Cocoa-Almond Biscotti

1/2 C butter or margarine, softened
1 C sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 Tbs coffee liqueur (or 1-1/2 Tbs chocolate syrup)
2-1/4 C all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 salt
1-1/2 Tbs cocoa
1 C whole raw almonds (6oz can)

Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beating well. Mix in liqueur. Combine flour and baking powder, salt and cocoa. Add butter mixture, beating well. Stir in almonds.

Divide dough in half. Shape each portion into a 9x2-inch log on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until firm. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Cut each log diagonally into 1/2-inch thick slices with a serrated knife using a gentle sawing motion. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes. Turn cookies over and bake 5 to 7 additional minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Yield: 2-1/2 dozen cookies

Posted by linda at 10:40 PM | Comments (2)