tomatoes

Hot Off the Skillet Food Links

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Whoa. I meant to do a post on interesting food links monthly, but a quick scroll reveals I haven't done a Hot Off the Skillet since early January. There's always exciting news in the food and nutrition world, beginning with this link I saw today! Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a daily cup of tea may reduce heart attack and cardiovascular risk? Beginning in 2000, they followed 6000 study participants, who were free of heart disease at that time. Eleven years later, it was the tea drinkers who showed 1/3 fewer incidences of "heart attack, stroke, chest pain, or...other types of heart disease." Yay, Earl Grey!

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In other happy news, you'll remember I wrote about my favorite food/nutrition book of 2015, Mark Shatzker's The Dorito Effect. Because I also follow him on Twitter, I heard about his recent Epicurious article, holding out the promise of better-tasting real food in the future. As he discussed in the book, for years folks bred supermarket food for looks and speed and durability, letting actual flavor go by the wayside. Hence the baseball-hard tomatoes that taste like drywall and grocery-store chicken with all the flavor of tofu, only with a texture even more revolting. But, joy of joys, flavor is making a comeback, and not just the flavors found in a chemistry lab. Agricultural think tanks are working on breeding flavor back in--the old-fashioned way, by crossing plant varieties and hoping for good results.

Like heirloom tomatoes, but wish they were sturdier? Now's your chance to get tomato seeds for Garden Gem and Garden Treasure, two new varieties which are already winning taste contests! For a small donation to the University of Florida's Klee Laboratories you'll receive 15 seeds of each kind, just in time to get them started indoors.

And lastly, as we find ourselves in a strident political season, I always like to show bipartisanship. Having referenced the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce lists in the past, I now present the other side, in which our supermarket produce is found to be very, very clean, according to USDA pesticide sampling, as reported in Forbes. The author makes a couple good points, including the fact that pesticide residue can be found in both conventional and organic produce (some organic countermeasures are allowed but act similarly to regular pesticides). I would love to believe our fruits and vegetables more than meet the EPA's tolerances. What is a tolerance? "The tolerance is generally 100 times less than a dose that could cause any ill effect. The allowed residues are also lower than the levels of natural pesticidal compounds that many crops make to defend themselves." (As Mark Schatzker also discussed in his awesome book, plants do produce natural toxins so they don't get eaten or eaten at the wrong time by every Bird, Cow, or Billy Goat Gruff.)

Tolerable produce still doesn't address the issue of agricultural workers who are exposed to higher levels of pesticides, however, in producing the crop. Nor does it dispel that niggling memory I have of the potato farmer in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, who farmed conventional potatoes for all of us, but only fed his family from the small organic plot behind the house... But, hey, it's still good news for when we can't resist that out-of-season basket of berries. Berries below tolerance!

May it hold us until Opening Market Day.

 

 

Can Cheap Food Be Delicious?

Considering the amount of money (not to mention time) my hub spends putting in and tending his garden every summer, I'm pretty sure home-grown food doesn't beat farmed in price, only in enjoyment. We also tend to eat much more of the home-grown produce because--well, you know--when the harvest arrives, it arrives.

Despite two tomato sauce batches, one tomato soup, five Caprese salads, five batches of baked tomatoes, one recipe of bruschetta, tomatoes added to other kinds of salad and soup and Spanish rice, and countless bowls of pico de gallo, we still had plenty of crop left on the vine when it was time to tear the garden out.

The dregs

Thankfully, tomatoes continue to ripen after harvest, albeit not as deliciously as on the vine in hot summer sun. So our little troops are lined up on newspaper in the garage, to extend our season into late fall.

I don't have high hopes for the little green guy

Because I hate to waste food. My kids are regularly subjected to "Clean-Out-the-Fridge" soup, and no chicken bones ever pass through the kitchen without being simmered for stock. (If you don't have enough for a stockpot or time to process them, just throw them in a freezer bag and keep collecting until you do.)

I was pretty excited to hear about this book, you might imagine:

Not only does the publisher promise affordable yumminess, but they also "donate a book to someone who needs it" for every copy purchased! Awesome idea. How it plays out in practice remains to be seen, however, because the book contains recipes that even ardent foodies might hesitate over, like "Mashed Beets" and "Broiled Eggplant Salad" and "Barley Risotto with Peas." Look--I cook my own food and I shop at a farmers market regularly, but there is no way I could get my kids to try 60% of the book's offerings. It might be better to bundle the free book with free copies of

to help "someone who needs it" find the confidence to cook at home, and then throw in

to help all of us get our kids to try more foods and flavors. This one would also work:

All that said, giving Good and Cheap away for free is a great start. Just don't expect it to change the way America eats.

Since my hub and I like vegetables, though, and since his ripping out of the garden filled our pantry with butternut squash, I tried out a recipe from Good and Cheap and found it luscious! (Our squash wasn't as ripe as I would like, so the sweeteners added were my own idea.)

As promised, this recipe was cheap and much more than good.

The main ingredients

Lightly Curried Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Good and Cheap; Market ingredients "*")

1 butternut squash* (about 2 lbs)
1 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion*, chopped
1 bell pepper*, chopped (recipe called for green, but I would use red or orange next time, so there isn't a bitter note)
3 cloves garlic, minced*
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can coconut milk
1/4 cup brown sugar, optional
dash maple syrup, optional
salt and pepper

sour cream for garnish
chopped scallions for garnish*
chopped cilantro for garnish*

To make my life easier, I halved the squash, seeded it, and threw it in a crock pot on LOW for a few hours until it was cooked. Then I scraped out the flesh and added to the soup later.

Melt butter in soup pot over medium and saute onion through garlic until tender. Add spices and cook another 2 minutes, stirring. Add cooked squash, coconut milk, sweeteners, and 3 cups of water. Stir.

Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Blend thoroughly with immersion blender. Serve with dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of garnish.

I plan to try several more recipes in the book and will report back. In the meantime, just two more Thursday Markets, and this will be Skagit River Ranch's last Thursday. Be sure to ask about signing up for there Bellevue Buyers Club, if you still want to order meat in the off-season.

Saying No to Synthetic Flavors

Did you notice there were Concord grapes at the Market last week?

I was thrilled to see them, since we rarely see grapes at farmers markets on our side of the mountains. And, while Washington grows plenty of wine grapes, most table (and other) grapes are grown in California. Moreover, if you've ever had "grape juice" or grape-flavored cough syrup or grape-flavored what-have-you, the grape flavor chemists were imitating was that of the Concord grape. So, in clever reverse-marketing, I asked my twelve-year-old Sherpa daughter if she wanted to taste some grapes that tasted like fake grape flavoring. Of course she did.

Here is what we learned about eating Concord grapes:

  1. They're addictive, once you figure out the proper way to eat them.
  2. Concord grapes have both seeds and a bitter skin, rather like plums. Popping the whole grape in your mouth and chewing it up is not a pleasant experience.
  3. My trick was to let them get nice and ripe on the counter. Then I "squirted" the grape into my mouth (minus the skin), being sure to get the juice, key to the "fake" grape flavor. You then chew up the pulp and spit out the seeds.
After going through the trouble of eating these grapes, I see why chemists zeroed in on an easier way to produce the flavor. But I want to argue that the process involved in eating them increases your enjoyment. Rather like having to shell pistachios. It also slows consumption.
And anyhow, ever since I read Mark Schatzker's The Dorito Effect, I've been on a personal crusade to avoid synthetic flavorings and to enjoy the real deal, with all its attendant health benefits.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there's good evidence that flavor in nature is linked to that voodoo that real food does so well. When we recreate those flavors in a chemistry lab, we decouple them from their benefits. Synthetic flavors (which include both "natural" and artificial flavors) encourage us to eat bland, nutritionally bankrupt food we would otherwise get bored with, thus robbing ourselves of the nutritional variety and the satiety indicators that an array of real food, full of real flavors, provides.
So skip the grape-flavored candy and "fruit snacks" and try everyone out on the real McCoy.
Genuine flavors abound, this time of year. Check out this recipe for stuffed tomatoes we've already had twice this week, and which I've also managed to burn twice because I had to leave them on an oven timer while I ran carpool. The good news is, they still taste wonderful with burnt topping! (An asterisk * indicates ingredients available at the Market.)
Tomatoes Provençalish
(adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

4 medium or 8 small, ripe tomatoes*
3 garlic cloves*
1/2 c chopped fresh parsley or cilantro*
2-3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil*
3/4 c bread crumbs from torn-up bread*
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter a dish large enough to hold all the halved tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half around the equator and dig out the seeds with your finger. Chop the garlic and herbs and mix them with the bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Top the tomato halves and set them in the buttered dish. Drizzle some olive oil over their tops. Bake for 30-35 minutes, depending on the size of the tomatoes.

Serve carefully, and remember these suckers are hot when they come out of the oven!

Here's what you'll find if you leave them in an extra ten minutes and then come rushing in to rescue dinner:



Have no fear. Still tasty and so flavorful! We'll see you this Thursday or Saturday at the Market, where real food and real flavors abound.

Save the Tomatoes!

Last week it was summer, remember?

Seattle Pops selfie

 It was hot, there was music, there was a choice of refreshing refreshments. There was even a summery new vendor:

Niño Blanco Foods had salsa for sale, in mild, medium and spicy, along with fresh pico de gallo and pickled jalapeños (which I recently learned, at a Mariners game, taste awesome on tater tots).

But summer has vanished, and the recent downpours have made me fear for the rest of my husband's tomato crop. I've made pico de gallo regularly, and Caprese salads like they're going out of style, but the threat of mold calls for stronger measures. It calls for tomato sauce and tomato soup, both of which are made with the same ingredients.

5 lbs of tomatoes
A chopped onion
3 Tbsp of butter

You destem the tomatoes, whack them up in huge chunks, and cook over medium heat.

If you have a food mill, there's no need to peel or seed tomatoes before cooking

For tomato sauce, twenty minutes will break them down. You then put them through the food mill and continue to heat the puree until it's the desired thickness. (For watery Early Girls, this is a pretty long time...)

For tomato soup, you let them simmer up to three hours and then put them through the food mill. Add salt and pepper and fresh basil to taste. Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches.

I have this exact food mill, and I like it for its simplicity. No interchangeable parts, no electronics that break. Just prop it over a pot and use good, old-fashioned muscle power.

In any case, you don't need homegrown tomatoes to make sauce or soup. Our farmers have plenty, and then you could actually start with meatier tomatoes! Ask for opinions, or mix a variety of them. The Market continues, rain or shine.

September Market Must-Haves

Something about September and back-to-school got my eleven-year-old Market Sherpa daughter asking, "Is the Market ending soon?" Not on your life! It's still officially summer by the calendar, and we have weeks and weeks more fresh, local goodness ahead. Heck, there have still even been strawberries on Thursdays, and they're delicious.

But this time of year does bring the first apples:

Comfort me with apples at Collins

I stupidly only bought two of these new Honeycrisp apples last week, and the second my son tasted them, they were gone. Seriously, there is a difference between the first of the season and the ones which have been held in cold storage from last year. I'll be buying many more this week because I only got one stinking slice.

Fortunately, there were compensations for the apple shortage. I hope you all have been gorging on the peaches and nectarines and berries. The green pluots in the picture above were also a hit in my house.

And please tell me you're eating some tomatoes. I loved this stars-and-stripes style display on Saturday.

Here's a pointillist version.
One of my favorite cookbooks (Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) offers a "Farmer's Market Salad," which is essentially whatever's in season, chopped up in similar-sized chunks, tossed with some cubes of favorite cheese, fresh herbs, and a little olive oil and lemon juice. I've made it with tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, and even leftover cooked veggies like potatoes and beans.
Speaking of beans, I found two ladies talking excitedly over this bin of cranberry beans, which I've never had. I asked them how they liked to prepare them, and I was advised to shell them and steam or boil them just like green beans. Sounds like a great addition to the Farmer's Market Salad!
Slice courtesy of Veraci
Making my own fresh food with seasonal ingredients certainly doesn't preclude eating fresh food made by others with seasonal ingredients while we shop. I'm surprised there haven't been any parking lot muggings over Veraci Pizza--or am I the only one tempted when I see someone walking out with a box?
Not to be outdone, do take a look at a grilled pizza we made at home:
Yup. Apart from the dough, this can all be made with Market ingredients: tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella from Samish Bay. I used my husband's tomatoes, including putting some through a food mill and simmering them into sauce.
The trick with grilled pizza is to have all the toppings at the ready. Roll out the dough, slap it on the grill and close the lid for a few minutes. It'll puff up like crazy, but just flip it over, puncture it, if necessary, and top. A few more minutes and it's done! Slide onto a waiting pizza pan and listen to everyone groan with pleasure over the crisp, smoky crust.
So get on out to the Market this week and (to mix metaphors) find music for your tastebuds.

Bouquets and Back-to-School Bruschetta

Despite having hands crippled by a half-hour of repeated middle-school-locker-opening (and the 6th grader only managed to get the thing opened a handful of times), I sit faithfully at my keyboard to bring you good news.

Firstly, congratulations. The kids are back in school and you deserve a bouquet:

 

(Gorgeous dahlias at Saturday's Market)

If you, like me, had one complaining of headaches and stomachaches that were really just nerves, take a second bouquet:

No idea what these are (!) but saw them Saturday, too

Secondly, in the Good News department--school may be in, but we have more summer to enjoy! The Market is overwhelmed by beautiful, vine-ripened tomatoes, and, if you're looking for an appetizer or even light meal that will wow everyone, it's time to make Tomato-Basil Bruschetta.

Everything you need (besides olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper) you can get at this Thursday's or this Saturday's Market. So that you can properly announce it to your family, just a quick note that it's pronounced "Bruce-sketta." Hard "ch," like in "chianti." Never mind about those ridiculous "Freschetta"-brand pizzas that are leading millions of Americans astray in their Italian pronunciation!

Tomato-Basil Bruschetta

Chop up 6 medium-sized tomatoes

I know this is seven, but some were small

Then combine:
2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp slivered fresh basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly-ground pepper

Add the tomatoes. Stir, and let sit.

Slice up however much of a baguette you can fit on a cookie sheet:

Toast under the broiler until the tops are browned. You may need to remove toasts that get too brown if your oven, like mine, broils unevenly.
Rub the toasts with whole garlic cloves, peeled and cut in halves around the waist.

Right before serving, top with fresh tomato mixture.

We plan on having this again soon, since everyone--even the locker-impaired 6th-grade boy--enjoyed them! So delicious and couldn't be easier!

See you at the Market. We've been so spoiled this year. Cherries might be over, but the berries keep on coming, along with peaches and nectarines. Even the first apples, pears, and Asian pears of fall are making an appearance! Fruit crossover season is as good as it gets--don't miss a minute of it.

Out-of-the-Box Eating

Source of Bite-Size to Meal-Size Yumminess

If you were at the Market last week, you noticed the appearance of a new prepared-food vendor, The Box: Asian Fusion Cuisine. Owner and chef Reis Llaneza has garnered press in Kirkland, where he tootles around various locations, serving up his delicious takes on street food. The Bellevue Farmers Market is fortunate enough to be The Box's only farmers market stop! Consider the Pork Belly Hum Bao and Kahlua Pork Hum Bao the kids and I sampled--perfectly cooked and seasoned tender meat nestled in a steamed white bao (familiar to all Chinese food "Peking Duck" and char siu bao lovers), garnished with the crunch of diced and shredded vegetables. My children literally fought over them (for the sake of peace, I did not get the entire one-third of each hum bao I was legally entitled to) and devoured them, vegetable garnish and all. If you knew my son, you would know that a snack tasty enough to make him overlook the presence of vegetables is a tasty snack indeed.

Reis prices the hum baos like sliders--cheap enough to have a couple. He also offers a Chop Chop Salad I found several people at the Market eating, and the day's vegan option was a Guajillo Pepper Chili. For those non-vegetarians in search of a meal-size offering, Reis recommended the Chicken Karaage Plate, designed like a bento box with "tender pieces of fried chicken served with a house sauce, steamed rice, and side of Chop Chop Salad."

We didn't make it far from The Box--about ten steps to the Molly Moon truck, in fact--before I ran into Leslie, a fellow mom from my children's elementary school, who was carrying a box of tomato starts, all sorts I'd never heard of that she'd found at Hedlin Farms. Following her lead, I swung by and picked up a variety called "Stump of the World," which, according to the gals at Hedlin, yields a "bushy plant with Brandywine pink fruit as big as your head." In other words, stake this puppy well.


After the eight-year-old licked her ice cream scoop right off the cone onto the pavement (I applied the ten-second rule and a napkin from Reis), we ventured down to Rockridge Orchards to buy the absent twelve-year-old some fresh cider as a guilt offering. There, the display of rhubarb caught my eye:

My husband is not the World's Biggest Rhubarb Fan, having eaten too much of it in every way, shape and form, growing up in Eastern Washington, but the stalks were so very beautiful that I couldn't resist buying a Whole Lot of Them. A whole, whole lot.


Since strawberries aren't in season yet, Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie was out, but I did find this recipe for the admittedly-nasty sounding "Stewed Rhubarb." Because it contains strawberry jam, you get some of the same flavor as the pie, and I (at least) found it luscious over vanilla ice cream, as did some friends we had dinner with. Better yet, instead of the recipe being "easy as pie," it was way easier. Give it a try.


Stewed Rhubarb (adapted from The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook)


1 lb rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c strawberry jam (I used my mother-in-law's homemade jam)
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t salt


Combine all ingredients in a two-quart saucepan over medium heat. When it boils (there is hardly any liquid to speak of, at first, so I waited till the jam bubbled), turn the heat to low. Cover and simmer 10-20 minutes, until the rhubarb is tender. (I cooked it till it broke apart because I didn't really want chunks on my ice cream.)


Serve warm or refrigerate. Spoon over vanilla ice cream. Or split a biscuit, pour over, and top with whipped or ice cream for a Rhubarb Shortcake!


What will you discover this week at the Market? And don't forget--if you miss Thursday, the Saturday Market opens this week! 10-3P in the First Congregational Church parking lot, 752 108th Ave NE. Double Markets--yippee!

Ten Tomato Tips

Courtesy of Tomato411.com

UrbanFarmJunkie checking in from the road, here.

My husband's precious tomatoes have been a disappointment this cloudy, cool summer, and for the first time since he began "farming" in our front yard, I had to resort to buying tomatoes in August. Fortunately our farmers have beauties, far cries from the flavorless pink baseballs at the store.

In honor of the Symbol of Summer, I offer Ten Tomato Tips:

  1. Dirt and sun provide flavor. Ask your farmer how they grew their tomatoes.
  2. Sniff the suckers. If they smell rich and tomato-y, that's a good bet. We just visited my niece, who has the disconcerting habit of smelling any food you offer her, as if you were holding out something you pulled from the trash can. This habit would be handy for tomato-choosing.
  3. Don't put them in the fridge! It makes them mealy. But you knew that already, right?
  4. Store tomatoes stem-side down. This tip courtesy Cook's Illustrated and my neighbor. Doing so "blocks air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar." Meaning, mold prevention.
  5. A tomato salad a day keeps the doctor away. While I love a good Caprese Salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt), here in Washington there are some tasty variations. My mother-in-law serves up a Walla-Wallese Salad: sliced tomatoes alternated with sliced Walla Walla Sweet onions and drizzles with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When I don't have any fresh mozzarella, I just go for the sliced tomatoes with balsamic and olive oil. Who needs lettuce?
  6. Don't can? Don't panic. Frequent UFJ blog readers will know I'm just an armchair pioneer woman. I do NOT can, make my own cheese, raise my own chickens, slaughter my own cattle. One year I tried to take my husband's tomato bumper crop and make sauce of it all. After slaving over a hot stove for hours I found it so not worth it. Bring on the BPA from storebought canned tomato sauce because I just...can't...deal with it. Well, a dear friend alerted me to the fact that I can just pick all those tomatoes, wash them, pull the stem out, and throw them in a freezer bag. Yes, they turn to mush when you thaw them in the winter, but they're recipe-ready! You can thaw, drain, and puree them if you like.
  7. Not a fan of fried green tomatoes? I've tried. We used to have a gardener who would beg for some of our green tomatoes at the end of the season so he could go fry them up. Surely they must be good, right? Well--not my version, is all I can say. If you've got tons of green tomatoes on the vine come October, just pick them and spread them out on newspapers or cardboard in the garage. They'll continue to ripen, and while they won't be as good as vine-ripened, you won't have to feel rotten-tomato-guilt when that first frost hits.
  8. Sugar helps everything. Add some when cooking with tomatoes. My homemade spaghetti sauce calls for a whole teaspoon.
  9. Tomato water is useful. It's acidic, which is the reason it leaches BPA from cans. Think lemon juice. You can use the tomato juice/water/dribbles to do lemon-juicy things, like marinate raw fish. One website suggests using all the run-off in soups. Hmmm...not likely for me, but some of you thrifty, industrial types might try it.
  10. Get out of the beefsteak rut! Even your commongarden grocery store offers an array of tomato varieties. Ask your farmers about the different colors and flavors. Tell them how you plan to use them, and ask for recommendations. Picking several colors of tomatoes makes for both flavor and interest in your salads, especially.

Enjoy the tomato-y riches of late August at the Market this week. You'll notice some of the trees are already beginning to turn (grrrr...) so plan ahead and put some by.