Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

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4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

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Now’s the time to head to your local farm stand and pick up a bag of gorgeous plum tomatoes, before the season is gone! And this is what you do with them…

These are not sun-dried tomatoes. They’re better, because fresh plum tomatoes are still moist after roasting, with a bit of that magic tomato liquid in every cup! A great, simple platter to offer at parties.

Tomatoes before

Tomatoes before

12 to 18 halved, seeded plum tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
Freshly ground pepper
Fleur de Sel or sea salt

Pre-heat the oven to 250.

Line a baking sheet with foil and rub it lightly with olive oil.

Arrange halved and seeded tomatoes on it in a single layer, cut side up. Drizzle evenly with 1/4 cup olive oil, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar, and season with pepper to taste.

Bake the tomatoes until they are still juicy but slightly wrinkled, about 3 hours. Transfer to a platter and let cool slightly.

Just before serving, sprinkle tomatoes with Fleur de Sel, and garnish if you like, with chopped parsley leaves, mint leaves, or basil.

Tomatoes after

Tomatoes after

The latest rage in food is finding new uses for cauliflower. Personally, I love the taste of it so I don’t really need alternatives. But my wife’s on a gluten-free diet, I need to reduce my carbs, and we both love pizza. It seemed that maybe a cauliflower crust could be the answer.

The key to the crispiest crust possible is to make sure you bake it thoroughly before you put the toppings on.  Even if the crust comes out a bit soggy, all is not lost. Just grab a knife and fork… It’ll still taste pretty darn good.

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2 cups riced, then cooked cauliflower
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley
mozzarella cheese
tomato sauce
additional pizza toppings of your choice

 

Cut the cauliflower florets into chunks and toss them in a food processor. Pulse until you get the consistency of rice. Don’t over-process, or you’ll get mush.

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Microwave the riced cauliflower in a bowl for about 6 minutes on high. No need to add water. Depending on the amount of liquid in your cauliflower, you may need to transfer it to a fine mesh strainer to let it drain. Once it has drained, transfer it to a clean dish towel and wrap the sides around the cauliflower, gently pressing out the excess water. You want to get it as dry as possible. Dry = crispier crust. But be careful…let the nuked cauliflower cool first or you could burn your hands!

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees. (I like to use my large toaster oven, with the convection feature turned off.)

In a large bowl, use 2 cups of the cauliflower. (Depending on the size of the cauliflower head, you may have a little left over.) Add the parmesan cheese, the eggs, garlic salt, oregano and parsley. Mix well until it forms a sort of ball of “dough.”

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Grease a 9″ stainless pizza pan with olive oil. (Lining it with non-stick foil first is an option.) Take your ball of “dough” and press it evenly into the pan, making sure you don’t get it too thin, or you’ll get holes.

Bake the “dough” in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until it looks brown and crispy and is fully cooked. You don’t want it to be soft or soggy.

Remove the pizza from the oven, and add the tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. (I used some pre-cooked chicken sausage and a sprinkling of oregano.)

Return the pizza to the oven, only this time place it under the broiler, and cook until the toppings have browned and the cheese has melted. Keep an eye on it…be careful not to burn it!

 

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

FullSizeRender (9)

4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

The home garden is already showing signs of activity. Overwintered kale and arugula plants are springing back to life, enough for a quick salad. Cool weather seeds that I’ve sown early: peas, turnips, radishes, broccoli raab, and others are sprouting. But nothing says the gardening season is here like my patch of homegrown asparagus taking off!

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Asparagus is really easy to grow. You just need the space, and the plants practically do the rest. Space them about a foot apart, and before you know it, you will have a vast network of tasty stalks sprouting through the soil every spring. They are so much better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.
In the start of the growing season, the stalks don’t even make it into the house. I cut them and just eat them straight out of the garden. Eventually, they make the move to the kitchen, where I love to simply place them on a baking sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Salt and pepper…and then in a 400-degree oven until they’ve caramelized.

Midway through the season, I have so much asparagus that I just don’t know what to do with them all. My friends don’t want anymore and I can’t bear to throw them into the compost pile. So I pickle them…a really easy process that ensures I’ve got delicious asparagus year-round.

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PICKLED ASPARAGUS
Several bunches of asparagus spears
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
20 peppercorns
Garlic cloves, peeled
Salt (1 teaspoon per quart-sized Mason jar. Use less for smaller jars.)
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar and peppercorns to a boil.
Trim the bottom of the asparagus spears so that spears are just slightly shorter than the height of the quart-sized Mason jar you will use. Or cut into pieces that will fit smaller jars.
Pack the jars as tightly as you can with asparagus spears. (They will shrink when processed.) Add the garlic clove and 1 teaspoon of salt to every quart-sized Mason jar…less for smaller jars.
Fill jars with the vinegar mixture and seal.
Process the jars for 10 minutes. Let them cool before placing in refrigerator.

WHY DOES YOUR PEE SMELL WHEN YOU EAT ASPARAGUS?

Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan. It is also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks. The signature smell occurs when this substance is broken down in your digestive system. Not all people have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, so some of you can eat all the asparagus you want without stinking up the place. One study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people tested did. (It has to do with your DNA.)

I’ve bested the old adage: “Plant your peas by St. Patrick’s Day” by a week! Today’s unusually warm weather got me out in the yard, and although this 32-foot square raised bed doesn’t look like much right now, underneath that soil lurks Sugar Snap peas, Arugula, Easter Egg radishes, Spinach, and a variety of Asian greens.

 

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That fencing material on the ground will surround the bed to keep nosy bunnies from devouring the first tasty shoots that pop up out of the soil.

I’ll take pictures every few weeks so we can see the progress.

ORGANIC OR NOT ORGANIC?

Posted: December 29, 2015 in Food, garden, tomatoes
Tags: , , , ,

You might be thinking of eating more healthy fruits and veggies in 2016, and organic is usually the way to go. But considering the price difference, it’s not always easy to simply buy organic over non-organic produce. Although I tend to buy mostly organic products, there are times when I think it’s not all that necessary. By the same token, there are times when it is absolutely necessary.

organic

Despite the organic label… despite the fact that produce has been triple washed or whatever other nonsense they claim, I always wash my produce before eating. And I store it in a new, clean plastic bag or container in the fridge, recycling the old clam shell container.

I try to avoid any produce from Mexico or South America, where they’re allowed to use pesticides banned long ago in the United States. I don’t even trust the organic products from those areas. (Hey, if they tell you not to drink the water when you vacation in Mexico, why would you want them to water your produce with it?)

And I buy seasonal organic produce from my local farmers whenever possible.

Here are a few of what are known as the “dirty dozen:”

Strawberries: Always go organic. Non-organic strawberries are bathed in pesticides and no amount of washing with water will remove them. There’s no way I’m going to put that in my daughter’s smoothie.
Speaking of strawberries, the greens on each fruit are totally edible, and you won’t notice them at all if you’re using them for smoothies. Just wash the fruits and then throw the whole thing into your blender.
I usually buy a large quantity of organic strawberries when they’re on sale, wash them thoroughly in cold water, and then freeze them in small bags to use for smoothies later.

Apples: Always go organic. I have two apple trees in my yard and I know what a nightmare it is to keep the bugs away from them. The only way you can do that is by spraying the living hell out of those trees. Unfortunately for me, the days of going to an orchard with the family and picking our own apples are long gone, because I know what they have to do to make them look pretty on the branch.

Potatoes: Always go organic. These are sprayed heavily as well. And then there’s the added bonus of spraying the harvested potatoes afterwards to prevent them from sprouting while in storage.

 

Since the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t do its job to let you know about pesticides in your food, groups like the EWG, the Environmental Working Group, do it for them. Other produce that falls into the “dirty dozen” category, as listed by the EWG: celery, peaches, bell peppers, spinach, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, kale, collard greens, zucchini, lettuce, blueberries. Always buy organic versions of these if you want to avoid ingesting pesticides. Remember, washing the fruit does not wash off the pesticide!

 

Fruits with skin you peel: bananas, oranges and other citrus, melons, etc…I’m OK with non-organic, but I wash the outside thoroughly before cutting into the fruit, and I don’t use the skin. If I need the zest of citrus for a recipe, I use organic…but those can be hard to find.

“The clean fifteen,” meaning produce you can buy that is not organic (according to the EWG): onions, sweet corn (which I totally disagree with, thanks to Monsanto’s Round-Up ready crops), pineapple, avocado, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, mango, papayas, eggplant, cantaloupe (domestic), kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, mushrooms. I would still keep my purchases to produce grown in the USA. Pesticides that are banned in the USA are still used in other countries.

Here’s some technical labeling info you may or may not know…

Natural: This is a marketing word – not a scientific label. The FDA requires only one natural ingredient to be present for an entire product to be labeled “natural.” This means that as long as a company has one natural ingredient despite multiple harmful chemical ingredients, they can still call the product natural. (As my buddy, Lee, a PhD in Chemistry once told me: “Hey…cyanide is ‘natural!'”) So always read the label!

USDA Certified Organic: Product labels that feature this term are manufactured by operators who comply with annual inspections, as well as random checks, to ensure they’re adhering to the USDA’s organic standards. This includes, among many things, a three-year process to properly fortify the farmland. It’s also important to note that many local farmers that do adhere to “organic” standards can’t afford the fee to apply the “organic” label to their products. So, talk to your local farmer about it.

Here are a few permutations of the USDA’s “organic” label:

    • 100 percent organic: Product must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
    • Organic: Product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Remaining product ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form, also on the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
    • Made with more organic ingredients: Products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients or “food” groups on the principal display panel. For example, body lotion made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients (excluding water and salt) and only organic herbs may be labeled either “body lotion made with organic lavender, rosemary, and chamomile,” or “body lotion made with organic herbs.” Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.

    Of course, all this assumes honest labeling on packaging. Bottom line: read labels, ask questions, and support your local farmers.

     

     

    PICKLED BEETS

    Posted: August 23, 2015 in beets, Food, pickling, Recipes
    Tags: , , , ,

    Growing up in a Lithuanian family, there was a small group of foods that I had to love to survive, since they constantly appeared on the dinner table: potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, herring, and beets. Fortunately for me, I loved them all, despite my Mom’s desire to boil everything to death.

    One of the many uses for beets, besides soups, was pickling. Pickled beets are an excellent side for any hearty meat dish. (I love ’em with kielbasa or steak!)  I add hard-boiled eggs and hunks of onion to the mix because I like them. If you don’t like ’em, leave ’em out and just add more beets.

    I combined store-bought already-cooked beets (the brand is called Love Beets) with Chiogga beets that I grew in my own garden and peeled and roasted before pickling.

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    4 to 8 beets, scrubbed (your favorite variety)
    1 cup apple cider vinegar
    1 cup water
    3 garlic cloves, crushed
    3 tablespoons sugar
    2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
    1 tablespoon Kosher salt
    2 Vidalia onions, quartered
    4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
    6 fresh dill sprigs

    Pre-heat the oven to 450. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for about an hour, until tender. When cool enough, carefully peel and quarter them.

    In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, garlic, sugar, peppercorns and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Let the pickling liquid cool to warm, about 15 minutes.

    In a heat-proof glass jar or container, layer the beets, onion, eggs,  and dill sprigs and then cover with the pickling liquid. Let stand at room temp for 2 hours, then place in fridge overnight.

    They stay fresh for a week, but they won’t last that long!

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    Now’s the time to head to your local farm stand and pick up a bag of gorgeous plum tomatoes, before the season is gone! And this is what you do with them…

    These are not sun-dried tomatoes. They’re better, because fresh plum tomatoes are still moist after roasting, with a bit of that magic tomato liquid in every cup! A great, simple platter to offer at parties.

    Tomatoes before

    Tomatoes before

    12 to 18 halved, seeded plum tomatoes
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
    Freshly ground pepper
    Fleur de Sel or sea salt

    Pre-heat the oven to 250.

    Line a baking sheet with foil and rub it lightly with olive oil.

    Arrange halved and seeded tomatoes on it in a single layer, cut side up. Drizzle evenly with 1/4 cup olive oil, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar, and season with pepper to taste.

    Bake the tomatoes until they are still juicy but slightly wrinkled, about 3 hours. Transfer to a platter and let cool slightly.

    Just before serving, sprinkle tomatoes with Fleur de Sel, and garnish if you like, with chopped parsley leaves, mint leaves, or basil.

    Tomatoes after

    Tomatoes after

    When asparagus is in season, it’s time to gorge. I’ve got it growing in my yard, and the patch gets bigger and happier every year with minimal maintenance…definitely one of those veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

    I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes. This is a great side dish with any main course slab of meat.

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    1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
    1 tablespoon butter
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
    salt and pepper

     

    The easy way to trim asparagus spears is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. Toss the bottoms into your compost pile.

    Heat the butter and oil in a pan and then add the asparagus spears. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. You don’t want them mushy.

    While the asparagus is still in the pan, sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. Season with salt and pepper.

    I ate this batch right out of the pan!