Saturday, August 22, 2009


I have been reading about slow roasted tomatoes for years and I don't know why it took me so long to jump on the train with all the cool kids, but I am here now! Let me tell you, these things are a revelation. Everything good about tomatoes is magnified in the slow roasting approach, turning a perfectly serviceable Roma into a thing of brilliance. Think of the depth of flavor in a good quality tomato paste, but sweeter, and with the added fragrance of your favorite olive oil and a little magic thrown in. I'm told you can use these with pasta, salads, eggs, and as appetizers but so far I find that eating them as is works pretty well, too.

If you start googling recipes, you'll find that the directions are all over the map. Use cherry tomatoes. No--paste tomatoes. Place skin side up. No--skin side down. Roast for anywhere from 3 to 12 hours at temperatures ranging from 175 to 300 degrees. Herbs and garlic cloves are essential for seasoning. Or you can skip those. My guess is that all of these approaches work just fine.

What I did was drizzle two sheet pans with a lovely, fragrant olive oil and then slice a whole bunch of Roma tomatoes lengthwise, cutting out the little stem thingy as I went along. I rubbed the cut side of each tomato half in the olive oil, flipped it over, and lined it up with all the others until the pan was full. I gave each pan a light sprinkle of kosher salt and popped them in the oven at 175 degrees and came back 12 hours later. Once cool, I peeled the skins off each tomato half and then popped them into freezer bags to save for winter although I confess I ate more than a few during that process.

I hope I've convinced you that you need to go make these immediately. As in, RIGHT NOW. Seriously. GO. And then come back and tell me all about it.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture...and carrots!

We've come to the decision that, while we've loved the CSA this year and the produce has been excellent, we don't plan to continue next year, mostly because we'd rather have more say in what we buy and when we cook. The CSA food has been delicious, but there's a lot of guilt if we don't do something with it immediately. And goign to the farmers market has come to seem like a crazy extravagance. But we really, really like visiting different farmers markets and being able to see what's in season and make out own decisions about what we'll cook and eat. The CSA has made us try a few new things, but it makes more sense to spend our money on things our family loves rather than bravely tolerating turnips. And it's not like won't still support local farmers next year--we'll just be supporting more of them.

I will miss the weekly surprise. What did we get? Ooooh! Purple peppers? Strawberries? Funny carrots?

I've seen lots of carrots with legs:

but this was the first time I'd seen a carrot that needed to pee!

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Monday, August 10, 2009

DIY Coffee

I love the crazy diversity of my neighborhood. Some of my neighbors like to drink enormous quantities of soda and then toss the cups in the street. Others drink beer while sitting in their parked cars, listening to 70's R&B. And then there are the east African families whose serious love of coffee necessitates home roasting. When I arrive home from work around 9:15, the air in my neighborhood is often heavy with the scent of coffee roasting in the tiny apartments scattered throughout Parkrose.

I imagine these women, swathed in colorful cottons, carefully tending their beans in a cast iron skillet or perhaps some sort of fascinating bit of specialized equipment, passed down through families and carefully wrapped for the journey from Ethiopia to the US. What I never pictured was a hot air popcorn popper but, as it turns out, these silly things make decent one-batch coffee roasters.

Intrigued by this idea, I asked my friend Doreen for some green beans (which, because they are decaffeinated, are actually a light tan color before roasting). Doreen and her husband run ZBeanz, a local coffee roasting company whose coffee I love. While I was curious to try roasting my own coffee, I had no illusions that I'd produce anything brilliant and wisely bought a bag of their Sumatra decaf for backup.

You can read about popcorn popper coffee roasting all over the web, but I found this page at Coffee Geek to be particularly informative. After reading thoroughly I took the popper outside to avoid setting off smoke alarms. I put in about half a cup of beans, turned the thing on, and puttered around in the garden for 5 minutes or so while things warmed up. I was soon rewarded with a lovely aroma as the beans began to darken. I peered carefully into the popper to keep an eye on the darkening beans and soon noticed that along with the rich coffee smell I was also breathing in the less lovely aroma of melting plastic! When I realized the hood for the popper was starting to melt I unplugged things and decided the beans were dark enough.

I immediately heated water and ground the beans for my French press. The resulting coffee was good but not as full bodied as I would have liked. My 16 year old coffee loving son declared it "bland". And he was right. We both prefer a darker roast which was prevented by my early shutdown of the popper.

I may pursue this more, just because I love the idea of doing my own roasting. On the other hand, I don't love the idea of inhaling plastic fumes at all. Thank goodness I always no where to go for more excellent coffee!

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Food Preservation Fun

Back in June when I decided this was going to be The Year I Preserve Everything I bought a copy of The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, mostly because I was taken by the "small batch" part. Small batches mean I don't need to haul out the gigantic, baby bath sized canning kettle and attempt to move it, full of water, from the sink to the stove. Small batch means not waiting an hour for the water to heat. Small batch means I can toss a few half pint jars in my stockpot and can without drama. Awesome.

Also, this book had lots of intriguing recipes beyond the usual Ball Blue Book staples , things like Thai Chile Sauce and Madras Pickled Eggplant. So far I've made the barely cooked strawberry jam and the lovely blueberry marmalade and been quite pleased. Recently after halving and pitting 22 pounds of Tilton apricots and running them through my dehydrator, I was looking through the book again and came across red pepper and apricot chutney. Home dried apricots are nothing short of amazing and I needed to figure out a way to prevent myself from endlessly snacking until they all disappeared in less time than it took to dry them. I'm happy to report that I still have most of my apricots after the clever idea of sealing them up using my friend's Food Saver. Somehow busting into one of those lumpy, vacuum packed bags is a lot more daunting than sneaking a few out of a plain old jar.
But luckily I held a couple of cups of dried apricots aside to make this chutney which has raisins, apples, sweet bell peppers, candied ginger, and onion to round out the flavors. I found it disappointingly cloying at first, so added in about half a head of chopped garlic, some mustard seeds, and a dash of turmeric which provided the perfect foil for all that sweetness and the resulting chutney is something I am flat out crazy for. I used some in the dressing for curried chicken salad and it was delicious. The author suggests pairing it with cheddar cheese, and what I am loving right now is a thin layer of this chutney along with some smoked turkey on a crusty roll. I just started a fresh batch of chevre and I'm thinking a thin smear of chutney and a thick splodge of chevre on a cracker might be about the finest thing ever.

Unlike my tomato chutney which takes forever to cook down, this took no more than 30 minutes so it's really not a huge production, making it the kind of project I like best. If you decide to give this a go, do let me know how it turns out. And while we're at it, what are your favorite summer preserving projects? Let me know in the comments--thanks!

Printable recipe here.
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Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Long Overdue Mango Post

According to Mr Bittman, the recession has yet to boost home cooking but I can tell you that we are tightening our belts around here and visiting restaurants much less often. Which means it's up to me to keep us supplied with good food. I've been hitting lots of U-pick fields, farmers markets and farm stands looking for both inspiration and bargains and storing up lots of summer bounty for the dark days of winter. When I recently came across a great deal on some fine looking mangoes, I snapped them up without much of a plan. Only later did it occur to me to try and make a simple version of mango kulfi, the delicious Indian ice cream that's so lovely and refreshing on a hot day.
I knew that, like so many tasty Indian desserts, reduced milk was key. Also I knew there was no way I was going to stand over the stove to carefully cook down milk on (yet another) very hot day. I had on hand a can of evaporated milk purchased for possibly making fudge frosting for a cake but the birthday boy opted for mocha buttercream instead, which was fortuitous.

No printable recipe today, folks, as this is super easy. I won't pretend that it's authentic, but it worked for us. Empty a 12 ounce can of evaporated milk into the blender along with 3 large peeled mangoes cut into chunks, 1/3 cup of sugar, maybe half a teaspoon of rose water, and the crushed seeds from 5 or 6 cardamom pods. Whiz until smooth, and chill. When good and cold, transfer to an ice cream maker, and proceed as usual.

Now let's talk mangoes for just a moment. I had never eaten a mango in my life until I lived in Mexico in my early 20's. At one point during our stay in Cuernavaca, we suddenly noticed that the roadsides were littered in flat, hairy things. I thought they were some sort of weird Mexican lemming following an ancient signal to march to their death. Then I learned mango season had begun and everyone was gorging on this loveliest of fruit, often cut to look like a flower, impaled on a stick, and sprinkled with lime juice and chile. My first mango was a tentative, sticky, messy experience, but in no time I was in love. Mangoes are one of my very favorite fruits to this day, though I find it's not always easy to get good ones. I have much better luck in smaller ethnic markets than I do in our local natural food emporiums. Pop into any Vietnamese market and you are likely to find a box of mangoes at a very good price.

But what kind of mango? I've always been partial to the smaller yellow mangoes known as ataulfo, champagne, or Manila for eating fresh. I like their buttery texture and almost complete lack of hairy fiber. I tend to have good luck with finding nice ripe ones. I have more trouble catching the larger mangoes when they are best so I normally don't bother, but these Kent mangoes were selling for an unbeateable price so I am glad I took my chances. They were bursting with flavor and perfect for the kulfi I made. If you want to use the smaller yellow mangoes, use 5 or 6 for a batch of kulfi.
I am so tickled with this recipe. I am not sure how it differs from the real thing, but it works for me. I hope you'll give it a try. Of course it's a lovely way to end an Indian meal but I could eat it pretty much anytime.
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