Thursday, July 18, 2013

Slow Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes

I met Joe on New Year’s Day 2011 and it was only a matter of weeks before we embarked on a long distance relationship which has since resulted in two years of adventures,cohabitation and a recent engagement to boot (yay!).  I lived in San Francisco at the time we met, and Joe, in Davis.  It was roughly a two hour one-way Amtrak ride to see him (or three beers, depending on your choice of metrics), but it was worth it for the two short days we'd spend together each week.  We had conflicting weekends, rarely having the same days off unless I could swing some hard to come by coverage at work, so visits were often short and spent soaking up all the affection we could to last us through the next week.  Pizza and pint nights were a staple.  Late night bike rides...  Lounging in bed with Little Wings faintly playing on repeat for hours, occasionally taking a break to smoke a cigarette on the back porch and bask in the cool night air...  As the weather began to warm, we took walks through the arboretum to welcome spring and encourage it to make itself at home with us.

That April, Joe had the grand idea that we were going to plant a garden in his backyard.  My idea of gardening was derived from my mother and my Pappy: a few colorful perennials plopped into the ground and rosebush pruning.  Some geraniums and a few snapdragons.  Maybe there’d be knee pads and cute gardening gloves involved.  And maaayyybe a tomato plant or fruit tree although a little venturesome.   Round-Up and Miracle Grow were must haves in our gardening arsenal.  I had this in the bag!  But after a trip in Joe’s pickup truck to borrow a rototiller (a roto-what?) from a landscaping friend of his and purchasing over 10 baby tomato plants, I realized that I was way, waaay in over my head.   I was going to need more than a pair of knee pads and gloves to impress this guy.

During that month together, we pulled weeds and took the rototiller to the entire backyard.  We laid gravel by the fire pit and aimlessly threw sunflower and poppy seeds everywhere.  We built four planter boxes.  We planted 12 heirloom tomato plants, six green pepper plants, two tomatillo plants, two rows of corn, a patch of watermelon and an herb garden that flaunted cilantro and rosemary taller than the corn.  No Miracle Grow.  Everything just simply thrived.  I quit my job and moved to Davis.  We listened to a lot Devil Makes Three.  We drank pear cider.  We roasted marshmallows and burned cockroaches.  We got sunburned and sweaty and dirty and fell head over heels in love (note: we are not hippies, I swear. We do shower).

By the time August rolled around our yield was so large that we were giving tomatoes away by the bag full.  There was a lot of spaghetti sauce.  A lot of caprese salad.  I roasted the little fellas, too, which was my favorite way to eat them (especially the Cherokee Purples).  They were sweet and rich, bursting with flavors so unbelievably complex  that you realize the grocery stores have been fooling you all along with their oily, wrinkly canned “sun-dried” tomatoes and you'll never go back again.

We don’t have the luxury of a large backyard these days, but we still have our tomatoes and select herbs.  I assume the old house is still sprouting volunteer plants and poppies this summer, and I’m a little envious.  But we’ve done pretty well with the limited space we have.  We’re unable to plant in the ground given our small, cemented apartment patio so Joe built a tall rack to place the potted tomatoes on, giving them access to direct sunlight over the fence (that guy's just full of these genius ideas).  And even though I’m sure the roots are overly cramped and screaming  for space, we have surprisingly managed to grow heirlooms that are just as productive in 5-gallon pots as they could have been in the ground.  And still without the Miracle Grow!  What can I say?  We’re pretty good together.

Our heirlooms started ripening in droves this week and I decided I couldn't wait until we were up to our necks in tomatoes before I would roast some.  So I did.  Here, you’ll find perhaps the easiest, least time consuming thing you can do to a tomato, other than pop it directly into your mouth.  All you need is some olive oil, herbs, a clove of garlic and your little prides of joy.  Don’t grow?  Pick some of these beauts up at the Co-Op or Farmers Market. You can do anything with these once they’re roasted: pop ‘em in your pasta sauces for some added flavor, add them in your pan chicken dishes or grilled veggie sandwiches, eat ‘em as a snack or side dish, or do what Joe did and use them for homemade pizza sauce and pizza toppings for a meatless Monday dinner (thanks, babe!). No matter how you eat them, you’ll love them. I promise.


Slow Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes

This is a recipe that you can adapt to your own taste. Want more garlic? Add it! Have some basil you want to use? Go for it! I use thyme and rosemary I have in my “garden” (man, I can’t wait to have a house and a yard again).  I also want to suggest that you use meatier heirlooms, like Cherokee Purples, but that’s just my personal preference. Smaller and juicer slicer tomatoes tend to drown in their own liquid and shrink down to a shriveled up skin the end (so, so disappointing). The meaty fellas hold their own in the oven. Cherry tomatoes, like Sungolds, work well too! Just monitor them because they tend to burn if you choose to roast at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time (like I did for the above photos. I was impatient and didn't want to wait eight hours, so I speed roasted them, so to speak, at 350 degrees for three hours. The result was fine, but I recommend you be a big kid, keep your panties on and just wait the eight hours as I wrote out below. Sooooo worth it).

Side note: I know turning your oven on for 6-8 hours in mid-July sounds like an insanely hellacious idea, but TRUST ME! The oven is on at such a low temperature you’ll hardly notice. And if you do, you can curse me and turn the AC on.

4-6 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, halved
A couple springs of fresh rosemary
A couple springs of fresh thyme
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil (the better the quality, the happier you’ll be

Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.  Drizzle one to two tablespoons of olive oil on a baking sheet.  Scatter the sliced garlic on the sheet.  Place the tomatoes cut side up in two rows on the baking sheet and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top of the tomatoes.  Sometimes, I'll use a pastry brush to make sure I get olive oil on all of them.  Sprinkle rosemary and thyme leaves on the top of each tomato.  Only a few leaves are needed, don’t overdo it or you’ll overpower the tomato’s natural flavor.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and let them roast for 6-8 hours and enjoy how amazing your kitchen smells.  When time is up, remove them from the oven and let them set for about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a large plate, tray, Tupperware or plastic Ziploc bag.  The roasted tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen for later use for up to three months.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Classic Peach Pie

I have a confession to make…  I don’t know how, why or who actually let this happen, but I didn't experience the sweet, irresistible juiciness of a fresh summer peach until I was a senior in college.  No, really. I did not eat my first peach until I was 22 years old.  Without ever having tasted one I had somehow convinced myself and any adult in charge of feeding me that peaches were the devil's fruit.  They tasted like dry, fuzzy velvet causing me to react the same way a dog does to a spoonful of peanut butter.  They had no business on my plate.  None. Also, my little brother Mikie LOVED peaches, which, in toddler logic, automatically meant I couldn't like them even if I wanted to (ohhh sibling rivalry).  Like most kids, proclaiming I hated peaches was enough  justification for my parents to not make me try them.  At least we can all agree that we were that toddler once, can't we?

And here's another confession: not only did I "hate" peaches and any form they came in (fresh peaches, canned syrupy morsels, juice concentrate, frostbit and frozen), I thought peaches were apricots.  I know that's ridiculous, but what makes it more ridiculous is the fact that I was raised in Hollister, a small town lined with orchard after orchard of Blenheim apricot trees.  As many have said, you didn't truly grow up in Hollister if you didn't spend a summer cuttin’ ‘cots for your first real job (unless, of course, you were me and you had no idea apricots weren't peaches and wanted nothing to do with stone fruits.  Again, I have no idea how my parents ever let this atrocity happen).  Growing up, I vividly remember a poor pathetic excuse for an apricot tree in my backyard on Central Avenue.  The trunk was no bigger than my forearm and its long, wilted leaves sometimes yellowed at the tips.  I used to pick the leaves and assemble pretend flower bouquets for my mom.  The dried pits scattered on the ground were fossils that needed to be excavated.  The green unripened  fruits made the perfect surprise grenade in dirt clod wars with Mikie.  I swear, as far as my memory is concerned it was the never-ripening-tree of inedible fruit. And I’m sure my mom was fine with this because Mikie would have ate them all in a heartbeat if she hadn't told us our rat terrier Butch peed on the tree, explaining that why the cots were green and the leaves yellow.  Reason number three I never ate peaches (disguised as apricots): dog pee.

In college I worked part time in a bakery as a scrawler of “Happy Birthday!” on cakes and a packager of petit fours.  The bakery was located in a small, locally owned market in Cotati next to an abundant produce section overflowing with local bounty.  Jose, who worked in the produce department, was a charming and jolly older man with jet black hair, squinty eyes, and an always-stained green apron with a pocket knife clipped on the bib.  Each day I worked he would bring me the most ripe sample slices of any fruit he thought I needed to try and teach me about it.  He taught me how to squeeze a melon and what shade the perfect Asian pear should be.  He taught me which tomatoes were best for making sauces and which were best for turkey sandwiches.  Once, during one of our daily chats and sample sessions, I politely refused a slice of white peach.  He was appalled.  Offended.  Confused.  In an effort to sway me, Jose told me all about doughnut peaches, white peaches and yellow peaches.  How to pick a ripe one.  The best colors and what they meant.  The easiest way to remove the skin to avoid the dry, fuzzy velvet.  That a fresh peach pie was the quintessential taste of summer.  That I’d been depriving myself of one of the simplest pleasures for 22 years of my life.  In an act of “I told you so” spite, I nibbled on a slice of white peach with full intention of spitting it out into his fat hand.  Its nectar dripped down my wrist and exploded in my mouth with sweet, sweet flavor and sunshine.  I didn't spit it out.  I took another bite, just to make sure.  Jose knew that he had won me over and I was hooked.

Looking back, I'm grateful my parents weren't the type to make me eat everything they put on my plate, but in this case I would almost consider it child abuse.  No parent should ever allow their child to deprive themselves of this godsend of a fruit (we can also add strawberries and tomatoes to this list, which I didn't eat for a longer time than I'm willing to admit. I know, I was a weird kid).

In celebration of my now four year love affair with peaches, I decided this summer would be my first experimentation with peach pie.  My only run-in with this summertime staple (other than putting frozen pies in the convection oven in the bakery) was when I was about 8 years old and Boggum, which is what we called my mother’s mother, tried her hand at baking one. The end result was more of a hot and overly sweet peach soup with soggy, raw pieces of dough and sugary yet hardly edible crumbles.  Her infamous pie flop provided me yet another reason to avoid the fruit.  In hindsight, I don’t think I ever witnessed her bake anything that wasn't premixed and packaged, so pie was probably a tall order, bless her soul.  I was willing to give it my own try and I am so glad I did.

For this recipe I opted to use my Grammy’s tried and true pie crust recipe, but added a tablespoon of sugar to sweeten it up a bit this time around.  For the filling, I took pointers from Smitten Kitchen’s classic peach pie recipe (which you can here).  Deb Perelman's simple combination of cinnamon and nutmeg plays perfectly on the peaches'  natural flavor and sweetness without overpowering it.  As Deb says, “Peach one of the universe's most perfect foods and it needs nothing- not a vanilla bean, not a dash a thyme or grating of fresh ginger- to be the very embodiment of a midsummer night's dream".   I've never heard truer words, Deb.  I ate this pie for dessert.  I ate it for breakfast.  I sneak into the fridge and steal bites with a fork nearly every time I walk by.  I swear I taste sunshine in this pie.


Classic Peach Pie
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Peach Pie

Pie Crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cups Crisco
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons water, very cold

7-8 medium-sized yellow peaches
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3  cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
A sprinkle of nutmeg
3 tablespoons cornstarch

The Crust:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Using a fork, pastry cutter or your fingers (I always use a fork because I feel like I have more control), cut the Crisco into the flour mixture until you have flakes of Crisco no larger than the size of a small pea.  Work in 4 tablespoons of the water with the same method as the Crisco. Add last four tablespoons of water and knead in only a few times, just enough to work it into a large ball. Separate the dough into two balls, wrap in saran wrap and flatten slightly. Place in the refrigerator while you make the filling. Note that this is not a frozen pie crust recipe and will make enough just for the crust and top of one pie.

The Filling:
Prepare an ice bath. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of each peach with a seated knife and gently place in the pot of water.  Poach for about 2 minutes (slightly longer for less ripe peaches. But only slightly, you don't want to cook them).  Remove from the pot and immediately place in the ice bath for approximately 30 seconds to one minute to stop the cooking process and remove to cutting board.  The skins should slide right off the peach.  If the peaches aren't ripe enough you may have some trouble doing this (like I did with two of them) so you can use a pairing to help peel the skin off the rest of the way.  Once the skins are removed, halve your peaches and remove the pits.  Cut the peaches into 1/3 inch sized slices and place in a large bowl.  Toss all slices in lemon juice and set aside.  In a small bowl, stir the dry ingredients together until evenly mixed.  Add the mixture to the peaches and gently toss evenly to coat.  Set aside.

Assemble the Pie:
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Remove your pie dough from the refrigerator.  Generously flour your kitchen counter (or whatever your rolling surface is going to be) and your rolling pin.  Remove one disc of dough from its saran wrap and place on the counter and start rolling the heck out of it.  This is the most time consuming and frustrating part of pie making, but if you keep flouring your rolling pin and the surface underneath the dough you shouldn't have any trouble at all.  Once the dough is roughly the size of a 13 inch circle, place it in a 9 inch pie dish, gently lining the creases and trimming the edges so it hangs over by an inch.  Scoop all the filling into the pie dish.

The Lattice Pie Crust:
Roll out the second disc using the same technique.  Using a knife or pastry cutter, cut the dough  into even 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide strips, depending on how wide you want them.  Lay 5-7 parallel  strips of dough across the top of your pie, leaving about 1/2 inch space in between each one.  Fold Back every other strip half way. Take the longest strip of dough and place it perpendicular to the others.  Pull the folded-back strips back over the pie top and this strip.  Fold back the other strips and place a new strip perpendicular to these.  Continue this process alternating between the strips until the lattice top is formed across both sides of the pie.  Trim the overlaying edges of the lattice strips so they are even with the lower crust or so that they are even with the diameter of the pie dish (this pretty much depends on how thick your crusts are.  If they're thick, I'd recommend trimming the lattice strips to the edge of the pie dish so that crimping is easier.  This is totally up to you).  Crimp the lower crust over the top by pinching or using a fork.  Brush pie top with water and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling begins to slowly bubble.  Allow to cool for at least an hour at room temperature to allow the filling to thicken (this will prevent the filling from oozing out of the crust and into the pie dish which I'm sure what is happened to poor Boggum).  The pie can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator, whichever you prefer.

Warm, a la mode.  Or, however you want. Who am I to judge (I am, after all the weird kid who never ate peaches, strawberries or tomatoes)?  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Simple Summer Salmon

I am not a summer baby and few things make me happy in mid-July: air conditioning, homegrown tomatoes and fishing season. I've got a patio garden on the brink of yielding baskets of ripe, juicy, plump heirloom tomatoes (make sure to check back soon for some delicious tomato recipes) and a fishing pole that’s definitely getting used to its full potential. The only time you’ll see me abandon by AC is to indulge in these two simple summer pleasures.

In celebration of two of my favorite summer pleasures, I give you this simple recipe: Sriracha lime Salmon. It really is one of the simplest dishes you can have on your weekly dinner rotation. It’s light and healthy, it’s easy, it pairs wonderfully with summer veggies like zucchini, peppers and squash. We’re in the peak of salmon season right now, so head on down to your local fish market and load up; nothing compares to fresh, wild salmon.

I know what you’re thinking: “Preparing fresh fish is hard!! There’s work involved!! All those little bones!!” I know, sweetie. There, there. But if I can do it, you can too. Growing up, my dad was an avid fisherman.  He would go on an annual salmon fishing trip with the guys every year and come home with pounds and pounds of fresh salmon. I can’t recall if he personally filleted, skinned and de-boned the salmon himself, but admittedly, I was slightly embarrassed when after I got the fillets on my cutting board with the oven preheated and sauce mixed and ready to go, I realized that I have never seen this done before. And not only have I never seen it done before, I don’t even own a fillet knife (you can only imagine how excited I’m getting to register for wedding gifts). So, I present to you, Bobby Flay:

I mean, who doesn't trust Bobby Flay? I don’t want to tell you how I managed to get the skin off the filet, but I will tell you that a pair of tweezers works wonderfully for pulling out the little fish bones if you don’t have pliers (again, REALLY excited for this wedding registry business). After I prepped the fish, the rest was relatively quick and painless. Put the fillets in a baking dish, slather on the sauce and throw it in the oven. In less than 15 minutes, you’re ready to eat! For the sides, I picked up some corn on the cob, zucchini, red peppers and sweet onion from the farmers market and gave them a quick boil and sauté (the produce is all from Swank Farms, a little local farm from my hometown in Hollister, CA. Check them out here). If you like your salmon a little on the spicier side, add a little extra Sriracha on top for the last 5 minutes of the bake. Now, pour yourself a chilled glass of pinot grigio, plop yourself in front of the AC and enjoy.


Sriracha Lime Salmon

1 ¼ lbs wild king salmon fillets, skin removed and de-boned
Juice and zest of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (grade A or B)
1 1/2 teaspoons tsp Sriracha sauce
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Coarsely chopped cilantro

Heat oven to 425°. In a bowl, whisk together the lime juice, lime zest, maple syrup, sriracha and salt. Place salmon in a baking dish lined with parchment paper or foil; pour lime-siriacha-maple sauce over the top. Place in oven and bake until cooked through and flaky, about 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve hot. Enjoy!

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