Monday, July 30, 2012

Show Me Your Tomatoes and I Will Show You Mine !

Each year a restaurant friend of mine has a promotion during the peak of Summer, "Show Me Your Tomatoes!" the sign reads in huge letters swinging above the storefront.  And for sure, it never fails to attract the most fantastic tomatoes! .....a constant crowd pleasing run away success.

After this year's rousing festivities, we decided to hit the streets motivated by fantastic tomatoes.  The hunt took us to local stores, large organic national chains and small farmers market growers.  Favorites were the locally ripened on the vine where 'ripe' was not a marketing word but actually delivered that explosion of taste. Shelf life is short on these, maybe three or four days.  A hint in off season when tomatoes are underripe, one can cut them in half and slow roast them on racks in a 250 degree oven until they start to shivel.  A little drizzle of olive oil, chopped garlic, herb and touch of salt before roasting improves the oven dried flavor.  But the seasonal 'ripe' flavor adds a level of umami that can hardly be challenged.  Yes, they are all fresh, but 'ripe' brings out why a vegetable based diet with great understanding of preparation is so right.  In fact, right to the skin and body level.

More on that is great to read:

And from me, time I Show You MY Tomatoes!'

Umami Tomatoes
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Serve Time:              0 minutes
Servings:                   2

5          medium ripe farmstead tomatoes
1          cubanelle pepper
1    Tbl red wine vinegar
3    Tbl extra virgin olive oil
2    Tbl chopped fresh rosemary, mint or basil
2    Tbl chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut each tomato in 8 wedges and place in a bowl.  Slice the cubanelle pepper into thin rounds, discarding the last 1/4 inch stem.  Place cubanelle pepper, vinegar, oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and coarse black pepper over the tomatoes.  Toss, serve with crusty garlic bread and eat with Chopsticks right from the bowl. Yum!   And a shared bottle of an under $20 Verdejo, a dry white wine from Spain, brings the slightly acid dish into another expectation.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Smoooooth Success!

A year ago I was off doing a flavor conference in Napa Valley.   Happily I had an evening to spend afterwords as normally when I am done,  I am heading to the red eye flight for that late pm return and early start on the next day.   A group of us got together for a few late night snacks and the conversations about global cooking took a lot of paths.  I found myself sitting across from Andrea Nguyen, a truly great cook, fabulous writer and intriguingly wonderful person.  Andrea talked about her life on the road while research a new book of hers:  Asian Tofu (ten speed press)

In her honor I settled into one of her recipes, 'Silken Tofu and Edamame Soup'. While I know there is a lot of conversation about soy and I am taking a serious look at scads of data, this dish rocks!

Go for it.  Sumptuous and rewarding.  A bit of caution.  Carefully follow the amount of rice and edamame.  Too much rice leaves an over creamy mouthfeel.  Too much edamame or overcooking same can lead to a somewhat unrefreshing nose.  In short, my suggestion is to 'follow the recipe', at least until you try it Andrea's way.   Many thanks, Andrea for another great book!

Silken Tofu and Edamame Soup

A Melon Beyond Compare

When I hear home cooks say they want to make restaurant food at home I understand in the sense they want the finished dish to look and taste professional.  However, the number of cooks that achieve that, the layout of the professional kitchen, the dish and potwasher on staff, the surfaces that are easy to clean with ready available refrigeration and table prep areas are all key to making a restaurant dish.

Salads are one of the easiest dishes to assemble in the style of a restaurant.  Care has to be taken to have the salad hit the table when it is needed and not before as fresh and lively are two key components offer satifaction. 

Watermelon has almost countless opportunities as an ingredient.  Here is one style that a friend of mine and I offered in Carmel Valley to a discussion group.  It teaches you how to be a good cook as you make it, step by step.  It also teaches you respect for ingredients, savoring the combinations as part of your success.  This is not the kind of dish I would do on a whim.  There are simple ways of adding watermelon for ease.  Cutting these pave' or paver bricks out of watermelon helps to teach knife technique.  Use the scraps and rest of the watermelon to make a fun gazpacho. Enjoy the journey.  And a heartful thank you! to my friend Dan Kelly for sharing.

Watermelon ‘Pave’ Salad, Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, Plum Gastrique
Prep   Time:  45 minutes
Serve Time:  10 minutes

4             apples
12   oz    white vinegar
8              plums, cut in half, stones removed
8     oz     sugar

1              small watermelon, cut into 1 inch X 4 inch rectangles
½   cup    balsamic vinegar, reduced slowly to about three tablespoon syrup reduction
½   cup    Teardrop Heirloom tomatoes, cut in half
1   bunch watercress, arugula or mizuna washed and drained broken into 3 inch pieces
Sea Salt

Peel, core and chop apples.  Place them in a pot just large enough to hold and cover with water. Cook 20 minutes until a soft purée and strain.  Do not push the pulp, just let it drip for about an hour or more.  Place liquid  back in the pot with vinegar bring to a simmer.  Cook 5 minutes then add the plums.  Simmer slowly until soft. Push the mixture through a strainer.  Place the plum mix back in the pot.  Add the sugar and cook until 225 degrees on a sugar thermometer.  Remove from heat and reserve. This is what we call a gastrique, a tart and sweet reduced sugar syrup. 

Cut watermelon into 1-inch thick pave, place on a platter. Spoon lightly with fruit syrup ‘gastrique’.  Place mixed greens seasoned with sea salt on top of the melon. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.  Garnish plate with cut heirloom tomatoes seasoned with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Asian Salad 1-2-3

Salad can be as simple as grab a bag full of greens and have some fun.  Try this. A friend of mine, Chef Dan Kelly and I put this together in minutes for a group one afternoon.  Our 'rice mice' were the hit of the party! 

Asian Style Very Veggie Salad with Niguri ‘rice mice’ Chips, Wasabi Dressing
Using Dole Very Veggie Salad Kit
Prep   Time:  25 minutes
Serve Time:  15 minutes

½ cup rice wine vinegar
2  teas wasabi powder
2  teas fresh ginger
1  teas sugar
¾  cup  canola oil
2   teas sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

1   cup  cooked and flavored sushi rice
2   tbl    white sesame seeds
2   tbl    dark sesame seeds
1   pak   Dole, Very Veggie Mix
½  cup   red pepper strips, 3 X ¼ inch
1            Gala apple, sliced thinly

Place the first four ingredients in a large 10 inch bowl.  Slowly stream in the canola oil.  Finish the dressing with stirring in the sesame oil.  Season with salt and fresh pepper to taste.
Form the cooked and flavored sushi rice into small 2 oz oval balls.  Mix the sesame seeds  together in a small bowl and individually roll the sushi ovals on all sides with the sesame seeds.

Heat a ten inch skillet to medium.  Add 3 tbl of olive or vegetable oil and carefully brown the ovals on all sides.  Set aside to drain on a paper towel.  

Add a ½ cup of the wasabi dressing to a bowl.  Toss in the Dole Very Veggie Salad Mix and gently turn into the dressing.  Plate to small bowls or a large serving platter.  Add the crispy sushi ovals to the bowls and even distribute the red pepper strips and apple slices. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Body Smart, Center of Plate

Refining overcooked and smelly vegetables to aromatic and slightly crisp we get a new center of plate.  My vote on the cheese might be a switch to feta or even goat's cheese but YUM is in the taste for the beholders.  Bring out the Vegetable Alchemist in you!

Quick braise of Broccoli and Cauliflower
Prep Time:  10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Serves:         4
1   small bunch of broccoli, seperated into 3 inch lengths
1   small head of cauliflower, cored, broken into fleurettes
2   tbl        olive oil
2   teas      butter
1   lemon, cut in half, seeded and juiced
8   (1 oz)   parmesan,  thin slices
2   tbl fresh chopped herb like flat leaf parsley (optional)
pinch crushed red chile flakes
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Cut the broccoli stalk into 3 X 1/2 inch pieces.
Heat a 10 inch stirfry or saute pan to medium.  Add the olive oil and butter.  Heat until the butter stops foaming.  Add the broccoli and cauliflower and toss.  Season lightly with salt and fresh pepper. Cook about 3 minutes. Turn heat to medium high.  Add 1/4 cup of water, cover partially and braise for about 4 minutes until vegetables are cook but crisp.

Remove from heat, uncover and plate vegetables neatly.  Place the pan back on the heat and turn to medium. Add the lemon juice and simmer gently for two minutes.  Sprinklein the red pepper and spoon pan juices over and around. Top with the cheese and possibly a little fresh grated carrot.  A little Italian white wine called Vermentino goes well.

Body Smart the New Fashion Way

There we all were, involved in business with this mad discussion on recipes, and, while listening, I kept thinking and thinking......' Really???'  There is nothing new here in this conversation.  I want something modern..... and they are all talking about 'enlightening ' readers but with 'old news',  for surely nothing being said is any where near evolutionary or revolutionary.  I want a simple clear link to body smart thoughts on vegetables, herbs, fruits and spice.....?

As the meeting turned to lunch, it was clear to me that my foodie boasting compatriots were not enamored with the clean taste of their salads and veggie sides, as all drowned them in massive amounts of dressing, soy, condiment and other various goops.  " Whaaat?" they asked when they saw me watching the sacrifice?   

And then that link came to me! Make it a road map to my goal! ......and voila!  The new Body Navigator for The Vegetable Alchemist, well thought out flavors that link to a reason.  And a
food and body connection par none was born!