Pseudorandom Stuff

August 11, 2013

I’ve been rather neglectful of my blog this summer, mainly due to the difficulties of eating with this body fat loss contest I’ve been doing all summer. But that’s kind of a lame excuse. I could be whipping up meals high in  low-fat protein, vegetables and unrefined grains. Instead I’ve pretty much just been rotating the same stuff over and over for the past few months. My goal starting in late August is to get out of the food rut I seem to have gotten into.

But even with a mostly dull food summer, I still have a couple things to share.  I went to the Farmers’ Market this weekend, and was greeted with a huge array of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from Far Out Gardens. Every time I buy tomatoes at this stand I am nearly speechless when I eat them. They are so packed with flavor – and such a variety of flavor, at that. It always makes me wonder how these fruits can be related to the red-on-the-outside, pinkish-white-on-the-inside, flavorless orbs you find in supermarkets.

Heirloom Tomatoes and Eggplant from Far Out Gardens

Heirloom Tomatoes and Eggplant from Far Out Gardens

On the restaurant front, I recently went to Denver’s Linger with my book club for our non-book month event. Linger is the sister restaurant to one of my all-time favorite Denver restaurants, Root Down. It features Internationally inspired small plate dishes, in a fun, eclectically decorated environment (with a killer patio on the roof as well). Only four of my book club attended, so we didn’t get to sample as many dishes as we could have with more people, but what we did have was quite delicious. The only problem I had with the restaurant was that it was too difficult to narrow down your choices from the menu – everything sounded so great!

Ceviche

Seasonal Ceviche

We all split a lovely ceviche to start. (I’ve forgotten what kind of seasonal fish was used. Oops.)

Sesame BBQ Tacos / Kobe Short Rib, Napa Slaw, Radish, Avocado & Lime

Sesame BBQ Tacos / Kobe Short Rib, Napa Slaw, Radish, Avocado & Lime

The picture doesn’t do the tacos justice – they were quite pretty. I wasn’t absolutely in love with the first one, but by the time I got to the last one the flavors had really grown on me.

Roasted Beet Salad / Puffed Rice, Crunchy Lentil Noodles, Chickpeas, Red Onion, 9 Cashews, Fresnos, Cilantro, Raita, Peanuts, Tomatoes & Quinoa

Roasted Beet Salad / Puffed Rice, Crunchy Lentil Noodles, Chickpeas, Red Onion, 
Cashews, Fresnos, Cilantro, Raita, Peanuts, Tomatoes & Quinoa

Two of my dining companions got the Roasted Beet Salad, and had nothing but good things to say about it.

Ginger-Chili Shrimp / Green Papaya Salad, Scallions, Peanuts & Sesame Seeds

Ginger-Chili Shrimp / Green Papaya Salad, Scallions, Peanuts & Sesame Seeds

The Ginger-Chili Shrimp was very tasty. I probably wouldn’t have ordered it had I known it was lightly tempura-fried, but that didn’t stop me from eating all of it.

French Onion Mussels / Parmesan-Gruyère Sourdough, Gala Apples & Fennel

French Onion Mussels / Parmesan-Gruyère Sourdough, Gala Apples & Fennel

The French Onion Mussels were incredible. I only tasted one, but it was the single-most wonderful mussel I have ever had. Normally when you eat mussels you feel a bit of resistance when you bite into them. These mussels were so soft, they merely melted. Totally fresh tasting, no fishiness in the least. Definitely going to have to get that myself next time I go.

“Devils on Horseback” / Applewood Smoked Bacon Wrapped Medjool Dates, 10 Herbed Goat Cheese & Sambal Gastrique

“Devils on Horseback” / Applewood Smoked Bacon Wrapped Medjool Dates, 10
Herbed Goat Cheese & Sambal Gastrique

Ah yes, the Devils on Horseback. Wow. Dangerous to your diet, but oh so worth it. Again I only tried one, but it was so full of comforting savory and sweet flavor that it was actually what I remember most about the meal.

Advertisements

I’ve got several pictures I’ve wanted to use for a while, but which just haven’t fit with anything. So this post is just going to be food pictures. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I love brightly colored ingredients and dishes. The more vibrant, the better! So color is the main feature of all of these photos.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Awesome picture I accidentally took of heirloom tomatoes (because if there’s one thing about my photography skills that’s consistent, it’s inconsistency (with a slight leaning toward blurriness))

More Heirloom Tomatoes

More heirloom tomatoes (because seriously, how cool are these colors?)

Colorful Carrots

Tell me again why we eat mainly orange carrots when this wonderful variety exists?

Pomegranate Arils

I love pomegranate arils – they’re like jewels! If they weren’t so darned tasty I would just stare at them.

Yellow Beets

I’m still hypnotized by beets. I love the bullseye pattern, and how cool is bright yellow surrounded by red-orange?

Heirloom Pumpkin

I thought the lacy grey-brown with the bright orange peeking through on this heirloom pumpkin was very cool. (And it was a tasty one, too!)

Gorgeous Pasta Dish with Green Garbanzos - in which the Garbanzos were totally overwhelmed by the Chipotle Lime Pasta

Gorgeous pasta dish with green garbanzos (in which the taste of the garbanzos was totally overwhelmed by the Chipotle Lime Pasta (which is especially tragic considering how long it takes to prepare green garbanzos!))

Gorgeous Sushi from Sushi Yoshi in Superior

Colorful (and Beyond Delicous) Sushi from Sushi Yoshi in Superior

I was talking to a fellow local produce lover last week when she brought up the fact that pretty soon we won’t have local tomatoes. We’ll just have the pale imposters you get at the supermarket. I guess I’d been unconsciously avoiding that thought, because after she brought it up, I started to feel a little panicky. What am I going to do when the heirloom tomatoes are gone? NOOOO! So, with that in mind, I set out for the Farmers’ Market this past Saturday with one primary goal. To buy a large bunch of heirloom tomatoes and a spaghetti squash, and to make ‘pasta’ with tomato sauce. (I know I’ve done a couple of posts about tomato sauce in the past, but this turned out to be the best I’ve made to date, so I figured I’d go ahead and post it). The previous week I bought quite a few paste tomatoes from Far Out Gardens at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, and they were great tasting. (Paste tomatoes generally have fewer seeds and are well suited for sauces. Roma tomatoes and San Marzano tomatoes are two well-known paste varieties). So I returned to Far Out Gardens and filled a bag with a large variety of heirloom tomatoes of the paste variety, and some others as well. (They were about out of paste tomatoes, or I would have gotten more of them). I also found a gorgeous spaghetti squash at Red Wagon Farm, got some garlic from Wee Bee Farms, and grabbed an onion at Oxford Gardens (at least I think it was – seriously, I need to take a notebook with me – I always forget where I got something or other. (Have you noticed how much I love parentheses? Bad writing style? Sure! Will I keep using them anyway? You bet!))

I bought a few other things at the Farmers’ Market as well – my usual cupcakes and pasta, more winter squash, and a few other assorted vegetables.

Boulder Farmers' Market purchases - October 1, 2011

Boulder Farmers' Market purchases - October 1, 2011

To go with my spaghetti squash and tomato sauce, I made salads. It’s been quite fun eating salads with fresh greens this summer, and finding ways to make them look different each week. I’ve been trying to buy colorful carrots or tomatoes to use for that. A couple of weeks ago, just because I hadn’t heard of it before, I purchased a watermelon radish, which is certainly a strange little thing. It looks kind of like a big round Japanese turnip (white on the outside), but when you cut it open, it’s a bright pinkish red. If you cut the slices in half, it’s obvious where the name watermelon radish originated.

Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish

Paired with some dragon carrots and arugula, they made quite an attractive salad.

Arugula with Dragon Carrots and Watermelon Radish

Arugula with Dragon Carrots and Watermelon Radish

Now, back to the serious subject of tomato sauce. I had some Mexican oregano I planned to use, and my new supply of Miguel and Valentino Smoked Extra Virgin Olive Oil had just arrived a couple of days before. So I was all set to make tomato sauce. As I was cutting up the tomatoes, I tried small bits of the Far Out Gardens heirloom paste tomatoes. Had anyone walked in on me at that time, they would have heard me loudly talking to myself, exclaiming with disbelief at how incredibly AWESOME these tomatoes were. I’m serious. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had tomatoes with this much concentrated flavor. I think that was a large part of why this tomato sauce turned out so well.

There were a few other things which I believe contributed to the great taste of the sauce. I used a whole head of garlic (which was labelled as being a strongly flavored type). The smoked olive oil contributed a bit of smokiness, and I think the Mexican oregano was a big factor as well. Mexican oregano is not actually oregano (which a member of the mint family), but is a member of the verbena family. It’s much stronger than Mediterranean oregano, and not as sweet. I made a dish a couple of weeks ago that had a disappointing absence of taste. I added a couple of teaspoons of Mexican oregano and a little salt, and it was like magic – it completely turned the dish around, and it ended up being great. So anyhow, this recipe for tomato sauce is one I’ll repeat.

I’ve always thought that spaghetti squash was kind of a crazy vegetable. How strange is it that you can bake a squash, take the seeds out, then run a fork down it and have it form little strands? It’s got a fairly mild taste, so it’s perfect for tomato sauce. And if you’re looking for a filling, lower calorie meal, it’s a great substitute for pasta.

Spaghetti Squash Strands

Spaghetti Squash Strands

Spaghetti Squash and Heirloom Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Spaghetti Squash and Heirloom Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce
serves 2-3 (plus a little extra sauce)

1 large spaghetti squash
3 lbs heirloom tomatoes (ideally paste tomatoes)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp smoked olive oil
1/2 to 1 tsp sugar
1 to 1+1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
fresh ground pepper
pecorino romano

Pierce the spaghetti squash multiple times with a sharp knife, place in a baking pan (or just something to catch drips), and bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 45-60 minutes (until the flesh is tender).

While the squash is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. (If you don’t have a skillet that will be large enough when you add all the tomatoes, you can use a stockpot instead.) Sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds, and then add the onion. Sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, and increase heat to medium high to bring to a simmer. Adjust heat as necessary to keep the tomatoes cooking at a vigorous simmer. (If that isn’t a real cooking term, it should be – you don’t want it to boil and splatter, but you want a lot of the liquid to cook off, so simmer it vigorously). I generally kept the heat between medium and medium high. After the tomatoes have mostly broken down and turned to liquid, add the oregano and 4 grinds of pepper. Then add 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of sugar, and taste the sauce. Add more sugar and/or salt if desired. Continue to cook until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency. I cooked it for about 30 minutes from the time I added the tomatoes. If the squash is nearly done, reduce the heat for the tomatoes to low. If the squash still has a while to cook, just turn the heat off and reheat the sauce closer to when the squash is ready.

Heirloom Tomato Sauce During and After Cooking

Heirloom Tomato Sauce During and After Cooking

Remove the spaghetti squash from the oven, and place on a cutting board. Being careful to avoid steam burns, cut the squash in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and loose pulp with a large spoon. Using a fork, run the tines down the length of the inside of the squash. As you do so, the flesh will come out in a clump of strands, which is your spaghetti. Place in bowls, add sauce, and top with freshly grated pecorino romano.

Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce

As I was pondering what to make this week, I was thinking I should use the red rice that I bought a month ago at Whole Foods. I thought for a while, and then stumbled upon an amusing idea (self-amusing, anyhow) – instead of red beans and rice, why not beans and red rice? I planned to have 2 andouille chicken sausages left over after making the previous night’s Soft Spring Wheat Berries with Sausage, Leeks, Pepper and Mushrooms, but I needed some beans to use. So I browsed the bulk selection at the Boulder Whole Foods, and found some gorgeous ones – Zuni Yellow Beans and Colorado River Beans. Both of these beans are heirloom varieties, and the more I explore heirlooms of all types, the more amazed I am at the intense and varied flavors. We’ve made red beans and rice before with dried red beans soaked overnight and cooked, but they have never had anywhere near the wonderful flavor of these heirloom beans.

Zuni Yellow and Colorado River Beans

And they are just so gorgeous. Unfortunately after they cooked, they both pretty much became a light brown color, so no vivid yellow, despite the fact that I ended up using mostly yellow ones with that hope. But oh well, the flavor more than made up for any color disappointment.

I realized as I started making this dish that I was using heirloom varieties of 3 of the ingredients. The tomatoes I used to cook down into a sauce were honking big, slightly strange looking heirlooms. For tomatoes, it almost seems that the uglier they are, the better they taste. These ones were so sweet when I tried some raw, they almost tasted like candy. I can’t believe that I spent so much time eating the long-distance shipped, bland, sour tomatoes readily available in the mainstream grocery stores.  And I even ate them in the summer!

The other heirloom I used was the red rice.  Even this had a degree of robustness that its common counterparts, white and brown rice, lack. It was definitely bolder, and I would say almost meaty or smoky tasting. I cooked it in chicken broth, which I think brings the flavors of grains and rices out more than just water (But it doesn’t overwhelm them and make them taste like broth).

Beans and Red Rice Ingredients

This was definitely one of those tornado-has-hit-the-kitchen dishes. But hey – I own these pots and pans, so I’m going to use the #$%& out of them! (I just keep trying to justify the expansive pot and pan usage to myself in different ways as I’m doing the non-dishwasherable dishes afterward. I can’t always tell if I’m fooled, though.) Fortunately this made a pretty huge batch, so we’ll have 2 dinners, plus plenty of extras for lunch.

My Crowded Stovetop

Heirloom Beans and Red Rice
serves: an army (actually, it serves 5 to 6, but when there’s only 2 of you…)
preparation time: eons (in reality, 2 to 2+1/2 hrs)

1+1/2 cups red rice
3+3/4 cups chicken broth
2 cups uncooked heirloom beans, soaked (see below)
2 pre-cooked spicy chicken sausages, chopped into bite-size pieces
3 quite large heirloom tomatoes, chopped (~6 cups)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp hot chile (such as a Hatch chile), minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil (smoked, preferably)
3/4 tsp sugar
1+1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1 handful of chopped parsley
1 handful of chopped cilantro

I planned this so the rice and beans would be done before the other ingredients. It’s fine if they cool down, you’ll combine them at the end.

Cover the beans in a few inches of water, and soak 4-8 hours. Drain, and then add to a large saucepan with 6 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until tender (about 75 minutes, but that may vary depending on the type of beans you use).  Add the sausage at some point – I added it during the last 30 minutes, and probably could have put them in the whole time.  Drain and set aside if the other stuff isn’t ready yet.

Combine the rice and broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and cook until tender.  The packaging said about 30 minutes, but it actually ended up taking closer to 45 minutes for mine.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, and then add the chopped tomatoes. Add the salt, sugar, liquid smoke and paprika once the tomatoes liquefy. You want to cook them until they reduce and thicken into a sauce, which will take differing times depending on what type of tomatoes you use. And it will seem like they aren’t ever going to thicken, but they will eventually. It took 20-25 minutes for mine to cook down. You may want to turn the heat up to medium high if the tomatoes aren’t simmering on medium. I turned it up and down a few times during cooking. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Then add the pepper, onion, and chile and saute two more minutes. Add the celery, and continue to saute until the onion is translucent and the pepper is tender. Stir in the parsley and cilantro. Add the tomato sauce, rice and sausage and combine well. (Technically for red beans and rice you’d serve everything over the rice, but that’s the nice thing about making your own recipes up – you aren’t obligated to meet anyone’s expectations).

Heirloom Beans and Red Rice

There was definitely a nearing-the-end-of-the-summer vibe at the Boulder Farmers’ Market today.  The produce has shifted a bit – now there are more tomatoes, eggplant, onion, peppers.  Muskmelon and watermelon have made a big entrance.  And it wasn’t nearly as hot today!

Farmers' Market Purchases

I was delighted to realize that I had three leftover dishes from last week for this week’s menu:  Southwestern Quinoa, Lasagnaesque Eggplant and Squash, and Deep Dish Crustless Quiche.  That will make cooking much easier this week, as all I will have to worry about for three meals is vegetable sides.  So I bought a little less at the Farmers’ Market than I have for most of the summer.  I got yellow beefsteak, heirloom, and cherry tomatoes, wild arugula, two varieties of garlic, purple potatoes, pattypan squash, an onion, a bell pepper, okra, yellow string beans, carrots, green onions, a watermelon, a French melon, purslane, Pappardelle’s Spanish Saffron Trenette, and a rhubarb-raspberry mini-pie from Shamane’s.

As I was making dinner, washing tomatoes after cutting up some bright purple potatoes, I got to thinking how in the past all food must have been as various as what you can find at Farmers’ Markets, rather than the homogeneous vegetables you find at the grocery stores.  I mean, intellectually I have known this for several years, having watched Food, Inc and The Future of Food, and having read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Fast Food Nation, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  But since I’ve been buying more heirloom vegetables this summer, and trying things that you just can’t really find outside of Farmers’ Markets, I found that I felt a more visceral sadness that we have lost this historical diversity with our enthusiasm for convenience, mass production, and economy of scale.  I have literally been in awe of the vividness and tastefulness of many of the things I’ve been cooking with lately, and it just struck me that in the past, people could have been eating this type of gorgeous food regularly.

Tomatoes

Well, that just makes me all the more happy to have read the news that more than 1000 new farmers’ markets were opened in the US this past year, making over 7000 nationwide. And even more glad that my local farmers’ market in Boulder has such a large number of terrific vendors.

I purchased a surplus of tomatoes with the intention of making Bloody Mary Salad, a recipe from Bon Appétit which I saw wonderfully implemented on the blog Offally Tasty. I actually made several substitutions which may have resulted in the salad not tasting as bloody maryish as I was hoping. I didn’t have celery hearts, just standard stocky celery and I found that we don’t have any celery seed on hand. I had already earmarked my red onion for something else, so I used green onion instead. And I’m wondering if the horseradish I used was maybe not the best for the dressing. The salad wasn’t bad, it just didn’t taste as good as the picture on Offally Tasty looked. It was intriguing enough, however, that I think I will give it another go in the future, armed with ingredients that match the recipe more closely, and I think I’ll experiment with the dressing a bit.

Bloody Mary Salad Ingredients

Bloody Mary Salad

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to make for an entrée, but I thought I should use the okra I bought fairly early in the week, so decided I’d come up with something using that. I also discovered I had a bit of a surplus of purple new potatoes. Well, okay, I thought that okra could work with potatoes. And we still had some red pepper chicken sausage, so I could envision a skillet dish taking shape. Throw in the bell pepper and onion that I bought today, garlic, and some hot smoked Spanish paprika, and that would make a lovely dish. As an afterthought, I thought I’d use up the remaining heirloom tomato I had from last weeks Farmers’ Market as well. After I had combined everything I thought it should be a little more saucy, so I added a can of spicy V-8 juice, and then simmered it down a bit. In hindsight, I would use 2 extra tomatoes and some Tobasco sauce instead of V-8.

Chicken Sausage, Okra, Potatoes, Bell Pepper, Onion, and Garlic

I’d never used raw okra before, just the frozen kind that I’ve put in gumbo. So I looked up how to prepare it, and it was fairly simple. I scrubbed the outside with a vegetable brush to defuzz it, then cut the top and ends off, and then sliced it into 1/4 inch slices. I read that cooking it in fat would prevent the gummy texture from being overwhelming, so I sautéed it in olive oil.

Chicken Sausage, Okra and Potato Skillet
serves 4

3 links of pre-cooked chicken sausage (I used a red-pepper variety)
1 lb new potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 lb okra, defuzzed, ends trimmed, and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp salt
Tabasco sauce

Cut the sausage links in half lengthwise, and then slice into about 1/3 inch pieces. Set aside.

Cook potatoes, either in water in the microwave for about 10-12 minutes (stir and check every 5 minutes), or by boiling on the stovetop until tender. Drain and set aside.

Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and then sauté the okra until tender and the first few pieces start to brown around the edges, about 3-4 minutes. Set on a paper towel to cool. You might want to rinse the skillet out at this point if there is okra residue – it won’t hurt if you wait for it to cool down first. The potatoes and okra can cool, as you’ll heat them up again later.

Heat 1 tsp olive oil in the same skillet, and then sauté the garlic for about a minute, then add the onion and pepper. Sauté until the pepper is tender, around 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and cook for several minutes until they start to break down and make the dish a little liquidy. Add potatoes, sausage, okra, paprika, and salt, and cook for several more minutes until some of the liquid boils off. Add as much Tabasco sauce as you like (taste it as you add!)

Chicken Sausage, Okra and Potatoes

%d bloggers like this: