Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My mother picked a whole lot of tomatoes in advance of Irene, to keep them from being split/knocked off/etc, and then went out of town, so I got em. There must have been at least 100 - enough to cover my couch and couch-length coffee table, and then some. Here's a quickie guide to what I did with them.

Roasted puree: this was the base for nearly everything else, apart from tomato sandwiches and tomato pie. A single layer of whole tomatoes goes into a pan, drizzled with a little olive oil, and roasts at 350 for a few hours - until the volume has noticeably reduced. After cooling slightly, the tomatoes are pureed and then strained to remove seed/skin/core.

Why roast? It intensifies the flavor a bit - particularly with slightly underripe tomatoes or anything you get at the supermarket - but it also reduces the volume (good for storage) and does a lot of the cooking up front. The tomato sauces I made were finished in much less time for having roasted the tomatoes - a more hands-off step - in advance.

Kale in tomato sauce - nothing but chopped red kale cooked in tomato sauce instead of pork stock. Frankly, the kale was taking up too much room in the freezer, and this was a way to use it up.

Ketchup: I'm never thrilled with homemade ketchup, so tried to make this a little more interesting. Tomato puree and kimchi simmered for a while, pureed, strained; vinegar, sugar, ginger, celery seed, allspice, Worcestershire added; simmered until thick and ketchuppy.

Soup: tomato puree, carrots, kimchi, simmered, pureed, strained; okra, carrots, ginger, chopped tomato.

Creole sauce: onions, carrots, green pepper, chopped and sweated for a long time - 45 minutes? - in bacon fat; chopped tomato, tomato puree, Worcestershire, Tony Chachere's, hot sauce, bay leaves; simmer until thick.

Italian sauce: onions, green pepper, fennel, squash, chopped and sweated for a long time in olive oil and butter; tomato puree, oregano, basil; simmer until thick.

Pizza sauce: tomato puree, basil, oregano, marjoram, tomato leaves, fennel pollen, simmered until thick.

Creole tomato butter sauce: bay leaves simmered in tomato puree with Worcestershire, a little hot sauce, and sliced okra, until thick; heat turned off, two sticks of browned butter stirred in.

Strawberry tomato jam: sliced strawberries and chopped tomatoes (pulp removed), macerated in sugar and a pinch of salt for a day; simmered until the juices are released, then rested overnight; simmered with addition of lime juice until jam.

Tomato water: fresh tomatoes pureed and strained through a towel (you'll need to squeeze the towel eventually) to produce a mostly clear tomato liquid. Frozen for later use.

I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple things, in the blur of constant tomato cooking.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's that time of year again ... Nikki sends me chiles from Colorado, and in a month or so I'll send her apples from New Hampshire. A sample of what she sent:

Chiles from Nikki

From left to right: cayenne/Thai chile hybrid, ghost peppers, cayenne.

These will be ground up with salt and a little water or yogurt whey (fermentation is easier when there's some liquid) and allowed to ferment, kosher pickle (/sauerkraut/kimchi) style, for a few weeks before being combined with vinegar to make a Tabasco-style hot sauce.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The best pizza I've had in New Hampshire is Crush Pizzeria's in Nashua, though I need to add the qualification that I've only been twice, and have tried three of their pizzas - there may well be duds on the menu. (I've also been at fairly non-busy times in the afternoon.)

Crush makes Neapolitan style pizza: thin crust, cooked quickly (a couple minutes) in a very hot wood-burning oven (900 degrees), so that the crust blisters and blackens in spots. It's a style that lends itself well to fresh mozzarella, and Crush uses fresh mozz from both cow's milk and buffalo milk (for $3 extra). I've had both and have no specific recommendation - both are very good.

The sauce on the red pizzas is just crushed tomatoes. The crust really plays a bigger role in the flavor here. It's a side effect of the style that the center of the pizza - the tip of a slice - can get a little soggy, but don't worry about it.

Like I said, I've had three of their pizzas. Two were red: the Regina, with buffalo mozzarella, grape tomatoes, basil, and olive oil;

the Salsiccia, with homemade sausage (crumbled and mild), red onion (they like red onion at Crush), basil, and olive oil;

Salsiccia; Crush Pizzeria, Nashua

and the last (ordered on both occasions) was a white pizza, the Pista: fresh mozz, parmigiano, red onion, fresh rosemary, pistachio, and olive oil.

Pista; Crush Pizzeria, Nashua

The Pista was by far the best, and is inspired by the Rosa at Pizzeria Bianco, widely considered the best pizzeria in the country. I haven't had the Rosa, but the Pista is amazing - much moreso than you would guess from the ingredients, and yet still recognizably pizza (it helps that so much flavor comes from the crust and the cheese).

Multiple pizzas use either black truffle paste or truffle oil, and while I generally don't like the use of truffle oil, in this case it seems to be used to intensify the flavor of pan-roasted mushrooms, which is probably its best use. Crush isn't cheap - pizzas are personal-size and hover around $12-15 - but with pizza so simply seasoned, you really want the best ingredients.

I'd like to see a red clam pizza from them in the future, and something spicy like a broccoli raab/roasted chile combination, and something with burrata. But if I'm thinking about pizzas I wish they made, you know I like the place.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I've been obsessed with some of the house pickles at Boston restaurants - particularly Soul Fire and Flat Pattie's - so decided to try my hand at some quick bread and butter pickles with the cucumbers from my mother's garden. There are no canning procedures here - you put stuff in a jar and put it in the fridge. The benefit to that, though, is that the cucumbers don't soften as much as they do when you can properly, so you don't need lime or special tricks to keep them crunchy.

In the past I've usually done kosher pickles, with whole cucumbers. This was a wholly different thing for me. I used a combination of cucumbers and watermelon radishes, sliced on the slicing side of my cheese grater, along with a bunch of fennel and spring onion sliced super-thin in the Cuisinart.

Heap all of the veggies in a bowl with a good bit of salt - sprinkle kosher or pickling salt over everything, and toss with your hands to coat - and let them sit for several hours. Rinse the salt off and fill jars with the veggies.

Meanwhile, heat one part apple cider vinegar and one part sugar with a combination of bay leaves, mustard seeds, allspice, celery seed, coriander seed, and a little bit of chile pepper, until the sugar dissolves. Let cool completely. Dilute with two parts water. Pour over veggies. Close jars. Refrigerate.

They're "bread and butter" pickles because they're sweeter than sours or half-sours - don't ask me the derivation, maybe you eat them in a sandwich with bread and butter. I don't know, man. But they come out tart and just sweet enough, and perfect for sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, etc.

Meatloaf sandwich, pickles

Shown here with a meatloaf sandwich.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I always forget to take photos of things I make when Caitlin is here, but lunch was fennel-stuffed pork belly with smoked hominy and tomatoes & okra.

Tomatoes & okra: put one chopped tomato and 3-4 chopped pods of okra in a pan with a pat of butter or drizzle of oil, and a healthy shake of Tony Chachere's seasoning (some kind of salt is necessary to break down the tomatoes). Cook on low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes if the okra is fresh; remove cover and cook long enough to reduce tomato juices, 1-2 minutes on high.

Smoked hominy: soak dry hominy (nixtamalized field corn - far and away the best hominy I've had came from the same Minnesota Ojibwe source as the best wild rice, but if you have a local source, use it) for 1-2 days. Pour soaking water off, cover in fresh water in a baking dish in a stovetop smoker, and smoke for a few hours, until fully cooked. Serve hot with butter and salt. (I used a bunch of smoked hominy in a batch of posole, too, which is lunch tomorrow.)

Fennel-stuffed pork belly: Brine boneless pork belly in saltwater with seasonings of your choosing - I used fennel and, believe it or not, a little Caesar salad dressing. An overnight brine is plenty - a few hours is fine, even. Slice fennel and onion very very thin (I used the Cuisinart) and saute with a little butter or pork fat until soft; let cool. Lay pork belly over a few long lengths of string, skin side down; cover with fennel and onion, roll up, and tie tightly. Roast for 45 minutes at 350, let rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Dinner last night - fried taco pizza. Yep: preheat the oven and a cooking surface to 500 degrees. Deep-fry a circle of pizza dough for 3-4 minutes, until puffy and blistered, but not fully golden brown. Drain it quickly on a paper bag, take the preheated cooking surface from the oven, sprinkle it with cornmeal, put the fried dough on the cornmeal, and quickly dress it with chopped tomatoes, Mexican hot sauce (I used Valentina), shredded mozzarella, and crumbled ground beef (raw) seasoned with salt, cumin, and coriander. Bake for 7-10 minutes until fully cooked. Chop into pieces and serve with sour cream.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Yesterday on our way to Kendall Square Cinema to see Tree of Life, we stopped at Toscanini's for ice cream, and it's some of the best I've had.

The ice cream to beat is Jeni's, from Ohio - they make the two best ice creams I've had: their sweet corn/black raspberry ice cream and lime cardamom frozen yogurt (with rhubarb jam in early summer).

We each had two scoops, and two of the flavors were the equal of Jeni's: lemon espresso, and grapefruit. The grapefruit, like the blackberry-lime (Caitlin's other scoop), was an ice cream, not a sorbet. I've had grapefruit sorbet before, and it can be amazing - but grapefruit ice cream was a whole nother thing. The bitterness came through, but it was rich and creamy instead of tart like sorbet. I'm not sure how much rind was involved - must have been a nontrivial amount, to bring so much grapefruit flavor to the table. The blackberry-lime was good, and had noticeable amounts of lime flavor - in the end, it was just outshone by the other flavors.

The lemon espresso was one of two I ordered, along with Earl Grey. I'd ordered Earl Grey because I'd had it several times in Denver almost exactly 18 years ago, and not since - so it was weird and cool having such a distinctive flavor and such a feeling of nostalgia.

But the lemon espresso ... wow. I ordered it largely because I wasn't sure what it would be, how exactly those two flavors would be combined. It turned out to be a bittersweet coffee ice cream - the bitterness came through more effectively than in any coffee ice cream I've had, making it a much more well-rounded coffee ice cream - infused with lemon essence, so that there's a strong lemon aftertaste. So fucking good.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

in watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again

The photo's not very good, but this isn't exactly a breakfast food - by the time it was a suitable hour for it, the light was shit.

Deep-fried cherries with Kool Aid

Deep-fried cherries, with Kool Aid.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

show me what your thing is all about

I know I've said this about a lot of things, but ... Montmorency cherries are my favorite fruit.

Montmorency cherries

I don't have a bunch of cherry recipes to lay on you just now - I wanted to get the word out that sour cherries are in season. These are from New York and bought at Trader Joes; I assume Michigan, Indiana, etc have them right now too. Cherry season is finicky and weird and often very short, and sour cherries are not a fruit you can buy year-round like the Bings imported from who knows where. In most of the country you can't buy them at all: they're fragile, slightly soft to the touch, and with practice they can be pitted just be squeezing them and popping the pit out. That means they ship terribly, while Bings are happy to knock around in a truck for a few days.

Montmorency cherries taste like cherry pie. They're juicy and wet and thin-skinned and will damn near fall apart in your mouth. They're sweet, but they're also tart. They're vivid. They're bright.

Online, you'll find fresh Balaton cherries for sale. They are a sour cherry, sure. But they aren't the same as Montmorency cherries (or Northstars, or other varieties found deep in cherry country). The main benefit to a Balaton is that because they're a firmer cherry, you can pack a five pound bag of them and ship it without any real trouble, whereas Montmorencies would arrive as a bag of cherry puree. Montmorencies taste superior, they're tarter, the texture is more sublime, and they have a sort of translucence that the Balaton doesn't have.

I've ordered plenty of Balaton cherries in the past. They're good cherries - and certainly, the difference in quality between a Balaton and a Montmorency is not the same as between a domestic blueberry and a wild blueberry, or between a winter tomato and a summer tomato. But they're a compromise cherry, all the same. They're the pulled pork you make in your oven, your grill, or your smoker because you live outside the triangle and nobody zones real pit BBQ joints where you live. They'll get you through, they're the next best thing, but they're not the same. They're Maddy, not Laura.

Pie, clafoutis, pickled cherries, candied cherries, cherries in liqueur, cherry bounce, cherry preserves, cherries on pizza, cherries with duck, cherries with lamb, cherry brownies, cherry ice cream, cherry sweet corn ice cream, cherries on buttermilk pie, cherries on cornmeal blondies, cherry malted, cherry egg cream, cherry phosphate, Coca-Cola salad, cherry pancakes, there you go, you've got some cherry ideas. GO.

You need to get on this. You need to be eating these cherries.