Heirloom Tomatoes are Always the Star

If there is one item of produce that I most eagerly await every summer, it is the heirloom tomato. They’re definitely good enough to eat by themselves — I usually just slice them up and add a bit of salt — but added to a dish, they take the food to another level. Dishes with heirlooms should keep other flavors simple and clean, so that the bright freshness of the tomatoes isn’t hidden behind loads of other strong tastes. They simply don’t need it.

I got some beautiful Black Krim and Yellow Brandywine varieties at a nearby farmers’ market, and used them for a grilled thin-crust pizza. Keeping it simple, I brushed the top of my crust (Peter Reinhart’s recipe) with a bit of olive oil, added a thin layer of shredded mozzarella cheese, slices of de-pulped tomatoes, and finally a few sprinkles of goat cheese. I chose shredded mozzarella to lessen the amount of liquid on the pizza so that the crust would stay crisp (since the heirlooms are very juicy), but you could use fresh mozzarella if you prefer. I grilled it on a stone at about 500 degrees for around 10-13 minutes, until the crust looked well browned and the bottom was slightly charred. A final sprinkle of fresh basil rounded everything out.
The crust was outstanding — perfectly crisp, with a nice crunch as you bit into it. Of course, the heirlooms were the star of the dish — every bite burst with a tangy sweetness unmatched by off-season tomato impostors. Since the pizza itself is very simple, I paired it with a plate of roasted red and yellow bell peppers and italian sausage to create a full late-summer meal. But hurry! The farmstand bounty is waning as fast as the days of summer.





Drink Rooibos

This summer, I lost air conditioning mere days before a 90+ degree, month-long heat wave. Some might say it was my fault for selling my window AC on Craigslist a few weeks too early in anticipation of a move to a climate-controlled building, but the fact remains that it was HOT. Without any sort of air cooling, I resorted to drinking large quantities of cold beverages, with lots of ice, to stay cool and hydrated. 


I frequently make iced tea in the summer, but until recently, it has been primarily random green and black teas that I wanted to get rid of. Inevitably, the brew timing would be off (it's difficult to extrapolate tea quantities and steeping times from cups to gallons) and the tea would end up either too weak or overpoweringly astringent. Furthermore, the caffeine content of even green tea was too much for me to drink at night, so my iced tea would often sit in the refrigerator for weeks at a time while I drank bland water to keep from drying out.

At the beginning of this heat wave, however, I found myself with several tins of rooibos in iced-friendly flavors (cocomint, if you must ask). I boiled 2 gallons of water, added about a half cup of tea to a spice infuser bag that I had laying around (although a tea ball would work just fine), and let it steep for about 4 hours. One of the beautiful things (which I knew beforehand) about rooibos is that its low tannin content means that it is impossible to oversteep. Boil, dunk, and let it cool on the stove. Presto!

The resulting brew is a tad sweet, simply from the natural sweetness of the plant, and full of all sorts of nutritional benefits. The dark, almost wine-red color is packed with antioxidants, and it has no caffeine, so it's great for drinking at any time of the day. It comes in just about any flavor you can imagine — cocomint was perfect, although Adagio Teas has many others — and is one of the least expensive teas out there. 

I fill up 2 pitchers at a time, and can get through both of them on a hot week. You'll love it.

Grillin’ up some pizza

My old apartment has a similarly old oven that barely gets up past 500 degrees. While fine for Tombstone, it doesn’t quite cut it for really good, crispy thin crust pizza.


Last weekend, I went up the Michigan for Fourth of July, and brought the pizza stuff with me. Since the oven isn’t exactly summer/Independence Day friendly (really, who bakes stuff on 4th of July? It’s un-American), I went for the grill to cook the pizza.

My first attempt was pretty badly burnt. Not quite inedible, but the bottom was a very, very advanced stage of golden brown. Golden black? Regardless, the top was cooked almost perfectly — bubbly and crispy — so I was encouraged.

The second round I dialed down the burners to try to get the bottom in sync with the top. Better, but still not quite what I was looking for. Still as good or a bit better than the oven. The main problem is still getting the top and bottom to be done at the same time — if you get the heat needed to do the top perfectly, the bottom is probably going to get burned.

Next time, I’m going to try putting the stone in only a few minutes before the pizza. The not-entirely-hot stone will hopefully buffer the bottom for a while as the top gets blasted by the heat. I’ll report back.


Boozy Cherries

On the way home from Michigan today, we passed a farmstand that had U-Pick Cherries. Since cherries are probably my all-time favorite fruit, and I’ve never picked them before, we had to stop. Not only did they have the regular kind (Bing, I suppose?), but they also had the golden Rainier cherries and tart cherries, which are great for pies. They were $2.50/lb…needless to say, I got carried away, and we walked away with 7 pounds.


At first, I figured I’d try my hand at canning, but as I looked at all the steps required for the canning procedure, I decided that it probably wasn’t my thing. Then I came across an article in the New York Times about preserving fruit with alcohol. Sounded pretty delicious (and had “future cherry-eating party” written all over it).


We ended up filling up 4 jars with cherries and rum, gin or vodka. We’ll have to wait a bit (ideally 2-3 months or more) to see which spirit goes best with fresh Michigan cherries, but it’s an experiment I look forward to conducting.


Some delicious Indian food

I love me some delicious Indian food, and it’s one of my favorite things to cook because the spices, aromas and textures are so different from the normal American fare. Depending on what you cook, it’s also often pretty healthy. 


Last weekend, we grabbed a big bunch of spinach from the farmers market and wanted to make something other than a boring spinach salad. Palak Paneer was the answer! But since the best part of Indian food is naan (flatbread) and lassi (yogurt drink), those had to come too. The palak paneer recipe wasn’t exactly the one at VahRehVah (the YouTube videos by this guy are great by the way), but pretty close. Here’s the naan recipe — the site lets you choose how many servings…I missed that part so I made enough naan for 14 people. Whoops. Good thing it’s great and freezes well. Finally, lassi is just yogurt, a handful of ice, a teaspoon or so of cardamom, and sugar to taste. Use your judgement here and your blender.

Barbeque Chicken Pizza

Probably one of my favorite pizzas, and really easy to make. Roast chicken from the grocery store is much better than bland boneless, skinless breasts. Just shred it with two forks and toss with a bit of barbeque sauce. Toss your dough, spread a thin layer of BBQ sauce on it, add some mozzarella cheese, your chicken, and some sliced red onions. Bake it on a hot pizza stone for about 10 minutes at 500+ degrees, and finish off with a bit of cilantro. 

Drink some dark beer with it.


Chimichurri: Funny Name, Serious Sauce

My wife and I went to Argentina a few weeks ago for our honeymoon. They’re known for their beef — Argentines supposedly eat the most beef per capita of any nation in the world (Wikipedia says 122lbs/person/year!), and there’s good reason. One of our favorite parts of the trip was an excursion to an estancia (ranch) where we spent the late afternoon horseback riding and followed up with a traditional Argentinian barbeque, or asado.


The steak was amazing, but what drove me to seconds (ok, thirds…and forths) was the chimichurri sauce they whipped up to go on top of the grilled meat and crusty bread. Tangy, herby and garlicky sauce was the perfect counterpoint to the rich, grass-fed fattiness of the beef. It was a foreign flavor to my American palate, and absolutely addicting.

The sauce itself is dead simple to make — it’s basically just equal parts red wine vinegar, olive oil, cilantro, red onion, and parley with a few cloves of garlic and some red pepper flakes and black pepper thrown in. A spin of the food processor yields a colorful, rich sauce or marinade that complements beef (or chicken, or fish) in a new and interesting way.

I made it tonight with steak tacos. Forgive me the mixed cuisine (or call it fusion) — but it was delicious. The best part is the remaining uncooked steak and cup of chimichurri left over in my refrigerator. The sauce is sure to be even better tomorrow, and I’ve still got plenty of tortillas (corn, of course).

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Mounds of Asparagus

Like tomatoes and apples, asparagus is one of those foods that is incomparably better from a farmstand in spring than from a supermarket in winter. The variety (thick, thin, green, purple, greenish purple), abundance, sweetness and tenderness are far better when you can get some grown locally in May or June. It’s one of the foods, along with cherries, that I look forward to every year, because it’s the official start of the farmers market and a summer of great produce.

Finding plenty of green shoots and not much else, I walked away from the farmers market last weekend with about 3 pounds of freshly picked purple and green stalks. While I love asparagus, three pounds of it is a bit more than I typically eat, so I sought out a reliable soup recipe that could put the bounty to good use.

Cream of asparagus is the easy answer; but summer’s here and a thick cream soup didn’t really feel like the right answer. Epicurious had a recipe for roasted asparagus soup with a spring herb gremolata that seemed to be perfect for warmer days.

The prep was about as easy as could be — just chop the ends off of the stalks (I’m not really a believer in the breaking method), roughly chop, coat with olive oil and generous pepper, and bake in the oven with some leeks for about 45 minutes. I ended up using a slightly cooler oven (350 vs 425), because I typically roast veggies around there and am generally happy with the results. Per a few suggestions on the Epi comments, I added in a chopped potato to add a bit of body to the eventual soup.


Veggies, aromatics and starches roasted, the next and final step was tossing them in the blender (or food processor, if you want to do a few batches) along with some chicken stock and pureeing until smooth. Finish off with the zesty lemon garlic herb gremolata and you’ve got a filling, but not overly heavy soup. The earthly, roasted flavors of the leeks and asparagus go perfectly with the freshness of the gremolata and make for a great lunch.

Originally posted May 17th, 2011

Roasted Asparagus Soup with Spring Herb Gremolata via Epicurious


Power Oatmeal: Granoatmeal!

I’ve never been very impressed by instant oatmeal. It always just seems to be oatmeal dust, robbed of any nutritional value by tons of processing and loads of overbearing flavors, mostly sugar. The only reason it has survived this long is that it’s quick and easy — pour some water into a bowl, add instant oatmeal, microwave for 2-3 minutes, and you’re done. Easy, hot breakfast.


However, great oatmeal is just as easy. Except for a very small upfront cost (about 20 minutes), the time it takes to get great oatmeal is basically the same as the time to get mediocre oatmeal. Great oatmeal is cheaper, tastes far, far better, and is much healthier. By making it in bulk at the beginning of the week and packaging it into single-serving containers, you still get the grab-and-go convenience of instant with the price, flavor and health benefits of the good stuff.

My go-to recipe combines the best stuff in granola with the palate-pleasing warmth of whole grain oatmeal. It’s fast, healthy, and something you’ll want to eat every day. The proportions are just approximations — you should definitely add more or less to fit your tastebuds.

Originally posted January 1st, 2011

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The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Kaddo Bourani (Pumpkin with Ground Beef and Yogurt Sauce)

When I lived in Boston, there was an awesome Afghan restaurant called Helmand on the Cambridge side of the river. The first time I went was with a group, and the guy in charge took care of getting us some good entrees to pass around. Everything was awesome, but by far the standout was a braised pumpkin, ground beef and yogurt sauce dish called Kaddo. The combination of sweet, salty, cool and rich was unlike anything I’ve tried, and definitely worth a trip back to Cambridge.

With this in mind, when the farmers market got pie pumpkins in season, I had to try making my own. I scoured the web for recipes, and found a great version at Habeas Brulee (that actually referenced Helmand’s dish too!). It definitely takes a bit of time to make, but most of it is spent waiting for the pumpkin to get soft and good in the oven. Follow the recipe exactly, and don’t worry about the amount of sugar and oil it calls to put on the pumpkin — most of it ends up in the pan anyways. Don’t skimp on the yogurt sauce either — it’s a key flavor, texture and coolness in the dish. Serve as an appetizer or main course paired with something a bit less rich. Enjoy!

Originally posted November 13th, 2010


Kaddo Bourani (Pumpkin with Yogurt and Meat Sauces) at Habeas Brulee