Your viewing "Tomato" (7 posts).

This weekend, I went to the market at Pico and picked up two bunches of garlic chives, tomatillos, a Brandywine tomato, and some green beans. Shopping at the farmers market when you have a life versus when you have nothing to do but explore the farmers market are two entirely different experiences. Wow. Time is valuable, but being present is the ultimate luxury.

Step 1 in being present: Making mandu (mahn-doo), or Korean dumplings. I'm not sure what makes these Korean. These were based on the dumplings I used to make with my mom, so in that sense, I suppose they're Korean because they are...made by Koreans? I don't know. Unlike my mom's mandu, mine contained no meat. In hindsight, maybe they should have. Garlic chives and tofu version are good, but I applied a heavy dose of soy sauce after boiling them.

I love fresh, boiled dumplings-their soft skin, plump filling. My mom has a habit of plucking up the tray, after we've made two or three rows of dumplings, and taking it to the stove, where she would topple several into a pot of boiling water. Patience doesn't run in our family. I would have preferred to wait because I like seeing the results of my labor. But watching my mom extract so much visible pleasure from eating a fresh dumpling made me want to have that same feeling, and I believed that doing what she did was the way to attain it. Why we like what we like, that's a complex question.

I always feel a little sad when I eat fresh mandu. You put so much time into making each half moon but eat them in mere seconds. They're not beautiful in the way a three-layered cake with frosting might be. They're basic, and that word that describes something of the gut, a mix of pleasure and necessity. I would make them again and again. From making the filling to pinching the ends of the wrappers to dipping a dumpling in sauce, the entire ritual is entirely worth it.

I've never used tomatillos before. I imagined them as being complicated. There was the papery husk, but I didn't know how many. What did they look like inside? Were they shriveled and dried? They're not! Just remove the papery exterior and wash.

Papery skin. "Papery" is my new crutch word.

After you broil tomatillos for about 5-7 minutes, they bubble and seem to melt. I dumped them into the food processor with leftover cilantro, some diced jalapeno, onion, garlic, salt, and lime juice.

The resulting salsa verde was damn good. Fresh and bright, nothing like the bland, slightly sweet goop you get in a jar.

I've eaten heirloom tomatoes before, but I didn't love them until today. I paid $5.00 for this Brandywine, and for once, I said, "This was worth every penny." The trick was figuring out to make it taste great. Some people love eating heirloom tomatoes plain, but for me, it took some salt to bring out the rich tomato flavor.

Look at that color! That's not Photoshop.

An amazing breakfast. A baguette from Surfas, Brandywine tomato sprinkled with salt and feta, raw red onion. I dipped the bread in some grassy olive oil, also from Surfas. Never underestimate the power of good olive oil.

 

I've been on a DIY kick lately.  It all started last year when I made preserved lemons, and it continued this summer with strawberry jam.  The kick is still going strong, and I've most recently become interested in sauces.  Simple sauces.  Like tomato sauce. 

Tomato sauce is easy to make, if you don't mind waiting for it to cook.  I first learned to make tomato sauce in 2006, using lots of fresh tomatoes.  But if you don't have time, then canned tomatoes are perfectly fine.

Today I share two versions:  One is a tomato butter sauce from Marcella Hazan (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) that has made its way around the food blogosphere (see Smitten Kitchen, Amateur Gourmet, Food52, and Chowhound).  "Simple" is an understatement, and this sauce is as rich as bloggers say it is.  It's almost frightening how quickly I finished off this one.  Anyway, I won't promote it further, since butter speaks for itself.  The second sauce is a basic version inspired by recipes from Splendid Table and Simply Recipes.

Read on!


Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Butter


It begins with one 28-oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes and their juice...


About 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter...


Half a large onion, or one medium onion, peeled but not chopped...


All put in a saucepan and left to simmer for 35-45 minutes...


Until it turns reddish orange...


And you see little rounds of fat forming on the surface.  Remove the onion before serving.

~

Basic Tomato Sauce with Olives

Carrots (1-2), celery (1-2 stalks), and (1) onion - Chop and saute in a pan for a few minutes.  You should probably use a finer cut than this; I was lazy.  Also, my quantities are loose approximations.


Add some chopped green olives, a pat or two of unsalted butter, and a 1-2 cloves of minced garlic.
Note: I started with about 2 tablespoons of butter, but after the sauce had simmered for a while, I added 2 more tablespoons for added richness.  An extra tablespoon or two makes a noticeable difference, so start with a small quantity of butter and add more later, if you want.


Also add about a tablespoon of tomato paste...


Then, as above, add one 28-oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes with their juice. 

Simmer for 30-45 minutes.  You can blend this sauce if desired or eat it chunky, like I did.  In hindsight, I would have preferred this sauce to be smooth, since after a day or two, it started to look less and less like a sauce.  Maybe I could have added more liquid to it.  Also, the flavor is decent but fairly mild.  I wouldn't say you will be dazzled by this one, but you can certainly use this as a base and add whatever you think will suit your taste better.


I grew up going to potlucks, but it wasn't until the last few years or so that I started to get the knack of bearing something other than alcohol or cookies.  

Wondering what to make for today's journal barbecue, my friend/classmate/partner-in-crime Veronique recommended tabbouleh.  Parsley, she said, and couscous instead of bulgur.  I never knew that tabbouleh was popular in France, and since V is our resident Frenchie, I decided to follow her suggestion.

Labor Day weekend is long gone, which I suppose means fall is imminent.  But considering the heat wave we've been experiencing this past week, it seems LA hasn't gotten the message.  This dish is perfect to eat on a hot day.  All the fresh flavors of mint, scallion, and parsley, combined with crisp cucumber and cherry tomatoes, tossed with couscous soaking in olive oil and lemon juice.  I used a young local olive oil from Santa Barbara County.  I would have used parsley from my patio, but I've neglected it to the point of no return.

I used Ina's recipe (found here), which was nearly perfect.  I did use couscous instead of bulgur, as V suggested, and I added a bit less salt than called for in the recipe.  It seems that the ratio of starch to green can vary greatly, but V says her family tends to use more couscous than parsley.

Photo by I Heart Woo

I asked my sister to plant-sit for me while I was in San Francisco, and she apparently made herself quite comfortable in my apartment.  Unfortunately for her, the only food she found in my fridge were tater tots.  Frozen tater tots.

But let me distract you from my sad fridge.  Check out my tomato plant.  When I planted it in March, it was an unassuming little thing.  Now it is an uncontrollable beast, growing what seems like an inch every few days.  I hope it yields delicious fruit and is worth the patience.

 

Here's a quick weeknight meal for you: A one-skillet ragu with big, southwestern flavor.  It's so easy that I simply direct you over to recipe at TheKitchn

What I like about this recipe is (1) it's fast and easy and (2) it tastes like comfort food.  It also reminded me of the latent power of pantry spices (don't underestimate what some chili powder can do!). 

I skipped the mushrooms and used half a pound of grassfed beef instead of the 1-1.5 lbs. ground beef called for in the recipe.  As expected, the beef was drier than your usual ground beef, which meant that more olive oil had to be added to the pan to keep things from burning.  Also, I didn't follow strict measurements when it came to the vegetables.

There are endless substitutions and adjustments you can make to this dish.  You can use different vegetables or ground meats, or a different pasta.  You can also, as I did, tweak the ratio of meat to vegetables.  But do keep the spices, since they really make the dish.  And don't forget plenty of grated cheese.  [There is usually some part of every recipe that shouldn't be omitted.  Here, leaving out the spices would leave you with a disparate combination of tomatoes, meat, and vegetables.] 

I missed the first day of Spring by two days due to the rain (see puddle).  Today granted a bit of sun, so I rolled up my sleeves and tackled two of my spring goals: Thai chili peppers (see below) and a tomato plant (above, far right).  I also threw in a new spearmint plant (above, far left), to replace two mints that died.  

The Internet has a glut of information on growing tomatoes, so I won't belabor the details.  In fact, don't rely on my tips, since this is my first attempt at growing tomatoes.  My experiment could very well turn out to be a failure.  But I'm staying optimistic.  At least I know my balcony is blessed with (usually) good weather and full sun exposure.

[That crazy purple plant is an ornamental kale that has bolted on me.  Definitely M's excited idea, not mine.]

The Bare Minimum for Tomatoes:
Tomato plant, container, and support

Tomato plants should have plenty of room for their large root systems to spread.  Pick a wide and deep container, preferrably of a material that won't dry out quickly, since tomato plants need frequent watering.  I picked plastic because it was cheap and lightweight and made sure to punch holes at the bottom for drainage.

You'll also need support to prevent the plant from growing sideways (thus causing fruit rot).  You have a few options, from wooden stakes and trellises to metal cages.  I got an iron cage.

The kind of tomato you plant may affect the type of container you use.  I chose a Brandywine heirloom because it sounded delicious but should have probably reconsidered.  This plant is "indeterminate," meaning it won't grow to a set height but instead will grow like a monster.

(You'll also need soil (duh) and fertilizer.  Keep reading.)


Biodegradable Egg Cartons
This is to keep soil from falling out the holes
and to (maybe?) help with drainage.

Soil and Fertilizer
Fill 3/4 of the container with potting soil.  Add fertilizer.  My slow-release fertilizer pods disintegrated because of the rain, hence the scattered mess.

The Plant
After removing the tomato plant from its pot and gently massaging the roots, center the plant on top of the soil.  I dug a little hole to let the roots extend downward.  Now fill the container with more potting soil, leaving an inch of space at the top.

Finally, some support
If you have a tomato cage, bury it about six inches deep into the soil, around the plant.  Be careful not to damage the plant roots while doing so.  You want to install the cage early; if you wait, the roots will have grown, and the cage might damage them further (or so I read online).

And there you have it.  Your first tomato plant!
Moving on . . .

Spearmint
Nothing more than a plant and some soil.
(Mojitos, anyone?)

Seed starter: Thai chili peppers
Here, a cardboard toilet paper roll is useful.  Use scissors to make four equidistant cuts at one end of the roll, each about a 1-1.5 inches long. 

Fold in each of the flaps and secure with tape.

Measure out your seeds.

Fill the roll partway with soil, deposit the seeds, add 1/4" layer of soil, and moisten with a few drops of water.  There's no need to use the entire length of the roll to start seeds, so you can cut away the excess upper third.  I will cut these flaps off eventuallly but thought they made a nice flower effect.

Your seed starter is finished!
Keep it moist and in the sun, and hopefully you will see little green bits soon.

 

Photo: Our cooking instructor in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 
She is holding two small but potent peppers.

The Internet tells me Spring is still three days away, but already I am planning ways to celebrate its arrival.  Unlike New Years, which pitches me into deep contemplations about humanity and my life path, Spring is a much more manageable transition.  For the same reason, it is also more joyful.  No high expectations to live up to, no austere, self-imposed rules to live by.  Just a few pleasurable moments punctuating long spells of Microsoft Word.

This year, I'm thinking-with the exception of work-small goals, low expectations, and immediate gratification.  I don't mean clothing or exotic trips.  I mean food.  Here's the list I brainstormed this morning.  My stomach is now grumbling.  Off to the market!

COOK/BAKE

  • Something Sweet | How does someone with a slight aversion to sugary treats have such a penchant for baking?  I don't know.  Maybe I like predictable results and precision-the measured cups, the nested bowls, the precisely timed bake.  So what to make?  I tire of cookies.  Maybe a pie?  Ah, but who will eat it?  You're looking at the person who took a week to finish a Ritter's chocolate bar.

 

  • Preserved Lemons | I've heard whispers of these lemons from friends and food blogs.  Now, thanks to NYT's easy DIY method, I feel it is doable.

 

  • Asparagus | I'm trying to think of a spring-worthy dish.  Asparagus would be the perfect vegetable, and risotto is the first dish that comes to mind.  But what else?

 

  • Salmon Cakes | My old roommate introduced me to these cakes.  Seafood isn't something I exactly crave, so I was unfamiliar with the seafood counter at Whole Foods.  But these cakes are addicting*.  And now, thanks to a boyfriend who loves seafood so much he has regular dreams about fishing, I do stop by the seafood counter.  Out of habit.
    * My only gripe is that the recipe calls for canned salmon, and I have some misgivings about canned foods (despite the fact that I still use canned products).

 

PLANT

  • Tomatoes | I don't relish tomatoes straight up the way some people do, and the last word you will hear from my mouth is "heirloom."  But I remember a sauce cooking class from several years back, and how much I like bolognese, and how tomatoes can be worked into so many dishes, and...yeah, I like tomatoes.

 

  • Prik khi nu (Thai chili pepper) | My first attempt at growing these failed, but lucky for me, there is an entire packet of seeds left.  These small peppers are not readily available at your neighborhood grocery store, but their intense spiciness is essential to many a Thai curry or sauce. 

 

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