Tuesday, August 30, 2011

TEMPTATION TUESDAYS

Today launches something new for the Simple Meals blog.  Up to now, my focus here has been on fixing a basic, simple meal and getting that on the table.  In real life, that's probably about as far as most of us get, even if you're cooking for a family.  Protein and some vegetables on a plate makes dinner.  Few of us go the extra steps of adding even a glass of wine or a salad.  And only special occasion meals get to be topped off with something sweet like dessert.

Well, I love dessert.  I love to bake and I love to eat sweets.  In a perfect world where calories were not relevant, I would eat dessert every day after every meal.  OK, I'll admit it, I'd even skip the meal and go directly to dessert.  And I'm not talking about a piece of fruit out of the fruit bowl either (let's be real...that's a snack, not desert). 

But, in the real world where calories are counted and refined sugars are not healthy, dessert has to be limited to once or twice a week.  Which makes being the only person in the house with an entire homemade cheesecake or cream pie a very dangerous thing. 

Temptation Tuesdays is where we'll pursue sweets in small batches.  Honest to goodness, home baked goodies that are worth skipping the meal for.  We'll talk about equipment for baking small batches and what to do if a recipe is still too much for a single serving (think freezer!). 

GINGER PEACH COBBLER
Late summer is when peaches appear in our markets from local farms.  Peaches are usually either so-so good or exceptionally good.  Buying an average peach is easy but finding the perfect peach for eating out of hand is a rare occurrence.  When you do find the perfect juicy, sweet peach there is no fooling around with it.  Wash it off and eat it.  Letting the juice slide down your chin and hands is part of the experience.  If you're lucky and run across an orchard on just the right day to find a peck of perfect peaches, by all means eat them all this way.  For the rest of us, it's a toss up.  Those peaches in the bin at the market could be from multiple orchards or even multiple states.  If you find one perfect peach, finding a second will be nearly impossible.

So when I am handed a few less-than perfect peaches, that's when I would head for the kitchen and this cobbler recipe.  Scaled down for a single serving, this rounds out a simple light meal.  It also makes the most of a mediocre peach.  Top it off with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream or a pour of heavy cream and voila!  Dessert good enough NOT to share!
 
Timing Strategy:   Begin assembling this dessert as soon as you hit the kitchen to prepare dinner.  Cobblers right out of the oven need to sit for a few minutes before digging into them.  When this goes into the oven, begin making the rest of your dinner and eat while the cobbler bakes. 

Filling:
  1 cup peeled fresh sliced or large diced peaches
  1/2 teaspoon corn starch
  2 teaspoons sugar
  1 tablespoon brown sugar
  pinch of ground ginger
  tiny pinch of salt

Topping:
  1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  1 tablespoon sugar
  1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  pinch of salt
  1 tablespoon milk
  1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  (I use my toaster oven for everything small I bake from pizzas to paella.  It's ideal for a single cobbler.)  Thoroughly combine the filling ingredients together in a bowl.  Transfer to an 8-ounce oven-proof ramekin. 

In another small bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Add the milk and butter and mix together to form a soft dough.  Arrange the batter on top of the peach filling.  Sprinkle turbinado sugar over dough and top with a grind or two of fresh nutmeg. 

Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes until topping is brown and filling bubbling.  Remove from oven and let set 5-10 minutes.  Serve with ice cream or a pour of heavy cream. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

OMG! MORE Tomatoes!!!!

Tangled but very prolific tomato vines
My little garden is a pathetic sight.  Weeds have overgrown everywhere except in the row and a half of tomato vines I'm randomly tending.  I went a little overboard with the plants this summer and I have about 20 vines producing my very favorite little baby tomatoes.

Although I'm completely in love with the big beefsteak (as you could tell from my last blog), I'm equally infatuated with these little tiny tomatoes.  Cherry, currant, teardrop, red, yellow, orange, whatever - these tiny wonders are another of the very best things summer has to offer.  Many of these plucked in evening treks to the garden don't make it all the way home because they're eaten on the way.  Early in the season when only a handful are ripe, that's generally their fate.  This time of summer, however, the vines are so prolific that there are pints of these little tomatoes riding home each evening.

So many beautiful little tomato gems!
Beefsteaks are sweet, juicy, and meaty with a real tomato flavor.  In contrast, these little tomatoes taste a little like candy.  Pop one or two in your mouth and they burst with intense sweetness.  The tiny red ones have a tart sweetness due to their acid content.  The yellow ones have less acid and have a totally different taste. 

Combined, they're perfect for cooking in a little olive oil to top off a quick pasta, which is the plan for tonight's dinner.  As they cook whole, they burst open in the heat and leak wonderful tomato goodness into the fragrant olive oil. A few crushed red pepper flakes add a slight heat to the dish.  This dish is simple, quick, healthy and delicious.  If you venture into a gardening adventure for next summer, two or three vines of these gem-like tomatoes would be a terrific choice for any beginner.

Aside from the cherry tomatoes, you’ll need a few fresh basil leaves, a clove of garlic, some olive oil and some sort of fun pasta from the pantry. And of course, some fresh pecorino or Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle in some hot pepper flakes if you like that sort of heat and you’re well on your way to a weeknight meal for one guaranteed to stop you from heading to the local freezer section for dinner.


Simple ingredients for a delicious meal
SIMPLE SUMMER PASTA
Serves one hungry person
It may seem as if I'm asking for a lot of oil here but remember this is the main ingredient in your sauce.  There has to be enough to create a sauce with the tomato juice to coat the pasta.  Believe me, this works!

3 oz. short-cut pasta (I like farfalle because they’re cute, but penne or orecchietti are fine too)
2 Tbls olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Small handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quartered depending upon size
3-4 basil leaves, sliced in ribbons (chiffonad is the technical term)
Hot pepper flakes to taste
¼ cup freshly grated cheese

In a small sauce pan, bring 4 cups of water to a full boil – salt generously and add pasta. Cook to al dente – be sure not to overcook because you will be adding this to the sauce to cook again briefly.

Once the pasta hits the hot water, begin the sauce. This should make your timing just about right. In a small, heavy skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and a pinch or two of hot pepper flakes and sweat the garlic for a minute or two – do not let it brown.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and let them cook over medium heat until the tomatoes burst and are heated completely through. Don’t overcook these or they just become mushy – the idea here is to retain their fresh picked flavor. Add the basil.

Test your pasta for doneness – if it’s not quite done, turn down the heat on your sauce and let it stand warming until your pasta is ready. Hint - Do not pour out your pasta water, rather use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer your pasta to the warm skillet when it’s ready. This lets you leave the hot pasta water for your use if you need to thin the sauce.

Add the hot pasta and about half of your grated cheese to the tomatoes. At this point, the tomatoes will make your ‘sauce’ and the cheese will begin to thicken the mixture - if you need more moisture use some of the pasta water. Let it all heat through, stirring to combine. Transfer to your warmed plate, top with the remaining grated cheese and enjoy.

TWEEKS: I like this just as described above, but here are some other suggestions:

Add some fresh oregano to the tomatoes for a little different flavor

Rather than serving the sauce with the pasta, consider using it as a bed for a great broiled white fish fillet

If you feel like adding some greens to the dish, you can do that by one of two ways: 1) add some fresh baby spinach leaves to the tomatoes as they cook, the spinach will wilt down quickly or 2) add some chopped swiss chard to the oil at the beginning so that the heartier chard leaves can cook a bit longer and get tender, then add the tomatoes and cook as instructed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ode to a Lovely Beefsteak Tomato

The long wait is over
   to catch a fleeting bite of your sweet, red, juicy flesh.
No other on the vine
   can compare to the beauty and flavor you bring to me in the hot breath of summer.
Tho many say they know you
   only those that sample you in this incarnation can truly be aware
of the diverseness of your nature
   between the common dry tasteless commonness that is your popularity
and what you appear to me as today
   in your succulent sweet elusive countenance.
Patiently I wait ten months
   for you to arrive on my doorstep only to have you disappear again when leaves mimic you in Fall

Beefsteak peeking out from behind
the squash as if it had any reason
to be shy!
Hee hee hee, obviously I am no poet. But the tomato that appeared in my City Fresh share last week moved me to this feeble attempt.  As soon as I spied it among the other tomatoes, I instantly thought "YES, this is a REAL tomato!"

Grandpa grew this variety of tomato in his garden and these are what most of us with food memories prior to the age of "tomatoes year 'round" recall with real fondness.  Yes, it's nice to have those hard little red orbs called tomatoes in the grocery store available to us in the middle of December, but do not make the mistake of thinking they taste anything like a real tomato. 

The sad part of this is that even in the dead of summer when 'real' tomatoes are on the local vines, we STILL end up with the variety that are easily shipped around the country in trucks to reach our stores.  And that means hard, tough as nails tomatoes with very little flavor.

This tomato inspired my dinner tonight by it's sheer presence.  For its sake I baked my own wheat bread from scratch, purchased fantastic thick-cut local bacon and selected the best of the bunch from my lettuce tub.  In short, this tomato was treated as a special guest in my home - only the best would do.

This one tomato will make several meals, mostly as the main attraction.  Tonight a BLT, tomorrow for lunch as a simple topping for my homemade bread, then tomorrow night served simply dressed with salt and pepper as a side dish to something, maybe a couple ears of fresh corn on the cob.  This is summer eating at its very best.

BAKING BREAD WORTHY OF MY TOMATO
For the most part my bread baking leans toward the artsy, multi-grain breads that are served with soups or on their own, breads that can stand on their own.  Seldom do I venture into the softer, sandwich style baking.  However for the sake of my tomato I reached out to my favorite web site (King Arthur Flour) and selected a soft, whole wheat recipe to try. 


Dinner 1 - BLT fit for a Queen!

Using a technique recommended from KAF, I turned the single larger loaf into two small mini-loaves and it baked up beautifully.  Soft in texture and a little nutty in flavor, if you're into baking your own bread for sandwiches, I highly recommend this one.  I won't bore everyone with the recipe here, but you can find it yourself on the KAF website.  While you're there, take a look around, they have hundreds of great ideas.

 The bread was sturdy enough to hold its own when toasted and still held up pretty well given the extra juicy nature of the tomato. 

One slice of tomato, one slice of bread
and a thick layer of mayo...YUM! Lunch!
So I'm off to eat some more of my beautimous, gigantic, once or twice a summer tomato.  I'm wishing you all could be here but since you cannot (because frankly even if you were I might not share), you should scout out the local farm stands for a Beefsteak of your own. 

Chow down baby!