Saturday, October 24, 2015

Help! I’ve Been Taken Prisoner by a Tomato Plant
What’s cooking? Savory Tomato Jam and Cherry Tomato Cobbler

Last spring, in a fit of optimism, I added a couple of Sun Gold tomato plants to my kitchen garden. Little bitty things, about 6 inches tall. I didn’t know how they’d fare on their own in the brutal Texas summer – the last time I tried this, we stayed put for the season, so I could nurse things along. I reminded myself that the beds get watered automatically once a week, and if they didn’t make it, well, so it goes.

By the time we left for the summer, they still weren’t terribly big and they hadn’t produced any fruit, but I felt very Farmer Lee with them. They’d gotten large enough that I put in some wire tomato cages, to support them in case they did survive.

On our return three months later, it was clear that I’d underestimated the growing power of a Texas summer, or the vitamins in my garden soil, or something. The place looked like Jurassic Park. It took a day of me and a couple of strong helpers just to clear enough room to move around in the space. All the herbs – basil, chives, thyme, rosemary, and oregano – had outgrown their beds. The weeds were up to my hips. And the tomatoes had gone completely nuts. Almost as if they took one look at my simple tomato cages and sneered, “Tomato cages? You make a little joke? Phooey. We need this iron fence for support.”

So, once I cleared the gravel path, I picked for a couple of hours each day for three days in a row. In all, I retrieved more than 5 pounds of edible fruit, to say nothing of the ones that were too soft and the hundreds of tomato carcasses whose seeds will no doubt show up next spring as “volunteers.”

Then I tapped into the internet to figure out what to do.

The quickest and easiest solution was to freeze some. Rinse them off, lay them on a small sheet pan, and shove it into the freezer. A couple of hours later, the tomatoes are like marbles, at which point you can easily load them into jars or baggies and put them back into the freezer. I’m thinking tomato sauce or frittatas in January...

But the Kitchen Goddess wanted to preserve some of them in the old-fashioned canning sense, even though “canning” happens in jars these days. Turns out my good buddy Mark Bittman has a recipe for Tomato Jam that seemed just the right level of savory-sweet. For a jammy texture, you have to put in sugar, so Bittman balances that sweetness with lime juice, then adds a medley of spices – ginger, cinnamon, cumin, and clove – to give it a sharp fall flavor. He used large tomatoes, but I felt sure my Sun Golds would jam up fine, and I was right.

What I most liked was that the tomatoes didn’t disintegrate completely – many held their orb shape, so the jam ends up having a nice, chutney-esque texture. I served some as a glaze on grilled salmon that night and was so thrilled with it that, the next morning, I made some cheese scones and ate the jam on them for breakfast in the garden.

Basking in the glow of the jam, I had just enough to make a Kitchen Goddess variation on Martha Stewart’s Tomato Cobbler. Wow. Baking brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, but the onions and flour and herbs pull the dish back into savory territory. They also give the tomatoes enough structure to keep from turning into sauce, and the cheesy biscuit topping soaks up just the right amount of the juice. The dish is perfect for lunch with a salad, or as a side dish with dinner.

Savory Tomato Jam

Adapted from Mark Bittman in The New York Times August 19, 2008

Makes enough to fill four 8-ounce jars, with a little left over for some salmon or savory breakfast scones.

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (Bittman used Roma; Kitchen Goddess used small Sun Gold cherry tomatoes)
2 cups sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh, grated ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or 2 medium jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced; or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste – all depends on how much and what kind of heat you like)

If you are using full-size tomatoes, core and chop them into ½-inch dice. Use cherry tomatoes as they are; if your cherry tomatoes are large, you may want to cut them in half.

In a large, heavy saucepan, stir together all ingredients until sugar is well distributed. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Once the liquid reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue to simmer for about 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If at the end of that time, the mixture has not reached a consistency of jam, continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, checking occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then process as for preserves.

If you don’t plan to process the mixture in preserving jars, refrigerate the jam until ready to use. It should keep at least a week. This recipe can easily be halved for a smaller batch. If you do so, be sure to watch the thickness carefully, as a smaller batch will jam-up faster.

Kitchen Goddess note: The following recipe includes the KG’s tried and true method of making biscuit dough using her food processor. You don’t have to do it this way, though I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t because it’s so easy. And it works. If you prefer to use a pastry cutter or your hands to get those pieces of butter to pea size, go right ahead.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler

Adapted from

Serves 4.

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ pounds small cherry tomatoes
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or fresh oregano - your choice)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper (about 8 grinds)

For the topping:
½ stick unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup grated cheddar cheese, plus 1-2 tablespoons for topping
¾ cup heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon for brushing on top

Make the filling:
In a medium-sized skillet (I used a 10-inch), heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions. Cook the onions for about 30 minutes, stirring often, until lightly caramelized. Reduce the heat toward the end if necessary to keep the onions from burning. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, another 5 minutes on medium-low. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, gently toss the tomatoes with the flour, onion mix, thyme, salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Pour the mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375º.

Make the biscuit topping:
Cut the butter into four equal slices; cut each slice into quarters. Put the butter pieces on a plate and freeze until ready to use.

Put the flour and baking soda and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 4-5 times to get them well mixed.

Add the butter from the freezer to the processor bowl, and pulse enough times (about 14-15) to get the butter down to pea size. Add the cheese and pulse until well mixed.

Pour in the cream and continue to pulse until the dough mostly forms a ball as it moves around the bowl. (The dough will still be sticky. Don’t fret.)

Using a large spoon, scoop clumps (about ⅓ cup each) of the dough, and arrange them on top of the tomato-onion mixture, leaving small openings here and there for the steam and juice to bubble through. Lightly brush the dough with the remaining tablespoon of cream, and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.

Bake 1 hour at 375º, or until the topping is golden brown. Set the dish on a rack to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Kitchen Goddess note: From the leftover dough, you can also make a couple of scone-like biscuits. Bake simultaneously on a greased pan or parchment, for about 40 minutes until golden brown. Maybe even have them for breakfast with the Savory Tomato Jam, hmmm?

And now I have to go – I have some tomatoes to pick.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

On the Road Again
What’s cooking? Cumin Chicken with Squash, Fennel, and Grapes

Fall launches our great annual North-to-South migration. Friends who’ve escaped the Texas summer to Nantucket, the Jersey shore, Wisconsin lakes, or Colorado bounce back to our neighborhood in Austin, even though afternoon temperatures there still climb into the 90s.

Until this trip, it’s always been a 2-day drive for us. But I seem incapable of... let’s just say getting my shit together. HE – that would be my hubby – has what appears to be nothing to do but pack two small bags and get in the car. I, on the other hand, have three suitcases, two hanging bags, several bags of recipes and magazines I haven’t quite gotten through, my laptop, a box of spices/sauces I’ve collected over the summer, and – you guessed it – a cooler full of food. Apples and sugar snap peas and other snacky items for the road, along with the stuff I couldn’t stand to leave at the farmers’ market and figure we’ll eat in Texas (turnips, turnip greens, acorn squash, a small bunch of sorrel, and a big bunch of carrots).

In addition to the packing, I stayed up too late chopping up 5 pounds of beefsteak tomatoes and mixing a double batch of arugula pesto; the tomatoes and pesto went into the freezer for our Christmas visit. Both of those are great ways to preserve the fall goodies for winter. But all that activity means staying up too late, so I’m groggy and grumpy before we even get into the car. Not a nice way to start a 27-hour drive with your mate. One day I’ll get saner – just not this year.

Kitchen Goddess note: If you, too, are mourning the last of the field-ripened tomatoes, there’s a way to hang onto them without going through the whole canning thing. Wash them, chop them into cubes ½-¾-inch size, and load them into zip-lock freezer bags. Squeeze out the extra air and lay the bags flat until they freeze, after which you can stack them every which way. Great for use in sauces in the middle of winter.

We’re listening to WNYC as we drive this morning. Through the miracles of streaming radio technology, a bluetooth conversation between my phone and my car, and the magic of radio in the first place, we’re getting Brian Lehrer as he talks with the journalist and photographer Brandon Stanton. Stanton recently spent time in Eastern Europe interviewing refugees fleeing Syria, asking them about why they left. The stories of violence and trauma paint a wrenching picture of people forced by circumstances over which they have no control to abandon their homes and friends and families. They packed a single set of clothes and left everything else they had to look for a life that would be safer. Listening to the voices, I feel spoiled and frivolous in my “need” to cart a car-full of stuff back and forth, and suddenly grateful even to have a place I can call home.

One of the blessings of an upcoming departure is that I focus on menus that take very little work. This year, I discovered a marvelous recipe for chicken and vegetables that can be cooked all at once and on two large sheet pans. (If you cut the recipe in half, it’ll only take one sheet pan!) Yes, you’ll dirty a large bowl with the veggies, and a small bowl with the spice mixture, and certainly a cutting board; but that’s not bad for a full dinner. So even the clean-up is brief. My younger son showed up for the meal, and both he and Grumpy pronounced it a success.
Aleppo Pepper

The Kitchen Goddess loved the sweet-hot spice mixture here – especially with the smokiness of the Aleppo pepper, which gave the dish a vaguely North African flavor. After all, Aleppo pepper is grown mostly in Syria and Turkey. The mint adds to that sensation. Simple but exotic.

Cumin Chicken with Squash, Fennel, and Grapes

Adapted from Epicurious, August 2015

Serves 4.

2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
2 acorn squash (about 1¼-1½ pounds), halved, seeded, and sliced into ½-inch half-moons
2 medium fennel bulbs (about ¾ pound), cut in half lengthwise, sliced into ½-inch wedges with core intact
1 pound seedless red grapes (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 4 pounds)
½ cup fresh mint leaves, ribboned or torn

Special equipment: Two half-sheet rimmed baking pans (18" x 13")

Preheat oven to 425º. Position one oven rack in the upper third of the oven and another in the lower third.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cumin, salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Mix well.

In a large mixing bowl, use your hands to toss the squash, fennel, and grapes with the oil and half the spice mixture. Turn the mixture out onto the sheet pans, and spread it in a single layer, evenly divided between the two pans.

Place the chicken pieces in the same bowl and sprinkle the rest of the spice mixture on them, rubbing it into the skin. Arrange the chicken skin-side up on top of the veggies, and roast 30-35 minutes, until the skin is browned. Rotate the two pans halfway through the roasting time. (If you prefer less guesswork, use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the internal temperature on the chicken registers 165º.)

Serve immediately, garnished with torn or ribboned mint.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hanging Out with My People
What’s cooking? Two great cocktails and a Tropical Smoothie

I started writing this at 32,000 feet, on my way back from a conference for bloggers in Seattle. The International Food Bloggers Conference 2015. Yes, even the Kitchen Goddess can enjoy hanging out with a group of like-minded souls for a few days.

I’m never really sure what I’ll find as I head into such adventures. I arrive at the hotel, and the questions that burn in my mind are... “Who ARE these people? And are they MY people?”

Not surprisingly, it’s a fairly eclectic group, and yes, they are my people. I mean, who else could spend three days talking about food and photography and food styling? But, as always, I’m intrigued by the subculture phenomenon.

On just about any topic, you can find a large group of people who’ll happily spend days on end discussing aspects of related minutae that would cause a “normal” person to run screaming from the room. Back in my single days, for instance, I was introduced to the world of tournament bridge. (The card game, not the giant steel structures.) Three times a year, the American Contract Bridge Association holds a national tournament at which many of these aficionados spend 10 days straight doing nothing but playing bridge. Sure, sign me up. And when these people go to dinner, they mostly discuss bridge hands. And at the end of the day, having spent their waking hours playing anywhere from 26 to 78 hands, they retire to the bar where the talk shifts to... bridge hands.

You can find subcultures of flower arrangers, crossword puzzlers, antique car owners, bonsai tree artists (you know who you are), ...even writers. And the great thing is that, within these subcultures, the qualities that in the “normal” world would cause a person to stand out, don’t. The hierarchy of values that makes George Clooney or Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah Winfrey a star is turned on its head. In the bridge world, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates – who both play the game – are unremarkable participants, and many of the “star” players would strike a non-bridge player as odd or even unpleasant.

Among food bloggers, the stars are the photographers, food stylists, and cookbook writers. In Seattle, in a workshop on taste trends, one woman told us about a recipe of hers for dill pickle soup. Yes, I know, dill pickle soup. Apparently it went viral and she got like a million hits. And when she reported this episode to the crowd, you could almost hear the low murmur ripple through the room... Holy shit... a million hits. That’s the stuff of rock stars in the food blogging world.

Among the many treats of the weekend was a Culinary Fair [read: dinner] featuring goodies from various Seattle restaurants and conference sponsors. As I wandered the room, I noticed lots of people sipping really pretty cocktails. Turns out they were offerings of the Stonyfield Yogurt Company, and not a drop of yogurt in them. Who knew yogurt people could be such fun? In fact, the cocktails were creations of Rebecca Rice, of Highball Custom Bar Catering, inspired by Stonyfield yogurts. That’s all I know about Rebecca except that she had some very fine ideas.

So in honor of the Stonyfield Yogurt folks, here are two of those yogurt-free cocktails – tested and approved by the Kitchen Goddess and her hubby, who pronounced them “mighty tasty” – and a breakfast treat for the next day.

The Cooler takes a little work, but well worth it for the gorgeous layered look and the fresh and complex taste – like a salad that’s simultaneously fruity and herb-y and you can’t quite decide which. Make a batch of the pear-ginger juice and the cucumber juice and serve these to your guests with hors d’oeuvres. Only one per guest, unless, well,... you know.

In case you missed it, I’m going to repeat: this Gingered Pear and Cucumber Cooler, with the layer of green drifting into the layer of golden yellow like a rainbow, is beautiful, and would make a great start to a dinner party. Very sophisticated. The Kitchen Goddess doesn’t even like gin, but she finished hers. Yes, sirree.

Gingered-Pear & Cucumber Cooler

Inspired by Stonyfield Organic Gingered Pear Oh My Yog! Yogurt, and adapted from Rebecca Rice, Highball Custom Bar Catering

Makes 4 cocktails.

For the drink:
6 ounces pear juice (I used pear drink from concentrate; or make your own if you’re really crazy or have a juicer)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1½ large cucumbers (not the seedless variety)
3 ounces lemon juice
7 ounces good quality gin
4 teaspoons sugar (superfine sugar dissolves best; use less sugar if you prefer less sweetness)

For the glasses (martini glasses work well):
lemon wedges (for wetting the rims)
pink flaky salt (if you can find it, or kosher salt if not)
cayenne pepper

Stir the ginger into the pear juice and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Strain out the ginger before serving.

Cut 12 thin slices of cucumber (3 slices per drink). Set aside on a plate, covered so they don’t dry out. Chunk the rest of the cucumber into a juicer (if you have one) or blender and process to get as finely pulverized as you can. Strain the pulp from the juice to get at least 3 ounces of juice. Refrigerate the juice until ready to serve.

Cucumber juice --isn’t it pretty?

Run the lemon wedges around the rims of the glasses to wet them, and roll the edges of the glasses in a saucer of salt (pink salt is nice but not necessary) mixed with a dash of cayenne.

In a glass jar or cocktail shaker of ice, combine 4 ounces of the gingered pear juice, 3 ounces lemon juice, 7 ounces gin, and the sugar, and shake until thoroughly chilled. Strain into the four salt-and-cayenne-rimmed glasses.

Float 3 cucumber slices in each drink to cover the surface. Pour ¾ ounce of chilled cucumber juice over the back of a spoon in a layer over the cucumber slices.

The spoon is essential, to keep the cuke juice from torpedoing the cuke slices.

* * *

The Blueberry Mojito is a lot simpler and adds a nice fruitiness to the classic mint drink.

Kitchen Goddess note: The following drink calls for Minted Simple Syrup. I have touted this syrup as a staple for your fridge on more than one occasion. And here it is again. But the KG is a patient woman, so in case you still don’t have any... In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar and 1½ cups mint leaves, and bring to a simmer, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Simmer 2 minutes and strain. Put the syrup into a jar and label it; it will keep indefinitely.

Blueberry Mojito

Inspired by Stonyfield Organic Quebec Blueberry Oh My Yog! Yogurt, and adapted from Rebecca Rice, Highball Custom Bar Catering

Makes 4 cocktails.

1 pint blueberries
1 small bunch fresh mint
7 ounces white rum
4 ounces fresh lime juice
3 ounces minted simple syrup [See KG note above.]

Put a small layer of crushed ice in the bottoms of 4 highball glasses.

Add a layer of blueberries (10-12).

Add a layer of mint leaves.

Repeat with layers of ice, berries, and mint.

In a glass jar or cocktail shaker with ice, combine the rum, lime juice, and minted simple syrup. Shake until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, and strain into the four glasses. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

* * *

Tropical Smoothie

Inspired by Deborah Harroun (check out her very attractive Taste and Tell blog)

Makes 4 servings.

12 ounces 100% pineapple juice
2 large ripe bananas, cut in ½-inch pieces and frozen
6 ounces Stonyfield Organic Plain Greek Yogurt
1 cup coconut water
1 cup crushed ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and process until smooth. Serve immediately.