Friday, July 24, 2009

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato Jam

This post is about my first virtual lunch with virtual friends whose names start with @, and although I don't know them-know them...I know them. I joined in on the wonderful idea to "create a BLT with your own spin on it, photograph it, and blog about it". Mine is a BLTea ~I'm kinda new to the social media scene, twitter schmitter, life in 140 characters or less, but I'm hooked! I'm trying hard to catch up with some of the big guns in the foodie/chef/cooking online world. I have to say, most of the time I've found them to be amazingly intelligent, creative, passionate, and generous with info and time. I'm having a blast and so thrilled to be playing. This #BLTlunch idea was one of those twitters that I read between @cowgirlchef and @cheryltan88 and @pinchmysalt. They explained briefly (because that's all you can do on twitter) about doing something that sounded like a virtual picnic, a Friday web-lunch, a Recipe Roundup where BLT sandwiches were the star of the moment. I loved the idea and also knew that it would get me off my canister with the blogging thing.

I cook - every day. I think about food - every moment. I take "sorta" good photos - every meal. My family is already so used to eating food that has to be warmed up after it has starred in its own 15 minutes of fame. I wrote to each one of those well established and extremely talented bloggers and said, "count me in". They responded as if we had been friends forever, excited that I was aboard and anxious to see what BLTea was about.

Well, my BLTea is about making a Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato sandwich that would be good in all seasons - made with seasonal and farmer's market heritage tomatoes. To do that, I turned the tomatoes into a savory, just a bit spicy, jam infused with smokey tea.For about a year now, I've been developing recipes for the very highly respected ALGABAR, a Home and Tea Salon in Los Angeles. I'm Executive Chef for their catering division, Fete Du The, and I've grown to appreciate the healthy, spiritual, sensual qualities of truly great tea-- like the ones they have in the shop on La Brea in Los Angeles. Gail and Robb are more than retailers, they are passionate artists and connoisseurs of taste and style. It's rare to be able to say such great things about people that you work with, and I think of them as friends. But before I throw-up the sandwich I just ate (and loved) with all this mushy talk - let me finish with the bullet points of my BLTea sandwich and I hope you will try making the jam. There is such a self-loving feeling that happens when you spread your own, home-made jam on a piece of bread. You feel - no matter what else - I can survive. I can make jam! Jam on.


300 grams (about 8) Farmer's Market Heritage Tomatoes (red, zebra, yellow, etc. peeled, cored, seeded, chopped)
200 grams (about 3) Apples (peeled, cored, sliced)
300 grams (about 1 1/4 cups) sugar
1 tsp. minced serrano chili pepper
1 lemon (zest and juice)
2 Tbls. Smokey Tea

In a deep sauce pan combine the tomatoes, apples, sugar, minced serrano, lemon zest and juice. Heat just to boiling then remove the pan and let cool.
Meanwhile, wrap 2 Tbls. of smokey tea leaves in a cheesecloth and tie tightly with kitchen string. Place the wrapped tea into the pan with tomatoes and push into the liquid. Cover the pan and place in refrigerator over night to infuse.The next day, heat the pan of tomatoes and tea to just before boiling. Remove the wrapped tea and continue boiling the tomato mixture til it reaches 224F. and is concentrated. This should take about 20 minutes. Check the set and carefully pour into prepared jars immediately and seal properly. If not preserving, this can be sealed and kept in refrigerator for 1 week.

My BLTea is prepared by spreading the Smokey Tea Jam on one side of dark, multi-grain Russian Rye bread. Add crisp Bacon on top, then wild Rocket Arugula and the second slice of bread. This is a great sandwich for traveling.

Let me hear about your jamming, too. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Carrot Top Pesto? You Must Be Joking.

After carefully turning over several bunches of carrots at the Farmer's Market, you finally choose the brightest orange/purple/white/green ones that "speak" to you. Then, just as you're reaching for your money, the busy bagger says, "you don't want the top greens, right?". And you answer....."YES, I DO want the top greens. " Or at least in the future maybe you'll answer that way.

I grew up next to my grandparent's survival farm in North Carolina (a long way from California where I live now.) My grandparents used every last morsel of everything they raised, planted, or caught. That included frying the weirdest parts of unlucky possums (even I can't go that far.) They would not have thrown away any greens from anything. The greens would have been used as seed, feed or filler. With that spirit in mind, I have been on a quest to find ways to use carrot top greens and one of the more successful uses is Carrot Top Pesto.

We all know how nutritious carrots are (and if you have never had a fresh carrot pulled out of the ground by your local farmer, then you really haven't tasted carrots. Give it a try, even kids will like those sweet, warm, flavorful root-popsicles.)
But what about the carrot greens? According to the Carrot Museum (who knew?), these feathery greenies contain a crock full of Vitamin K which the actual carrots don't even have. Not to mention Potassium AND...Chlorophyll which combats tumours, cleanses our blood and glands and even heals injuries. Years ago, folks would chew on the carrot greens as a breath freshener which is nice since they didn't take a bath except for once a month-- so at least something was clean.
Besides this pesto, you could throw carrot greens into your next smoothie for a boost, chop some and sprinkle over a salad for a spicy/bitter edge, or even boil the greens and strain to make a tea (that one took some honey for me.) Make the most of everything you got, right?
Carrot Top Pesto is all about that.

CARROT TOP and toasted walnut PESTO

1 bunch carrot greens (organic, washed, and loosely chopped)
1 clove garlic
1/2 onion chopped
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup chopped italian parsley
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat 2 tbls of the olive oil over med. heat. Add the onions and loosely chopped carrot greens. Heat the greens and onions just til wilted (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool for a few moments.
In a blender, add the garlic, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, walnuts, parsley, cheese, carrot greens mixture and half of the left over olive oil. Puree in pulses. Add the rest of the olive oil as needed to make a loose paste. Taste and adjust seasonings and oil.
Serve over prepared pasta, as a garnish for soups, or as a sandwich spread.
Keep in container in refrigerator for several days, or freeze for several weeks.

Send me pics of how you used the Carrot Top Pesto. Enjoy!

Check Out the Chickpea Chow

A great recipe is one that gives you many. This Chickpea Pan Pie was inspired by one of my favorite Culinary heroes, Mark Bittman. In one of his "go to" articles in the NY Times, he created a simple and healthy take on a Spanish Tapas from Chickpea (Garbanzo Bean) Flour, Water, a few shrimp and a handful of herbs. Since then, I've been using his ratio recipe over and over: equal parts chickpea flour and all purpose flour, add water till the mixture is like a pancake batter, then.... and that's where I have been going nuts! I've made this earthy, yet light and healthy, breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack Pan Pie with almost anything in my refrigerator. Once I had the batter made, I threw in onions, or fennel, chopped parsley, cilantro, dill or tarragon (just a little), or even sundried tomatoes. One night I had left over spinach so I threw that in with a few cubes of ham - my husband loved that one.

Chickpea this out; one cup of Garbanzos have 12 grams of fiber, 15 grams of protein and 80mg. of calcium. Those little nutty balls of heart-happy goodness work to lower your cholesterol, maintain steady blood sugar levels, and when added to brown rice or another whole grain can give you all the protein and complex carbohydrates of red meat, but without any of the bad-boy fats. Plus, if you make this with all Garbanzo Bean flour you even have a gluten-free dish.

These buttery marbles came from the Middle East, as did so many of our flavorful and healthy products. They're great in curries and hummus and baba ganoush - but my Southern California beach loving teenager will eat them like popcorn when I toast a sheet of them sprinkled with flavored salt or a spicy mix (use canned garbanzo's - drained and washed, then dried and spread on parchment lined baking sheet, sprinkle with favorite rub or spice mix, toast.)

The lovely luncheon entree above (that I barely got a picture of before I scarfed it down myself) was plumped full of wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, cilantro, parsley and garnished with whipped goat cheese and a wedge of a farmer's market golden yellow tomato. It took me all of 15 minutes to put this together and another 15 to heat and serve. Hope you have as much fun experimenting with this basic recipe as I have, lately. I'd love to hear about your Chickpea Chow.

CHICKPEA/GARBANZO BEAN PAN PIE w/wild mushrooms and onions.

1/2 small onion chopped
1/2 cup dried mushrooms
2 tbls. olive oil
1/4 cup of cilantro and parsley, chopped
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
salt, pepper

In a saute pan over Med. heat, warm the oil, then add the onions and slowly cook while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
In a cup of warm water, soak the dried mushrooms to reconstitute them (you can also use fresh).
In a bowl, mix both flours together with the salt and pepper. Add a bit of water and stir into a paste so the flours will not lump. Then, continue to add enough water until the batter is like pancake batter, just slightly thick.
Set aside so the flours can soak up the moisture while you drain the mushrooms, discard the mushroom water, and chop the mushrooms.
Add the mushrooms to the flour batter and stir to combine.
Pour the batter into the pan with the onions and stir until all ingredients have blended.
Leave the pan heating on Med/High until the center of the Pan Pie is not runny (about 3-5 minutes).
Carefully flip the pie over and continue cooking on the other side for about 3 minutes.
Slide the finished torte onto a warm plate and slice with a pizza roller.
Garnish with whipped goat cheese, and wedges of tomatoes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cheers & Cherries

It feels completely appropriate that my first virginal attempt at blogging would be about CHERRIES.
If you made me pick (word-play intended) my favorite fruit it would be the mahogany red, lush, velvet skinned, hard-bodied BING. Ba da bing! Forgetting, yet mentioning, the over-used trick of tying the cherry stem in your mouth as a sign of...what? Amazing tongue strength? I'm not sure. I find the juicy, full fleshed fruit of the cherry much more sensual and full of the possibilities of leaving one tongue-tied than the stem holds.

At a recent trip to the Hermosa Beach Farmer's Market I practically ran over to the table with the Bing Cherries. The season for these beauties is short and I felt like I had been waiting so long and patiently for their arrival. It's hard to believe that the United States, and especially California, is responsible for 90% of the commercial cherry crops grown. In our capital, Washington D.C., Japan is responsible for the hundreds of blossoming trees that surround the government buildings. The Sakura trees were a gift of friendship from the people of Japan in 1912. There are so many varieties of cherries that have been developed since the first cultivation around 300BC, and the BING was actually the baby of Seth Luelling of Oregon in 1875. Thanks, Seth, you rock!

You would be hard pressed to find a healthier way to "get your taste on" than with cherries, since they are low fat, sodium free, high in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, folic acid and Antioxidants. Whhatt? I'm not kidding, popping cherries (word-play NOT intended) is not only delish', but good for you.

Now, what to do with the red orbs besides eating them raw and spitting out the pits? There are pies, tarts, cobblers, jams and granola (all of which are amazing), but I chose to turn them into these little lovelies that resemble the Pate De Fruit of France and the Fruit Paste of Italy.
The recipe takes a little watching for perfection, but so worth the time and love. The sugar content helps to preserve the fruit, so these lasts and lasts; although if your friends or family have anything to do with it - they'll be gone in a red cherry flash. Let me know if you try this, find it interesting, or have any questions. Cheers!

(line an 8x8 inch cake pan with parchment, silpat, or lightly oiled)

300 g. (2 cups) Bing cherries, washed and pitted.
300 g. sugar (1 1/2 cups) + 1 Tbls.
1 Tbl. apple pectin
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbl. corn syrup

Mix the apple pectin with the 1 Tbls. of sugar and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, heat the cherries and the sugar on Med. for about 10 minutes, to break the cherries down a little.
Take cherry/sugar mixture off the heat and cool for a few minutes before carefully pouring mixture into a blender or food processor. Pulse cherries until a puree is reached.
Pour puree back into the same saucepan and heat on high to just before boiling. Add the apple pectin/sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Bring mixture to a boil and add the Corn Syrup and the lemon juice, stirring constantly until mixture reaches 222F, and is thick.

Immediately, pour mixture into the prepared 8x8 pan. Let cool for 2-3 hours until firm.

Turn out onto a cutting board and cut into 1 inch squares (or use other shapes).
Drop a few at a time into a bowl of sugar and toss to coat. Shake off excess sugar and keep in a tightly sealed container in a dry, cool place. Do not put in refrigerator as the moisture will make the candy sticky. Enjoy!