Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tomato Love!

It's late August. If you garden, I'm guessing your countertops swelling under the weight of tomatoes. Or, if you are crazy like me, you've bought a 25 pound box of plum tomatoes for sauce.  And then people keep giving you more. But good gravy, I hope you haven't refrigerated them. As my chef friend Jason Hook says, vegetables DIE in the refrigerator. I would add that some veg-deaths-by-fridge are slower than others. Tomatoes, though, get watery and gross in there, and right quick. But I digress.....

Here's something you can do with them. You can take them, no matter what their size, shape or taste, and roast them. Wash them, slice them in half, toss them in a big bowl with anywhere between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and you are good to go. You can then use them in myriad ways. Eat them smeared on toasted ciabatta, rubbed with garlic. Toss them with pasta and other fresh tomatoes for a multi-layered tomato experience. Puree them. Mix them with eggs. Eat them with a spoon off the roasting pan (that's partly what I did.). Toss them with other veggies and beans for a very impromptu one-pot veggie-laden meal (I did that, too). Freeze them in 2-cup increments so that you can pull them out, like a champ, in the middle of winter and add them to soups, stews, sauces, chilis, and so forth. (Also done). You don't even really have to defrost them, if you don't want to, but you could certainly do that in the fridge. But seriously. They're going to give off water anyway, and you'll need some for the cooking process, so don't fret. Food is more forgiving than perhaps we all realize.

Tomatoes! Any shape, size or color
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 tsp. cane sugar or maple syrup (I have also used agave nectar)** This is optional
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp. salt and a few cracks of fresh ground black pepper

1. Set your oven to 350 Fahrenheit
2.  Slice those tomatoes in half and toss them in a big bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, salt, pepper and optional sugar. If you include sugar, it's just going to accentuate the sweetness, but it's not necessary. Pour over the tomatoes and toss gently to combine.
3. Roast the tomatoes in the oven on rimmed baking sheets for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the tomatoes. You'll see them start to get blistery, shrink a bit around the edges and get a little bit caramelized. Bingo!
4. Remove from the oven and let them cool to room temperature before putting them in the fridge for nearly immediate consumption or a zip top bag for freezer storage. Make sure you get in all those good, sweet olive oil juices--including some of the burny bits that develop as they roast. It's all flavor. Don't let it go to waste!

Roasting is especially attractive when you find you have a few that are starting to turn and you may not be able to eat all of them immediately. In less than an hour, you can make short work of those super ripe tomatoes and have the components of a dish for the middle of winter. (Or, as in the case of last night's dinner, three hours later.)  If you want to store them in the fridge, wait until they've cooled to room temperature and then transfer them to an airtight container. They'll keep for about a week, but you'll likely eat them up before then.

Monday, August 19, 2013

After Wednesday Market Dinner

This isn't so much a recipe, per se, as it is a list of ingredients, borne out of what I had on hand.

We try to go to the new Weyerbacher Wednesday market at the Easton Farmers' Market, which takes place from 4-8pm every, you guessed it, Wednesday. There are some great vendors there who sell good dinnertime fare, such as Switchback Pizza and V-Lish Vegan Soup Company. Purple Cow/aka Bank Street Creamery is also there with inspired ice cream flavors, too. Invariably we end up with a couple of the little pizzas from Switchback, but the kids (and us, too) typically need something else to eat when we get home. And that's what happened last week. I was still hungry, but it was almost 7pm and I was not interested in cooking because I had been doing that all day already. I wanted quick assembly but lots of taste.  I threw this together quickly. It started with an investigation into what was in the fridge. Here's a glimpse of my internal monologue......

Oh! There's a leftover cooked ear of corn on the cob.
(I scraped the kernels off.)

Well, if I have corn, what else is in here? Jimmy Nardello red peppers
(These are so sweet you can and should just eat them raw. Two of those, from Salvaterra's, washed, sliced thin, extra seeds removed, went in.)

Well, if you have peppers and corn, you need tomatoes, too.....
(In went a couple of roughly chopped heirlooms from Scholl's.)

Wait a minute. I think I still have a white cucumber!
(How overjoyed I was to find someone was growing these in the Lehigh Valley, because I didn't this year. Thanks, Firelight Farms! No need to peel locally and naturally grown cucumbers. Washed and sliced thin, and then cut in half. Done.)

From there, I went to the backyard, grabbed a half dozen leaves of basil from the garden, and added a little bit of feta cheese. Admittedly, the latter was not a market purchase but if you bought a tangy cheese from Klein Farms, BaD Farm or Cranberry Creek, you're one step ahead of me. Or you could leave it out. I just wanted a sharp counterpoint to the veggies. Add a good glug or two of your best extra virgin olive oil--you'll want something with a fruity or otherwise assertive taste--and you're good to go.

See what I mean? This is less a recipe than a list of ingredients. I could have kept going, and added zucchini, but I stopped there.

But here's a simple rule of thumb for cooking, and maybe even for life. Go with what you got. Go with what feels right. Go with what tastes good together. It's hard to mess up during the height of the season. We are supposed to be eating many of these veggies together. It just makes sense. I find I can't eat this stuff fast enough, to keep up with production, during August and into September. 

If you make this, or make a variation, please share details!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The ULTIMATE Veggie Burger

Black beans and beets and rice, oh my!

If you have ever tried to make a veggie burger from scratch, I trust you will understand my jubilation at finally hitting upon a nearly perfect veggie burger.

The only bummer? I cannot take credit for this--it comes from a site I like quite a bit, The Kitchn, so I'm passing it along in the interest of deliciousness and good health--with a few adaptations. First, for the history. This recipe was inspired by the veggie burgers at Northstar Cafe in Columbus, Ohio. Can't say I've ever eaten there, but my inspiration comes more locally, from the awesome black bean and lentil burger chef Jeremy Bialker makes at Two Rivers Brewing.

In any case, once it morphs into something that's really my own, after I've made more changes, I can use it in the cookbook. I suspect it will, because even though you can say that all veggie burgers are projects, I am convinced that this one has too many ingredients. I'm going to test and see if there are some we can all do away with, in the interest of preserving maximum flavor and creating a recipe that won't make you run screaming for the hills when you see how long the ingredient list is.  In terms of my changes I've adapted this recipe and amped up some of the seasonings so the taste is more prominent. I also added cilantro where there was none in the recipe because I had it and because I thought it would work well. And it does.

This recipe succeeds where many others fail because homemade veg burgers often fall apart when you try to flip them, no matter how hot you get that pan or grill. This one remains intact; I had not one casualty. They're also often leaden and leave you with an altogether too-full feeling. In an uncomfortable way. These simply are not.

The yield for this recipe, which makes six, feels off. It's written for regular burgers, but I made sliders, which are typically a little less than half the size of their standard counterparts. I used an overflowing 1/4 cup cookie scoop and got about three times more than the "about six" the recipe indicates. Suffice to say, it fed three adults and two four-year-olds, and I froze about a dozen for a future meal. That last part is a total bonus, because often you want the convenience of veggie burgers at a moment's notice but not all that work.

Important detail: you need to bring these together ahead of time: the mixture should sit in the fridge for a few hours or as long as overnight in order for the flavors to come together and firm up.

If you do make these, please let me know how many you get out of it, and how big you've made them. Feedback, please! I apologize for the lack of a photo of the finished product--we ate them too fast for me to photograph them.

1 lb. beets (3-4 medium-to-large ones)
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats (or oat flour)
2 (15.5-ounce) cans black beans
1/4 cup dates, chopped into small pieces
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. smoked paprika (Hungarian paprika is too sweet)
1 T. grainy mustard
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 large egg (optional; makes the burger vegan otherwise)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Set your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Scrub the beets, dry them thoroughly, and wrap them in aluminum foil. Roast them for about 45-50 minutes, until they are easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
2. Bring a 2-quart pot of water to boil for the rice. Salt the water and cook the rice according to package directions, with one caveat: you want it to be a little bit overcooked (not totally mushy), but still firm. Drain the rice and set aside to cool.
3. Heat a tsp of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. This step is important: you cook them until they have started to caramelize. Don't undercook them because your burgers will lack flavor. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, and then pour in the cider. Scrape the bottom of the pan--you're basically deglazing it with vinegar--and simmer until the pan is almost dry. Remove from the heat; set it aside to cool.
4. In the meantime, process the oats until they look like a flour; alternately, if you have oat flour, you can use that instead. Transfer to a bowl.
5. Rinse and drain one of the cans of beans and add to the food processor bowl. Distribute the dates on top and pulse until everything is roughly chopped--somewhere between 8 and 10 pulses. You don't want smushed beans; you want some to retain their structure. Transfer this to a large mixing bowl. Drain and rinse the second can of beans, and add to the bowl with the beans and dates.
6. Peel the beets. If they have cooled sufficiently, you should be able to do this with your hands, the assistance of a paper towel or under cool running water, which helps the skins slip off.  Grate them and transfer the beets to a strainer set over a bowl in the sink. Using paper towels, press down into the beet shavings to squeeze out excess water.
7. Transfer the beets, rice, onions and garlic to the bowl with the beans. Add the olive oil through thyme and combine well with a wooden spoon. Add a good amount of salt and pepper, and add the oat flour, egg and cilantro. Mix it up until the egg and flour are thoroughly combined and invisible. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least two hours, or up to overnight. You can keep this in the fridge up to three days before you cook it.
8. Set a cast iron (or nonstick) skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few T. of vegetable oil and when you see the oil shimmer, it's ready. Form the burgers into the desired size: a cup or so would give you a traditional burger, and a 1/4 to 1/2 cup would give you a slider. Cook for 2-3 minutes, and then flip them. If anything breaks off when you flip them, just smush them back into the patty with the spatula. Cook for another two minutes, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes. At this point if you are adding cheese (cheddar works nicely), do it now: lay a slice over the top and add a lid to keep the heat in. Serve them on lightly toasted (always nice) burger buns of appropriate size.

Note: I made about a dozen, we ate dinner, and then after dinner I portioned out about another dozen and wrapped them in wax paper (you can also use plastic wrap). I laid them all out on a baking sheet to freeze, and then once they were frozen solid, transferred them to a zip top bag. And yes, I labeled the bag with its contents and the date. It helps when navigating your freezer.

I would love to hear your feedback about this!