Them Winter Tomato Blues

Tomato_13I am something of a tomato snob. Is there anything worse than a February tomato? All pale and pasty, with no flavor at all. Yuck. I’ll wear white after labor day, but I certainly will not eat a fresh tomato.

Tomato_15But while I wait for those perfect plump rubies of summer, I need something to tide me over. Canned tomatoes aren’t half bad for things like sauces and soups, but at the end of the day they’re just not the real deal.

Enter the roasted tomato. Summer tomatoes are glorious when roasted, but guess what: stupid winter tomatoes, disgusting as they are when fresh, are fantastic after an hour or so in the oven.

Tomato_26Tomato_32This recipe is delicious, requires just five ingredients, is largely hands-off–so you can start it and forget about it–and so easy that even The Boy can make it when I’m working late. Plus it has a great shelf life. I love the little cherry heirlooms from Trader Joe’s, but they usually mold before I remember to use them. I’ve started popping them in the oven as soon as I get home, and then storing them for a quick dinner another day.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

You’ll need:

Tomatoes (I used two containers of heirloom cherries from Trader Joe’s, but ANY tomato will work)

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

1 head of garlic (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 325*. Chop the tomatoes. For cherries, in half should suffice, for larger varieties aim for approximately one inch cubes. If using, chop off the root end of the garlic, but leave the cloves unpeeled.

2) Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer in a shallow baking dish or cookie sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and fresh cracked pepper, then drizzle with oil. If I’m using the tomatoes right away for pasta, I use quite a bit of oil, so that it pools in the bottom of the dish, getting infused with tomato and garlic flavor. If the tomatoes are getting saved for later, or if I’m using them in a salad or risotto, I just give them a light drizzle. Nestle the garlic, cut side down, amongst the tomatoes.

3) Bake in the oven for about ninety minutes, or until they start to shrivel and crisp. Wait until the garlic cools a bit, and then give it a squeeze to release the gooey melted cloves within. Or, if you’re impatient like me, just do this with tongs. Serve over pasta, risotto, rice, quinoa, salad, or simply eat them with a spoon.

4) To save tomatoes for later, place in some kind of tupperware and cover with oil until mostly submerged. Use within ten days, although apparently these freeze pretty well.

*A note on temperature and cooking time: sometimes I need dinner ready in less than ninety minutes, so I raise the heat to 350 and cook for about 45 minutes. If they still need some extra time, I’ll bump it again to 375 for last little bit. But if you’ve got the time, they’re definitely better with the long and slow roast.

Recipes in Tradition

My mom is really cool. She owns a pair of pink and black patent leather Doc Martens, and she made sea salt chocolate chip cookies way before they were “a thing”. They’re The Boy’s favorite cookies, so she makes them every time we come home. Well, a couple days after we got back from Connecticut I was feeling a little bored and decided to try my hand at her recipe. I had these grand ideas about us feasting on chocolatey sea-salty goodness, about giving some to the neighbors, about writing a blog post on passing recipes down through generations, blah, blah, blah.

Sad Cookies_24So it turns out that I’m not a baker. I followed my mother’s recipe exactly, and either I did something very wrong or my oven runs really hot, because they came out hard and flat every time. The Boy ate them anyway, and pretended to enjoy them, but I was a little cranky with two plates full of mediocre cookies and my poignant blog post going up in smoke.

So I decided to try again, and this time I wouldn’t screw around with sweets, which aren’t really my thing. But instead of wisely choosing to set my sights a little lower, I decided to go for the grand prize: my mom’s matzoh ball soup.

MBSoup_03A couple of Thanksgivings ago, I was chatting with my then-roommate as I packed my bags to fly home for the holidays. She asked if we had any special Thanksgiving traditions in my family, and I stopped for a moment to think about it. We do the obligatory going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for, but I couldn’t come up with anything truly original. And then it hit me. Matzoh ball soup. For as long as I can remember, we have had matzoh ball soup at Thanksgiving. My mom makes it from my grandmother’s recipe, and the second part of the tradition is this: every time we sit down to eat the soup, mom will ask if we like the batch, and–no matter how emphatically we all tell her that it’s delicious, spectacular, the best soup ever–without fail she will say, “But not as good as Grandma’s.”

MBSoup_36 I’ve asked my mother for this recipe once before. It was a couple years ago, when The Boy and I were living in Providence. We’d both caught the flu and were in desperate need of some homemade soup. She gave me the recipe over the phone, and then I proceeded to disregard everything she said. Why would you put parsley in the broth when parsley is supposed to be eaten fresh? Why would I buy a package of soup greens when I can buy the vegetables individually? Why would I use a whole chicken with the meat, when I could just use leftover bones?

For some reason I was surprised when my soup came out tasting nothing like hers.

But this time was going to be different. I wrote down every single thing she said, and I resolutely decided to follow every step, every instruction, no matter how skeptical I was.

MBSoup_45As I was getting the ingredients together, I started thinking about the last time I had eaten my mom’s matzoh ball soup. It was just a couple weeks ago, while I was back home for Christmas. The Boy and I were sitting at the counter in my mom’s kitchen on Christmas day, having a bowl for a lunch. I didn’t notice it at the time, but looking back I suddenly realized. She hadn’t said it. The famous words, “But not as good as Grandma’s.”

This seemed especially poignant considering my grandmother passed away just a few years ago. In the time since then, I’ve felt like those six words carried a special kind of significance, and of course sadness, every time my mother said them, like the soup was a kind of memorial to my grandma, which, in a way, it was.

When I found out that my grandma had passed, the first thing I felt was regret, something I’m sure is not unusual. Regret that I had not known her better. I had spent plenty of time with my grandma during my life, and yet I still felt like I had missed out on something, like I had failed to know about her life in some way. But this is what I remember: she was a pragmatic sort of woman, with a very particular sense of humor that prompted a wicked little laugh, and every time she came to visit us she seemed to spend most of the time cleaning. Maybe this wasn’t what she was like at all. Maybe my mom is seeing this and frowning because I’ve missed the mark so entirely, but nevertheless it’s what I remember. Seems a little paltry now, considering what a remarkable person I know her to have been. The most, and best, that I can say is that she reminded me in a lot of very particular ways of my mom, which I’m sure means that I’ll grow up to resemble her in a lot of very particular ways as well. Such is the way that these thing go. But maybe, for now, making Grandma’s matzoh ball soup is enough remembrance in itself.

MBSoup_61When all was said and done, my first batch was a close interpretation of the original. The Boy and I sat down to a bowl full for lunch, and we both agreed that it was delicious, but not as good as Mom’s.

Chocolate Chip & Sea Salt Cookie

2 sticks Softened Butter

1/2 cup White Sugar

1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar

2 Eggs

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

2 1/2 cups Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Coarse Sea Salt, plus a little extra for garnish

1 16 oz bag Chocolate Chips

1) Preheat oven to 350.

2) In a large mixer, mix the butter until creamed.

3) Add the eggs, both sugars, and vanilla and mix until combined.

4) Add the flour, baking powder, soda, sea salt, and chocolate chips and mix again.

5) Working in batches, transfer spoonfuls of dough to a buttered cookie sheet. Make small thumbprints on the top of each dough lump, and sprinkle a little coarse sea salt into the indentations.

6) Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes. Cookies should look a little undone and just be turning brown when you take them out. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat until you’re out of dough. Note: I had my baking time down to 6 minutes by the last batch, and they still came out over done, so keep an eye on them. Oven temperatures vary wildly.

I know this is ridiculous, but I feel a little weird sharing the soup recipe online (I can practically hear my mother rolling her eyes at this), but enjoy the cookies! They’re really delicious when my mom makes them, so I’m sure one of you can figure out where I went awry. And go ask your mom for her matzoh ball soup recipe, or, you know, whatever your tradition is.

PS: How great is my new spoon rest? Another gift from mom.

The First One

Well a very happy holiday to all my fine friends. This was my first Thanksgiving ever away from home. The first time my mom did not force us to go all around the table, each one of us trying to come up with something sillier or more sarcastic to say we were thankful for (well, I’m sure this still happened, I just wasn’t there). The first time I didn’t get to eat matzoh ball soup before turkey dinner, a Schachte family tradition, even when Thanksgiving doesn’t coincide with the first night of Hannukah.

It was just The Boy and me, and our first Thanksgiving together was a little bit old, a little bit new. I cooked all day, just like I have watched my mother do every year. We ate a roast duck, candied butternut squash, two kinds of potatoes (because I have my priorities right), stir-fried green beans, cranberry sauce, and salty honey pie (bring this one to dinner parties; it’s delicious, unbelievably easy, and impressive).

Five minutes before we sat down to eat, I grabbed a stainless steel pan out of a 400 degree oven with my bare hand. As I stood there, hopping up and down and cursing like a sailor, some small unburned part of me was laughing in the back of my brain. It seemed like the perfect reminder that this was our first time, that we haven’t quite gotten it right yet, that we are so far away from home, and trying our best to do this together, the only way we know how, and still screwing it up sometimes. The Boy went to bandage my hand, and found that we only had electrical tape, so I spent the rest of the night with a big black glob of burn ointment and gaffer’s tape wrapped all around my palm. We don’t have a dining table (hello, 400 square feet), so we ate on the couch while we rewatched Battlestar Galactica. As I sat there, belly full of duck and two kinds of potatoes, mind a little fuzzy from the half a pain killer I’d swallowed, watching the Cylons nuke the entire human race, I turned to The Boy and murmured, “I think this is our new Thanksgiving tradition.”

Photo by Steven Alkire

How To: Make Pickles and Impress People

Pickles_4

Pickles_1

Pickles_3

Pickles are delicious. This we know. But really good pickles can be expensive, and a quick internet search for “pickle recipes” will yield all kinds of scary results that talk about brining, and fermentation, and leaving your pickles in a dark place for three weeks. In fact, a couple years ago I tried to make pickles the “proper” way. Unfortunately, my jars were not large enough, and although I managed to squeeze my raw cucumbers in, they wouldn’t come back out after a week when they were all swollen with brine. Long story short: those pickles sat, uneaten, in The Boy’s fridge for months until someone (his mom) threw them out.

But I’m here to save you from this kind of tragedy! All the work for this pickle recipe can be done in under an hour, they’re ready to eat as soon as they’re cool, and they taste like the best, most delicious pickles you’ve ever had. And people will think that this is the coolest thing in the world, and that you are the most amazing chef ever.

Quick Spicy Pickles

Cucumbers (the best kind to use are Kirby, but these can be hard to find. Use a smaller variety, like Persian, as an alternative, definitely not the giant ones you slice for salad)

White vinegar

Black peppercorns

Fresh dill

Habanero chiles (optional)

Fresh garlic, peeled but not chopped (optional)

Kosher salt

1) Wash your cucumbers thoroughly. Sometimes I wipe them down with a little vinegar to make sure all the bacteria is gone, but mostly I’m too lazy for this, and I haven’t run into any problems yet. Depending on the size of your jars and cucumbers, you can either slice these into spears or keep them whole. My jars are pretty narrow, so I usually slice my cucumbers in half vertically. When I’m working with giant summer Kirbys, I’ll do another slice to quarter them into spears.

2) Pack your cucumber slices into jars. Don’t pack them so tightly that you can’t get them out, and bear in mind that they will swell a little when you add the liquid. In each jar, add a sprig or two of dill, four or five garlic cloves (more if you’re crazy, like me), and a habanero. Habaneros make a lot of people nervous, but I assure you that adding just one gives this recipe only the slightest touch of spice. Even so, I leave both the chiles and the garlic out when I make these for my mom (who is a wimp).

3) Pour your vinegar and water into a large stock pot. Your vinegar to water ratio is 3:1, so for one quart size jar you’ll want about three cups of vinegar and one cup of water. For a pound of cucumbers you’re probably looking at at least four jars, so that’s twelve cups of vinegar and four cups of water. Of course, you can always play it safe and make more. But don’t worry if you run out before your jars are filled, you totally have time to boil some more. I’ve settled on these proportions after a lot of trial and error, but be forewarned that I like my pickles really salty and briney.  Add your salt (ok this is my like 100th update on the salt proportions… 1/8 cup of salt for every gallon of water. I really should just start measuring things) and black peppercorns (about an quarter cup per gallon liquid). Bring to a boil.

4) As soon as your vinegar solution is boiling, turn off the heat. Now, very carefully, pour the hot vinegar into each jar, over the cucumbers. Ideally they should just cover the cucumbers, but sometimes mine poke out a little and everything is still ok. Fill all of your jars, and then set them aside to cool a little bit before you put the lids on. Once they’re close to room temperature, add the lids and put these guys in the fridge. As soon as they’re cold you can eat them (actually, you can eat them right away, but hot pickles are kind of gross), but the flavors will deepen over time.

These make fantastic gifts, because they’re a snap to make in large quantities and, as I said, people will be super impressed.

PS: Like my pig napkin rings? They were a present from my mom, who is the best.

Liquid Happiness

Today The Boy and I ventured out of the cottage to Galco’s Old World Market, and it was pure delight. I could have spent hours wandering around looking at all the different sodas. Eventually we had to stop ourselves from picking out anymore, because we had so many in the cart already. Still, we walked away with a pretty good selection, including coffee soda, chocolate soda, and two different kinds of cream soda. The best part was the owner, featured in the video above, who walked around offering friendly suggestions. When I asked him if he had a favorite cream soda, he said “No!” the same way parents do when asked if they have a favorite kid. He then proceeded to walk me up and down the aisles explaining the differences between all the different creams the same way a sommelier might talk about fine wines. It was totally perfect, and thus far our selections have been superb.

Video courtesy of CHOW.com

Three Things: To Eat

Hi friends! Back again with three more Pinterest finds. Today we’re looking at three things I’d love to eat. I keep two Pinterest boards for food: one for simple, easy recipes that use household staples, and one for fantasy food, all the recipes I will make when I have endless time and money. As you can see I have a rich fantasy life that involves… bone marrow. Gosh, I get shivers just thinking about bone marrow.

THREE THINGS: TO EAT

1) Apple Hand Pies with Cheddar Crust. WITH. CHEDDAR. CRUST.

1) Brisket and Brie Tacos with Mango Salsa. ‘Cuz we all know I’m a TACO MONSTER.

3) Braised quail tarts with pear and thyme relish. Just so… so many things. Quail. Pear relish. Quail. PEAR RELISH.

When I was an office worker desperate for lunch time, I used to wile away the hours looking at recipes online. If only I’d had pinterest, so much food porn in one place! Check out quick, simple everyday recipes here, and some more elaborate, drool-worthy recipes here. Also be sure to check out the rest of my Pinterest for more daily inspiration!

ANIMAL

Seems like somebody has finally gotten the hint about sending me photos of his vacation! Today I’d like to share some pictures The Boy took of a really fantastic meal we had during his stay. The restaurant is called Animal, and boy… does it live up to its name! Here’s what we ate:

Course 1: Pig ear with chili, lime, and a fried egg. Kind of hard to see the pig ear under that beautifully cooked egg, but it actually looked like…. well, like those pig ear treats that you give your dog. And it was darn delicious. Crispy, chewy, and covered in creamy yellow yolk with just the right amount of acid and heat.

Continue reading

Last Meal Worthy: Lasagna Bolognese (Plus How To Make Fresh Pasta Without a Roller!)

I hate lasagna. Seriously, I love ricotta, but not like that. Not all clumpy, and stringy, and tasteless. Blech. But then I saw this and I realized there are others out there like me. Smitten Kitchen’s lasagna just looked so delicate, and yet simultaneously so hearty, it got stuck in my head and starting plaguing me for weeks. And then I signed my first real grown up lease and I thought: it is time to treat yourself.

Warning: this is an all day affair.  The original recipe recommends doing this over the course of two days. I’m MAD and I say it’s doable in one, but I wouldn’t do what I did and laze around all morning and finally get started at 1 pm, unless you want to have a very hungry man grumping about asking when dinner will be ready. I know this looks incredibly labor intensive, and it kind of is, but so, so worth it. This lasagna is a real contender for the last meal I want to have on Earth (up there with one perfectly ripe tomato with salt and pepper, a perfectly crisped duck, and coq au vin made by Julia Child herself). It supposedly serves 12-15, but we’ve already eaten half of it between two people in under 24 hours. By the way, this bolognese sauce will shatter your conceptions of what bolognese can be, so feel free to use it for all other kinds of pasta or, you know, just eat it with a spoon.

Continue reading

Happy Birthday Ma!

As if you couldn’t tell by the title of this post, it’s my mom’s birthday! Check out this awesome photo of her; doesn’t she look so cool and foxy in her high-waisted jeans and kelly green polo? I love the sullen “Stop Pointing That Fucking Camera In My Face” look, it’s a look I’ve worn in many a photo and now I know where I get it from.

Ma: Thank you for teaching me to read and never refusing to buy me a book. Thank you for not being afraid to roll your eyes at me whenever I deserved it. Thank you for dancing like a loon, especially when you thought it would embarrass me the most. Thank you for all the cupcakes, they are truly the best in the known universe. Thank you for all the evil vibes you’ve ever sent to the parents of any kid that didn’t invite me to their birthday party. Thank you for telling me when you liked my stories, and thank you for telling me when they started to get boring and overwritten. Thank you for defending me to all the crappy teachers I’ve ever had. Thank you for every Princess Kylie story. Thank you for not being one of those weird parents that cried when their kids left for college, in fact, thank you for doing the happy dance when all four of us were finally gone. Happy birthday Mom, I love you.

In honor of my Mother’s birthday I have a recipe to share! One of my mom’s favorite things on the entire planet is potatoes, and I accidentally came up with the all time best way to eat potatoes in the entire world. Warning: This recipe is not for the faint-of-heart or slow-of-metabolism, unless you just-don’t-give-a-damn. These potatoes are pretty much drowned in butter, but if you’re going to skimp you might as well find another recipe altogether. I haven’t included measurements for the most of the spices since I didn’t bother to measure anything out; seasoning should really be done by taste anyway.

Continue reading

Beatin’ Them January Blues

Yet another cold and rainy day in January, my friends. I’m a giant wuss about the cold, and the only way I manage to get through winter at all is hunker down, eat lots of soup, drink lots of tea and dark beer, and buy many, many (too many) pretty winter coats. So I’ve got two perfect recipes for keeping your toes warm on these bleary, dreary days: homemade chicken noodle soup and an updated version of hot buttered rum.

Continue reading