Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting saucy

The tomato...the star of the summer produce season. Besides canning for cooking through the year, slapping one on top of a burger or the joy of simply slicing and eating (I like 'em with mayonnaise and Old Bay), another great way to capture the wonderful flavors of summer tomatoes is with a great homemade tomato sauce. I like to make a garlic tomato sauce from the kitchn (recipe follows...) and then,sometimes I just wing it. Sometimes I add carrots, peppers, olives, chicken stock, wine...make it spicy, make it sweet...always, always with fresh herbs from my garden. But no matter how I modify the sauce, I use tomatoes affectionately called "Tony Romas." They come from White Hall, MD, at One Straw Farm.

Tony Romas are kinda funny looking...I often see people at the market pick them up and examine them.  They are large roma tomatoes that also resemble a pepper, very meaty with not much liquid in them and have so much flavor. My friend Joan Norman at One Straw told me the story of how she and Drew began growing them. She says, "A friend of ours worked with a man from Italy who'd just moved here and thought the tomatoes in the United States were terrible. He had his father send him some of his seeds from his family's home garden in Italy. When our friend tasted the tomatoes grown from these seeds, he asked for a few seeds. He grew them for several years and then told us about them. He gave us a few seeds, maybe ten....that was about 15 years ago. We've been growing them and saving the seeds ever since. The first year, only a few of the tomatoes were eaten. Even then, the seeds were saved. And it grew from there." How nice that all these years later we get to enjoy these delicious tomatoes. 

So...how did they get the name Tony Romas? Tony was a gentleman who shopped from and then later worked for Joan at the Waverly Market every Saturday and also out at Boordy Vineyards. Tony loved these long heirloom tomatoes so much that in the beginning he would buy all them. (He came bright and early and brought delicious homemade sandwiches for Joan and her crew.) When there enough of these romas for him, only then did he sell them to shoppers at the market. Havorite customers were offered these tomatoes first. If you tried to touch and squeeze them too much, you were off the list. He would carefully pick them up and put them in a bag and if you didn't care for them, don't expect to get any the following week. Tony was the guardian of these tomatoes. Sadly, Tony died at a farmer's market one evening. He said he was tired and thought he should go home. Right there, holding a bag of these tomatoes, he turned to leave...and died. Tony is gone, but not forgotten by all of the folks at One Straw Farm.

I feel honored to be able to share in this great tradition. Tony Romas are my main ingredient when I make pasta sauce...although I also add yellow pear tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes and all kinds of other heirlooms, whatever I've got on hand. A jar's got nothing on me.

Roasted Tomato Sauce with Garlic from the Kitchn
makes about 2 cups

2 pounds fresh tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Heat the oven to 350°F and line 9x13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil. (Note:This step is optional, but it will make cleanup faster.) Spray the baking dish with baking spray, or rub lightly with olive oil.
Chop the tomatoes roughly but evenly. Spread them in the baking dish. Stir in the minced garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, and about 1 teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Cut the butter into small cubes and scatter evenly over the tomatoes.
Bake the tomatoes for 2 to 3 hours. This is very flexible; you can bake them until the tomatoes simple begin to break down and release their juices. Or you can continue baking until their edges blacken, and the juices are reduced significantly. I baked mine for about 3 hours, and that was perfect for my purposes.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Here's another delicious way to use all of that squash your co-workers keep bringing to the office... 

Roasted Patty Pan Squash with Maple Ginger Sausage

6 patty pan squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp fresh chopped thyme or marjoram
1/8 cup chopped onion (or more if you like)
1/2 cup freshly cooked corn off the cob
1 cup shredded asiago cheese
1 Gunpowder Bison maple + ginger sausage - cut into 1/8" slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut patty pan squash into 1/2" thick slices and place on sheet pan.
Top with all ingredients with slices of sausage on top.
Place in oven and cook for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

I've done this recipe with maple ginger sausage and also with bacon. I preferred the sweeter taste with the sausage.

You can always do this with zucchini and yellow squash, too, depending on their size.

Want more summer squash recipes? Check out these from the kitchn.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Music, Food and Friends

Just about every weekend, I'm in the kitchen...cooking for myself or sometimes for my clients. And, when I'm in the kitchen, I like to listen to music. Quiet makes me too ADD. The tunes are either on my iPhone on the sound dock or on Spotify on my laptop (I tend to use my laptop for web recipes, so it's usually out.) Everything from Lyle Lovett and Bruce Springsteen to Regina Spektor and Alabama Shakes...it just depends on my mood. But there is always music. 

When I started writing this post two weeks ago, I saw a piece on Ina Garten's blog about music for parties. One of the things she mentioned was how awkward it is to walk into someone's house for a dinner party or any other fun occasion and the house is SILENT. Agreed. Music helps everyone feel comfortable. Whether it's the Buena Vista Social Club greeting guests for a Cuban-themed evening or Rosemary Clooney for a classic cocktail party, music helps set the tone, too. When you are having people over, it is essential. An ice breaker, if you will.

If you're not sure what to play, think about the occasion, the guests, etc, to figure out the overall vibe you want. You might consider loosely pairing genres of food and music...ie: Mexican, Italian, cocktails, etc, but don't make it too matchy-match...it should just flow. Check out music sites like Spotify, Pandora, MOG, etc. You can play around with the genre and find a starting point or get ideas, then put together a playlist that's about three hours in length. And as Ina suggests, don't make the music at the end of the party too mellow - you want to keep the fun going, not put people to sleep.

I have a great friends, Amy and Chip, who entertain casually often and I'm usually lucky enough to be included on the fun. They are the consummate hosts...always filling your glass, offering delicious hors d'oeuvres and making everyone feel at home. Chip is a huge music guy - he even blogs about it. When you arrive, there's always good music playing and you feel like it's party. Good stuff. Don't get me wrong, great food and cocktails are nice, but for me, the music kinda pulls it all together. (A great group of friends helps, too!)

Many years ago, I was a babysitter for a family that lived way out in the country. I vividly remember when I arrived at the farm house to meet with them, Lyle Lovett's "Here I Am" was BLARING from the house. I immediately knew that these were cool people! (They also introduced me to the French press...that's a story for another time...) It's not that your music defines you completely...but it certainly helps figure out what you're like...and your cooking and entertaining style does that, too.

When I have guests at my house, I keep things simple, by doing cocktail "snackage", very rarely a full-on dinner. Opening jars of things like really good olives, nuts, tapanade, etc, and preparing a few things from scratch, putting together a gorgeous cheese and fruit platter, creating one signature cocktail (loosens everyone up!), making sure there is beer and wine everyone will love...and getting all of this done while listening to fun music to get myself in the party spirit. Man, I love a good party...don't you?

Do you listen to music when you cook? How about music for a cocktail or dinner party? What's your style?

Blame it on France

                                                                    photo by TravelPod

How it began...

A few years ago, I took an amazing trip to London and Paris with one of my best friends, Kathleen. We visited our mutual lifelong friend, Lia, who lives in Paris and also has a home in Burgundy. It was my first visit to the country. As much as I absolutely love Paris, Burgundy was so relaxing and had all the good life basics: wine, food, books, naps. I haven't felt that at ease and happy in such a long time. 

This was the trip when I had lunch with Ina Garten in Paris and that was so flipping exciting. That experience  inspired me to really cook, experiment, learn and explore the world of food. Here is my post about that meeting. Even though it was five years ago, that experience really still makes me kinda giddy. Not many people have the chance to spend a few hours with someone they really admire. Lucky girl. (And, yes, she really is that nice...)

Later during the visit, we were traveling around France and stopped for a fabulous, yet simple, long lunch. The food was so gorgeous that I started taking photos of our plates (Lia and her husband Daniel inspired me) and I've been doing it ever since...not every plate or every meal, but usually a few each week.

The next thing that changed things...my iPhone and Facebook. The iPhone takes fantastic photos and Facebook makes it incredibly easy to share them. People kept telling me I should do something with them...so here we are. I've sold many of my photos and I'm continuously inspired to keep shooting...it's fun.

My blog is all about cooking in my tiny little Baltimore rowhouse kitchen, visiting the farmers market, keeping chickens and eating and drinking in the various establishments all over Charm City.

I really hope you enjoy it. If you do, let me know - feedback keeps me motivated!

Oh, and here are a few of my favorite photos from the trip to France - such a huge inspiration.

And, p.s. If you think you don't like escargot, order it...I will eat the snails and you can dip your bread into the ridiculously delicious garlic butter. But save me some, too.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Not your Grandma's Peach Pie

Don't get me wrong. I love a classic peach pie...especially in the middle of the summer when peaches are in season. (And we all love Gram.) But. A friend of mine sent me this recipe last year and she said, 'it's not your typical super sweet peach pie - it's a little different...I think you'll really like it." Um, yes. I loved it.

So, my advice: Make this peach creme fraiche pie, hon - it's easy, gorgeous and delicious! Make your crust, too, if you can. I don't always have time to make my own (God bless those food engineers), but sometimes it's fun and pie purists say it's the only way to go. Here's a great tutorial from Smitten Kitchen.

If you do want it on the sweeter side, try adding an extra tablespoon of sugar or even sprinkle a little confectioners sugar on top. And...there's always vanilla ice cream...

photo credit: Kristin Kluge

Monday, July 9, 2012

What came first?

Last summer, I became an urban farmer. Okay, not really...I just started keeping chickens in my Baltimore City backyard when I got four baby chicks from my friend Joan at One Straw Farm. Over the last year, I have learned so much. Figured out what to do with hens that turned out to be roosters (oh, my...the drama), introduced new (hopefully) hens to the flock, got creative in food choices for them (they eat so well...) and all the while marveled at this relaxing, yet productive venture. After a stressful day, sitting in my backyard listening to the girls free ranging...you just feel at ease. And...the eggs. Ah, the eggs. Nothing like going out to grab an egg from the nesting box, still warm. Eggs have never tasted better to me. No going back now...

When I got the chicks from Joan last summer, the City allowed you to keep four hens. And just a few months ago, I heard they had raised that number to 10. Ten? What? Hmmmm. After having a few hens turn into roosters (three...but who's counting?), I ended up with three hens...and I thought I was okay with that. But I kept thinking about it. I could get a few more... and make a few adjustments to the coop? Could I deal with ten? No. Not only is that a lot of eggs, it's a WHOLE lotta poo. But I decided to move ahead and get a few more girls.

A few friends said they'd found chickens locally via Craig's List. I thought I'd give it a try...and found a great listing of a farm out in Harford County that had about twenty different breeds of chicks and five breeds of pullets (young chickens.) I was so excited! Then...a friend told me that she had purchased chickens from this very farm and these new chickens brought disease into her coop and ALL of her chickens died. As incredibly sad as I was for her, I was equally thankful she had shared this news. Dodged a bullet.

So, there I went...online to research hatcheries and breeds based on egg color, egg production, hardiness, disposition and of course, appearance. I found four breeds I really liked - Speckled Sussex, Australorp, Silver Laced Wyandotte and Golden Buff (which lays more eggs than the Buff Orphington I thought I wanted.) They all lay brown eggs, most laying an average of five eggs per week. Then, a few days later, I got wigged out at the idea of seven chickens in my backyard and canceled the Australorp. The folks at Meyer Hatchery were wonderful - provided great advice and service - and their minimum order amount is just three chicks. Perfect for the faux urban farmer!

The chicks arrived three weeks ago. IN THE MAIL. The hatchery sends them to the closest post office to you and you have to go and pick them up immediately. You think...mail? Really? Yes. The chicks have enough nutrients from the yolk of the egg they were born in to live for a few days without food or water.  The girls hung out with me at work and everyone came to see them. They were like little rock stars.

For now, Lucy, Nellie and Weesa are living in an old lobster crate in my dining room...just like my girls did last year. In the meantime, my friend Rob (God love him...he's talented, easygoing and loves animals) is going to build a small coop for the chicks to move into outside. It will be separate from the mature hens until they are ready to be introduced to the flock. That probably won't happen until the end of the summer. We'll see...that is the hardest part. When you mess with the established pecking order, it can be a little scary...but you need to let nature takes it's course. In other words, let the girls work it out. It's sorta like putting Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton into an apartment. Mayhem.

My three mature chickens - Millie, Dottie and Edie - are all Ameraucanas and they lay blue and green eggs...fancy! I got these beautiful Martha-esque chickens very randomly - didn't know what they were when I chose them from the brooder (and later, when switching out roosters, by catching them in the pasture.) People are always amazed by the color. And, no, different colored eggs do not taste differently.

This time next year, I will be getting about three dozen eggs each week. Am I crazy? My friends know I'm not...and that I will be sharing those eggs. Here are some great egg recipes....have some for dinner, or as I like to call it, brinner. Who doesn't love brinner?!

Food & Wine
Mark Broadbent's Grilled Asparagus Salad with Fried Eggs

The Kitchn
Eggs over Polenta with Tomatoes and Mushrooms

Fresh 365
Baked Eggs with Leeks

And...my very favorite? A juicy burger topped with a fried egg. For a really good one...go to McCabe's.

Check out these fantastic egg cooking tutorials from the fine folks at the Kitchn. And...if you're not checking out this site all the time, you need to start! 

How to cook an  egg - 20 tips

Considering backyard chickens? Here's some good info...if not, you can get high-quality, fresh eggs at your local farmers market or organic market. Also, please check out this little video from the folks at the Lexicon of Sustainability. It'll make you think about your choices...I don't mean to be preachy, just good to know this stuff. Whenever possible, please go local!

Eat local