Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bite-size Caprese

This is my favorite time of year. Our little garden is exploding with flavor - tomatoes are ripening every day and our basil plants are going strong. What to do, what to do?

This is my new invention this summer: bite-size Caprese salad. I've loved insalata Caprese since studying abroad in Italy and visiting the island of Capri 10 years ago. It's so simple, but it depends entirely on good tomatoes. Mealy, off-season tomatoes? Your Caprese will suck. (A note on pronunciation: Caprese is 3-syllables - kuh-PRAY-zay - and if you can roll the R a little, even better. Do not say kuh-prees or kuh-preez.)

This particular take on Caprese is great for picnics and appetizers. All you need are toothpicks, basil leaves, small tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella can usually be found in the "fancy cheese" section of your grocery store. It's sold in a ball shape and sitting in liquid, which is usually water, whey or a brine solution. For this recipe I use the small balls, called boconccini.

With a toothpick, spear a tomato, a mozzarella ball, and a basil leaf. Ta-da! A tasty little morsel. A little drizzle of olive oil and cracked pepper and sea salt is delicious, too.

Happy mid-summer treat!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Joy of Artichokes

Artichokes seem to be one of those foods that intrigues, puzzles, and even imparts fear. Most people are familiar with cracking open a can of artichoke hearts - which are delicious, don't get me wrong - but I'm here to tell you that you're missing out! Not only are whole artichokes delicious and fun to eat, they're chock full of nutrition - fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants.

To Buy an Artichoke

When you see artichokes at the store or farmers market, you should choose those whose leaves look fresh and not wrinkly (a sign of dehydration) and whose center leaves are tightly packed. A little bit of brown or white discoloration on the tips of the leaves is fine. This means they were either bruised in shipping or have been "frost-kissed".

To Cook An Artichoke

My preferred method of cooking is steaming. Depending on the size of the artichoke, this can take between 30-90 minutes.

Watching your fingertips on those prickly points, rinse the artichoke by placing it upright under running water and getting the water between all the leaves. Shake off excess water. Trim the end of the stem.

Put a vegetable steamer in the bottom of a pot, and fill the pot with water to just above the steamer (we have a silicone steamer for use in our non-stick pots, but a basic metal one is just fine if that's what you've got). Put the pot on the stove, artichoke in the pot, the lid on the pot, and turn the stove on high.

Set a timer for 30 minutes and go do other things - sort through the mail, start some laundry, do some cardio (haha, not me either), whatever.

After 30 minutes, use a pair of tongs to pull a leaf from about the 5th row of leaves from the bottom of the artichoke. If you have to use any amount of force to do this, put the lid back on and set the timer for another 10 minutes. Repeat until a leaf comes off easily in the tongs. Keep an eye on the water level to make sure you don't burn the bottom of the pot.

Drain and cool the artichoke in a colander. While it's cooling, put a half stick of butter in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and a teaspoon of any combination of the following: oregano, basil, sage, rosemary. Microwave for 30-45 seconds to melt the butter.

Alternate cooking: Boiling is faster, but it makes the leaves soggy and waterlogged. You can also crockpot - fill the pot halfway up with water, put the chokes in stem-side down, and set on low for 6 hours.

To Eat an Artichoke

Here comes the fun part.

Pull off a leaf, dip the bottom into the melted butter, place the leaf about halfway into your mouth, bite down, and pull the leaf out of your mouth. You should now have a tasty morsel of artichoke meat and butter in your mouth.

Savor, enjoy, and repeat until all the leaves are gone.

As you get further into the artichoke, the leaves will become lighter colored and thinner. You can eat as much of the leaf as you feel comfortable.

At some point, you'll come to the center of prickly leaves; this is the choke of the artichoke. Don't eat these; they're not good. With a spoon, slowly work around the edge of the choke to remove it. Don't dig too deeply or you'll lose some of the yummy heart hiding beneath.

Once you've got the choke out, you'll be left with the heart and stem. This whole part is edible - cut it up with the spoon, put the pieces into the remaining melted butter, and enjoy!

Friday, July 23, 2010

First Wave of Tomatoes

From our outdoor urban garden comes the first wave of ripe tomatoes. We have a combination of patio, cherry, and roma all growing quite well. Normally I like to let tomatoes completely vine ripen as there is little reason to pull them off early. Don't leave them on TOO long though because the flies love to eat the inside of tomatoes, making it important to scout your garden for tomatoes that have fallen off the vine.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Work Tomatoes

I decided to see if I could get some tomato plants to grow at work in the window. Here is a picture of 4 money maker (yes that is a real variety, not just a label I'm throwing on them) tomato plants that were grown from seed. They are in 8" deep pots...perhaps barely deep enough to get some tomatoes. They have already flowered but no fruit formation yet.

At home we have patio, cherry, and roma plants going. What will we do with all these tomatoes? There are tons of ideas!

1. They make delicious BAT sandwiches. BAT?? Yes..bacon, avocado, tomato. Of course, you could call it a TAB, ABT, or ATB sandwich, but why?

2. Salsa. Along with the tomatoes, we have tomatillos, cilantro, and serrano chiles growing.

3. Pasta or pizza sauce - fire roasting the tomatoes to add depth in flavor.

4. In eggs with lots of other veggies (garlic, onion, peppers, chiles, mushrooms) then wrapped in a tortilla with some salsa and queso.

5. Removed from the plant and shoved in my mouth as is. :)

About Susan

I knew as soon as I created the darn thing, he would post!

My turn:

I'm a 30-year-old information manager in the nonprofit world (I love it). I love photography and travel, and that's pretty much how my love of food came to be. I learned absolutely nothing watching my family while growing up (my dad and grandma are fantastic cooks and my mom is an amazing baker), but I've slowly developed my skills in the past few years since taking up gardening and farmers market shopping, and watching my lovely hubby Matt in the kitchen.

Division of labor usually looks like this: Matt does meat and Susan does veggies and starches. And while he leans toward Mexican flavors and Bayless (we were fans before everyone else), I lean toward Italian and other Mediterranean flavors, inspired by years of travel and study abroad across the Atlantic Pond. Being of Irish, English, and German heritage I also really like potatoes, sauerkraut, and beer.

I promised my fans that my first food post will be about artichokes (my favorite food), so stay tuned!


Welcome to Susan and Matt's food blog, a spot where we share with the world (and by world, I mean the people who hounded us to create a food blog) the various culinary delights we create ourselves and come across.

I'm not entirely sure what direction this blog will take, but really, does it matter? If you don't like it, YOU probably suck, not us. :)

Anyway, I suspect this will be a combination of several concepts.... sharing knowledge, ideas, recipes, critiques, reviews, etc.

About Matt:
I am a 28 year old IT professional (and I think it sucks), who enjoys interesting culinary creations, combinations of unlikely food, and coming up with my own concoctions at home. All of my cooking technique has been acquired through watching my Italian mother cook, reading off the internet, and watching Top Chef. I make up a lot as I go and generally believe that if I enjoy what I'm eating, most other people (who aren't pissy eaters) will as well. I enjoy cooking Mexican cuisine and have gathered a following for some pretty tasty carnitas I make on Cinco de Mayo. I'm a Rick Bayless fan (and live not too far away from him), but then again, so is everyone else now that the Bayless bandwagon has turned massive. I'm sure there will be more, but that's all for now.