Category: Uncategorized

Tomato Tastes

April 10th, 2010 — 8:00am

I am a reader, but not always a follower, of books about cooking.  Inevitably when it comes to Italian cuisine the authors of these books always call for San Marzano tomatoes for making their tomato sauce.  More recently I have seen these same cooks arguing that the San Marzano tomatoes need to be a variety carrying the “DOP” designation; which is essentially the Italian government’s way of certifying that the tomatoes come from the Campagna region in Italy.

San Marzano tomatoes are expensive enough but tomatoes carrying the “DOP” designation are very expensive.  They range in price from about $6 up to $11 per 28 ounce can.  By any measure this is an investment in making tomato sauce.

I decided to check out whether there was a noticeable difference in the taste of tomato sauce made with the San Marzano DOP and sauce made with organic plum tomatoes from Muir Glen.  Using a slightly altered recipe from Lidia Bastianich, I made an identical tomato sauce using both varieties.  And to keep the whole thing on the level I had two people do a blind taste testing, while I did a taste testing knowing the makeup of the sauce.

The result:  there was a noticeable favorable taste difference in the sauce made with San Marzano DOP tomatoes than the Muir Glen sauce.  Both sauces were very good.  But the San Marzano won the day.  I am not sure it is $6 per can better.  I will leave that judgment up to you.  You can find more about my tomato sauce and the specifics of the taste test here.

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Leftovers Or Mélange

January 19th, 2010 — 11:46am

I have always had a hard time with the term leftover. It reminds me of the kid who was always chosen last when you played kickball at recess. You eventually had to use him because he was the only one left over. Or when you are putting caulk around the tub, when you smooth it all out, you always have a little bit left over on your fingers. And what do you do with this leftover caulk? You throw it away.

So the whole idea of eating food leftovers has a bit of pejorative connotation. I mean if the food was any good in the first place why was there any left over? Of course the answer is sometimes you just cannot finish all the food that is prepared. A pork roast in our house could last for three or four meals.

Because of the bad feelings I get about the term “leftovers” I never use the leftovers in the same form for which they were prepared. I may use the leftover pork roast in a sandwich or in a stew a couple of days later. But I will never eat it with the same mashed potatoes and green beans I had on the first go round.

So I have decided to banish the term leftovers from our food lexicon and I have chosen to call the food you prepare with leftovers a mélange. Mélange which means mixture comes from the French verb mélanger, to mix. In our house we do not consume leftovers we consume a mélange, which generally includes two different types of left over food. The chicken breasts and rice you cooked earlier in the week may end up being the chicken, rice, and something casserole at the end of the week. By definition to be a real mélange you have to use at least two types of left over food.

Because the mélanges are made from what you have on hand without a whole lot of planning, they generally do not follow any specific recipes; although some general guidelines are usually applied. And no two mélanges will probably ever taste the same again. But in general they can be just as satisfying as the meals from which they originated.

As part of the weekly offering I am going to start including some mélange recipes. The first is a chicken, rice, and artichoke casserole.

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Not Your Usual Dry Rub

November 15th, 2009 — 8:00am

ibarraMy first trip to the Southwest as an adult happened more than 10 years prior to my thinking about Tucson as my home.  I came to Phoenix/Scottsdale to visit my father and his wife who had just moved out here, and then flew to Albuquerque to meet up with my best friend from grade school, and together we drove up to Santa Fe.  There, we stayed in a dumpy little motel which is still there and, according to several online reviews, still dumpy.  But it was cheap and close to the Plaza with easy access to some great food.

The first place we went was Café Pasqual’s.  There we sat at the communal table, chatted with strangers and I had my first ever Mexican hot chocolate, served in a jelly glass with a nice head of foam.  Unbeatable!  The café is still there and a favorite of many travelers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Later that evening we dined the Inn of the Anasazi just off the Plaza and I had an amazing pork tenderloin that was rubbed with chocolate, cinnamon and chile.  It was a revelation to my palate to have this aromatic mixture of flavors combined with pork.  I recreated what we had that night, added to it, changed it and have finally settled on the version I present here.  It goes nicely with many sides but works well with this quinoa with black beans.  Oh, and of course I had dessert that night, and I remember it well.  Buñuelos with chocolate cream.  Buñuelos are a deep-fired donut-like pastry and these were light and seductive.  I have never tried to recreate them, as I don’t deep fry things, but given the chance to have them again?  I wouldn’t hesitate!

The recipes for the pork and the quinoa can be found here.  Enjoy!

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Gluten Free Alternatives

October 30th, 2009 — 9:40am

Gluten Free Eggplant Parmigiana

Gluten Free Eggplant Parmigiana

This should probably be a dual-themed post; how we are going to handle gluten free alternatives on the blog, and how necessity is the mother of invention.  One of my sisters is gluten intolerant and has to be very careful what she eats.  I think she opts for some blander cooking alternatives to be on the safe side of the gluten when in fact with very few changes to a recipe she could be eating many of the things everyone else eats.

A good case in point is a dish that Will invented.  We had a cold snap a couple of weeks ago and we had some eggplants still on the vine.  Will harvested, grilled, and froze the eggplant so we could use it at a future time.  Last night Will actually volunteered to cook dinner (an act worthy of its own blog post).  And although he was not sure exactly what he was making, using the grilled eggplant,  he essentially made eggplant parmigiana without all the breading and frying.  The dish was a bit denser than the regular version.  The interesting part it had a very nice smoky flavor which paired well with the red sauce and the browned cheese on top.  It also had less than half the olive oil found in the regular version. So bite per bite it is probably a healthier alternative as well. 

I have started indicating gluten free alternatives in the recipes.  For example the Gumbo recipe suggests doing away with the roux and thickening the mixture with corn starch.  My sister did just that with the recipe a while back and it was hard to tell the difference between the two versions.  I am planning on going back over the recipes to see if I can include some gluten free alternatives.  If so the recipes in the list will contain a “GF” indicating that the recipe is already gluten free or that there is an alternative recipe for people watching their gluten intake.

So kudos to Will.  He actually made dinner during the week.  And he discovered a new recipe at the same time.  I am not sure I can handle all this excitement at one time.  You can find the original eggplant parmigiana recipe and the gluten free alternative here.

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Potato Habits

October 22nd, 2009 — 9:49am
Rosemary Potatoes

Rosemary Potatoes

When I was a kid I told the same joke over and over again to my father.  “Hey Dad, did you know that priests can kiss nuns now?  Just as long as the don’t get into the habit!”  Inevitably my father would break out in laughter and I would walk off thinking about how I was going to be the next Johnny Carson.  I am not sure who we should worry about more; my father who never ceased to laugh at this horrible play-on-words, or me who persisted in telling this joke for about 20 years knowing my father would still laugh at it. 

Some habits are admittedly bad.  I still bite my fingernails.  And some habits are admittedly good.  Like serving potatoes as a side dish with meat.    I am not sure who invented this pairing.  Perhaps the Incas served mashed potatoes with their llama.  Or maybe the Irish first discovered boiling potatoes with their meat in a stew.  Whichever culture invented this culinary pairing the habit still persists in our house.  The only question to be resolved is, “How do you want your potatoes?”

In the interest of speed of preparation my fallback is usually rosemary potatoes.  The ingredient list is short (potatoes, rosemary, onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil), the preparation time is minuscule (5 minutes tops), the cooking is not terribly involved (turn the potatoes twice), and the opportunities for a relaxing happy hour while the potatoes cook are only limited by your imagination.  Sure there is an argument for mashed potatoes, lyonnaise potatoes, baked potatoes, and delmonico potatoes.  But my favorite and the least amount of trouble to boot is the plain and simple rosemary potatoes.  Be careful of getting into the habit.

My recipe for rosemary potatoes is here.

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Quick Luxuries

October 15th, 2009 — 9:10am
Scallops With Asian Vegetables

Scallops With Asian Vegetables

I think it is interesting how we connect certain foods with holidays or special occasions.  In our house if it’s prime rib it must be Christmas, if it’s filet mignon it is probably a birthday or anniversary, and if it’s turkey, well you get the gist of it.  Last night when I explained we were having scallops for dinner the response was “What’s the occasion?”

Usually I reserve the scallops for house guests or dinner parties.  There is no reason for this other than people expect me to whip up something wonderful when they come to visit.  So I go to my go-to recipes and that includes scallops.

The occasion last night was “Wednesday.”  I just felt like something other than the usual stuff.  And it had to meet my criteria of cocktail hour not being interrupted and little cooking time.

I invented this version of scallops with Asian-style vegetables a couple of years ago.  I was getting tired of the usual butter and champagne sauce for the scallops.  I thought a flavor contrast was in order.  So sweet, milky scallops were paired with crunchy savory vegetables.  It works beautifully.  And that’s not just my opinion.  We had a local notable chef over for dinner one night and throughout the meal he would not stop commenting about the scallops.  I’ll trust his opinion any day.

My recipe for this quick luxury is here.

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About Roasting Peppers

September 8th, 2009 — 9:55am
Roasted Peppers on the Grill

Roasted Peppers on the Grill

We had an incredible harvest of peppers this year.  We opted for some non-traditional varieties which included a habanero/banana pepper hybrid, Cubanelle, and one called Spanish Spice.  The habanero hybrid was a bit of a disappointment.  Most of the heat was lost in cooking.  The Cubanelle was a very versatile sweet pepper and was incredible as a roasted pepper.  The Spanish Spice was a bit lacking in spice.  But it turned out to be a good sweet pepper choice.  A recipe for roasting peppers is included here.

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In The Beginning

September 8th, 2009 — 9:16am
Grilling Peppers in the Backyard

Grilling Peppers in the Backyard

You have to start somewhere and what better time of year than at the end of summer to begin a new blog.  I have been thinking about a blog for a long time.  But actually putting in the effort to get it started, well, is a lot like roasting peppers.  There is a lot of upfront work but the payoff can be delicious.  I am sure there will be many blunders and bloopers as we get this off the ground.  But hang in there.  I will get it right and hopefully make this a great resource for those of us with little time to cook but a need for home-cooked food.

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