Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why Heirloom Tomatoes Taste Better


Photo courtesy of Stuart Spates, A Clear Image Photography

I have such delicious memories of the first tomatoes of summer - the ones that came from my daddy's garden. Nothing rivals the flavor of home-grown tomatoes. But with the advent of locally grown, heirloom tomatoes, I've been surprised by just how much more flavorful they are than even my fondest memories.

Ironically, according to recent scientific research reported in the New York Times, flavor is the price we pay for those juicy, red tomatoes we crave.
The unexpected culprit is a gene mutation that occurred by chance and that was discovered by tomato breeders. It was deliberately bred into almost all tomatoes because it conferred an advantage: It made them a uniform luscious scarlet when ripe.

Now, in a paper published in the journal Science, researchers report that the very gene that was inactivated by that mutation plays an important role in producing the sugar and aromas that are the essence of a fragrant, flavorful tomato. And these findings provide a road map for plant breeders to make better-tasting, evenly red tomatoes.

The discovery “is one piece of the puzzle about why the modern tomato stinks,” said Harry Klee, a tomato researcher at the University of Florida in Gainesville who was not involved in the research. “That mutation has been introduced into almost all modern tomatoes. Now we can say that in trying to make the fruit prettier, they reduced some of the important compounds that are linked to flavor.”

The mutation’s effect was a real surprise, said James J. Giovannoni of the United States Department of Agriculture Research Service, an author of the paper. He called the wide adoption of tomatoes that ripen uniformly “a story of unintended consequences.”

Breeders stumbled upon the variety about 70 years ago and saw commercial potential. Consumers like tomatoes that are red all over, but ripe tomatoes normally had a ring of green, yellow or white at the stem end. Producers of tomatoes used in tomato sauce or ketchup also benefited. Growers harvest this crop all at once, Dr. Giovannoni said, and “with the uniform ripening gene, it is easier to determine when the tomatoes are ripe.”


If you don't know what you're missing, you'll find heirloom tomatoes at Boggy Creek Farm among other local, organic, sustainable farms.

Friday, June 29, 2012

BLT Quinoa Salad


My consulting work is at a lull of at least a week, so I can turn my attention to fresh, organic, local, sustainable food. Today's experiment? BLT Quinoa Salad.

BLT Quinoa Salad


Sometimes you just gotta have a BLT - bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and two slices of great bread.

mmmm-mmmmm-mmmmmm

That said, I eschew bacon that comes from factory-farmed animals and is filled with additives. Also, I feel better when I limit wheat in my diet. So to satisfy my appetite while guarding my health, I went for the best quality and freshest ingredients from local, sustainable farms mixed with that great, ancient grain - quinoa.

Ingredients

4 ounces Pederson's cherry-smoked uncured bacon
1 cup quinoa, any color
Juice of one lemon or lime
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4-cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine
1 bunch of green onions, finely dice white part only
1/2 cup diced cherry tomatoes
1 avocado, diced and tossed in lemon juice
Hand full of minced cilantro or parsley
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
A chiffonade of romaine lettuce or your choice of salad greens
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Prepare quinoa according to directions - 2 parts water to 1 part grain. When all the water is absorbed, set it aside to cool.

2. Whisk together citrus juice, vinegar and oil - 1:1 acid to oil. Combine with minced garlic, green onion, cilantro and quinoa. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to let flavors meld.

3. Fry bacon until crisp. Drain. Dice.

4. Mix bacon, tomatoes with quinoa. Then gently fold in the avocado.

5. Season to taste.

To serve, layer a couple of spoons full of salad over a chiffonade of greens. Garnish with extra cilantro and feta.

How well does quinoa substitute for bread?

meh

But it's a lovely salad.

B-L-T Quinoa Salad

Try it for yourself.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Coconut Roasted Sweet Potatoes



Photo courtesy of NY Times


I was without air conditioning all day yesterday and I can't stop whining.

How hot was it?

With the outside temperature hitting 106 degrees, my home grew so hot that my coconut oil liquified. All the better to cook with tonight.

Truth told, I've gone a bit coo-coo for coconut oil. It promises enormous health benefits.  Most of all, everything I cook with it tastes scrumptious!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a small saucepan, melt coconut oil over medium heat. Toss potatoes with oil, salt and pepper together in a large bowl until evenly coated. Spread potatoes in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and toss with lime zest.

~Recipe from Whole Foods

Monday, June 18, 2012

Salade Nicoise Redux


Salade Nicoise is one of the many pleasures of summer, a healthy, easy composed salad of warm-weather veggies.  

Salade Nicoise


And yes, I deliberately undercooked the eggs. We call them oeufs mollets in French. We lived.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Peach Crisp

Quick, easy, delicious, what more can you ask of a summery dessert? Peaches fresh from a local orchard, of course. 


 

Ingredients

For the Topping

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup coarsely chopped almonds or pecans

For the Filling

3-1/2 pounds ripe peaches
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar

Preparation

1. Topping: Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in the middle position. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, sugar cinnamon and salt. Stir in oil and water until blended. Topping will look clumpy - like wet sand. Stir in nuts and set aside.

2. For the filling: In a large saucepan of boiling water, working in batches, blanch peaches for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of cold water. When cool enough to handle, peel off skin. Halve, pit and slice into 1/2-inch wedges.

3. In a medium bowl, mix together peaches, lemon juice flour and sugar. Place filling in an 8 inch square baking pan. Sprinkle topping evenly over the top. Bake until the topping turns a deep, golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges - 30 to 35 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if you wish.

Chef's note: Any stone fruit will work equally well. Also to keep your oven clean, you may want to sit the pan on a cookie sheet to avoid sticky drips.

~Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Peach Crisp.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cabbage Slaw Creamy Yogurt-Lime Dressing


Here's a great side dish for summer barbecues and a wonderful topping for fish tacos.



Ingredients

1/2 head of purple or napa cabbage, about 4 cups
1/4 red onion, minced
1 palm full of chopped cilantro
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Juice of 2 limes
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Shred cabbage and toss in a large bowl with a hand full of minced cilantro and finely chopped onion

2. Mix lime juice and yogurt to creamy consistency.

3. Combine creamy dressing and shredded cabbage. Season to taste.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hill Country Galleria Celebrates Independence Day



There will be a hot time in the new town on Saturday, July 30 as Hill Country Galleria fills its friendly-village atmosphere with art, performing arts and fireworks to celebrate Independence Day.

More info here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Natural Epicurean Hosts Free Monthly Vegan Pot Luck



Here's a great way to get social, get healthy, have fun, share food and save the planet too!
The Natural Epicurean is hosting a community vegan potluck on June 15th, from 6-8pm!

Cook up your favorite vegan dish and grab some friends-- the potluck is totally open to the public and we have room for about 75 people. RSVP so we know how many to expect. We want to have plenty of vegan goodies for everyone!

The Natural Epicurean is devoted to consciously cooking a health-supportive, plant based diet. We embrace a holistic view of health that takes physical, energetic, mental, emotional, societal and environmental influences into consideration, and believe diet can bolster health on all these levels.

Update: Texas Cottage Foods Fight Restrictions

Austin Statesman staff writer, Esther Robards-Forbes, bakes up a comprehensive report on the ongoing battle between local bakers and state and county governing bodies. Two steps forward, one back.
"After I thought it was all over, that we had won, we had to mobilize again," said Masters, who runs Home Sweet Home Bakery out of her home.

Letters were written, petitions were circulated and a social media campaign was launched.

Just a few weeks ago, the state health services department backed off the proposed labeling plan. Cottage food operators will have to list the name of their business, address, any allergens like milk or nuts, and a statement that the product was made in a kitchen that was not inspected by the health department.

Home bakers are breathing a sigh of relief.

"The way the labeling laws turned out, they've been able to deal with concerns about people's allergies," said Amy Padilla, owner of Bellissimo Bakery, which started in 2009 operating out of a commercial kitchen and became a cottage food producer last year. "I'm very pleased with the way the labeling requirements have come out now."

Now, cottage bakers and food producers are hitting their stride, feeding a demand for locally produced foods and niche products, such as gluten-free pie and vegan cakes. Customers have been enthusiastic, home bakers said, eager to get to know their local food producers and support local businesses.

 

It just frosts my butt when a state that talks such a big game about "boot straps" and self sufficiency does everything in its power to prevent people from pulling themselves up by their boot straps and making a little money on the side from baking cookies and making jams

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fish Tacos with Creamy Lime Guacamole & Cabbage Slaw


I've been really busy lately so not much cooking on the stove. Tonight, I needed a fer-real meal. Yummy.




Ingredients

1 pound any white fish - tilapia, flounder, petrale sole
2 ripe Hass avocados - halved, pitted, peeled
1 large jalapeno
1/4 red onion, minced
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
5 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 cups shredded cabbage - napa or red
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
3-4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons rosemary-infused olive oil
6 soft tortillas
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
Creole Seasoning
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Salsa verde

Preparation

1. In a medium bowl, mash the avocados, yogurt, 1/2 finely minced jalapeƱo, finely minced red onion, half the cilantro and 3 tablespoons of the lime juice. Season the guacamole with to taste and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface until time to serve.

2. Shred cabbage and toss in a large bowl with a hand full of minced cilantro, finely chopped scallions, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the remaining 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Season with Creole Seasoning.

3. Season the fish on both sides. In a large, non-stick skillet, heat rosemary oil, remaining jalapeno and minced garlic; swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Lightly pan-fry fish in two batches, starting with the largest pieces until done, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer fish to a platter. Discard garlic and jalapeno.

4. Meanwhile, warm tortillas according to package directions.

5. To assemble each taco, spread a dollop of guacamole on a tortilla. Top with a piece of fish, a garnish of tomatoes and a large spoonful of the cabbage slaw. Serve with the hot sauce and lime wedges.

And pass me a cold beer!

~Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart and Food & Wine