Monday, July 27, 2009


My vegetable garden has produced a fair amount of veggies, so far -- tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, eggplants, and squash. The corn is coming along nicely, as are the canteloupes, but they're not ready to pick.

It's green bean and tomato season. Good thing I love green beans, because I can pick a pint of Kentucky Wonder pole beans every morning, and eat them every night without getting sick of them.

The yellow banana peppers are nice (perhaps a little milder than bell peppers, although similar in taste), but honestly, I prefer the cayennes. Mince one of those, and toss it into dinner, seeds, pith and all, and it's got just the right amount of mouth-numbing heat, without killing the taste of the rest of the food.

We have seven different varieties of tomatoes: cherry, Big Boy, some sort of yellow one that's proving to be really prolific, Bush Early Girl, Bush Goliath, Mr. Stripey (an heirloom), and something that was labeled as Roma, but obviously isn't, given the size and shape of the fruit it produces.

We have a half dozen full-sized tomatoes waiting to be eaten, but tonight's dinner features a good pint's worth of cherry tomatoes from my garden, simply sauteed in 1.5 Tbs. of olive oil, with nothing more than chopped fresh oregano and basil, also from my garden, plus a couple of cloves of minced garlic, salt, and freshly ground Tellicherry pepper. My whole house smells phenomenal.

It'll only be a side dish, but during the past couple of weeks, dinner has consisted of mostly two or three vegetarian side dishes. Neither of us are vegetarians, but we can go for a few days without eating animal flesh when the veggies taste this good!

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Like many foodies, I enjoy watching certain shows on Food Network. One of the ones I never saw until this season was "The Next Food Network Star." To be perfectly honest, I don't think any of the contestants this season has any real staying power for a TV show. Somebody will win, obviously, but there's something I find annoying about every contestant, whether it's an over-the-top personality, or simply a too frantic/overly animated on camera presence.

Regardless, I find Bob Tuschman's blog about the show to be interesting. The question he keeps posing is "What is your food philosophy?" It seems to him, and to me, that some of the contestants simply don't have one. That got me thinking about what my own food philosophy is. The answer: unless you're entertaining company, keep it simple, stupid.

For instance, today I made a really simple, refreshing salad using fresh cucumber, tomatoes, and basil from my own garden. Other than adding half a small Vidalia onion, which I don't grow, I simply dressed it with a little oil and some lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Peel and dice the cucumber, dice the tomatoes and onion, toss it all together with salt, pepper, the oil and lemon juice, and a chiffonade of basil. How easy could that be?

Another example is the lemon quick bread I made a few weeks ago. I didn't have zucchini or bananas, but had plenty of lemon juice. Like all quick breads, it's just a batter bread that uses baking powder and baking soda for leavening. I used two half sized loaf tins, instead of a regular sized one. It's a little tangy (and is supposed to be that way), but is great with butter and apricot jam. The original James Beard recipe called for butter, but I was out of it. I substituted canola oil, and it worked out beautifully, although I wouldn't dare try that with anything other than a quick bread.

A third example is a pot of soup I made last month. We were out of a lot of staples, but rummaging around in the fridge and pantry, we had a huge onion, celery, macaroni, a bag of pinto beans, bay leaves, dried oregano, cans of diced tomatoes, bread crumbs, eggs, some frozen ground beef, and some beef broth. I didn't follow a recipe, but the result was pretty tasty, and went over really well with the rest of my household. I'd never in my life made meatballs before I made that soup, but they were probably the tastiest part of the whole thing. Yes, it was "comfort food." Still, it was fairly light compared to a chowder or bisque.

Taste, taste, taste, as you go along, and correct the seasonings at the end, if necessary. If it doesn't taste good to you, chances are really high that it won't taste good to anyone else. That, and don't get stuck in a rut with nothing but comfort food or Asian inspired marinades for that pork tenderloin or flank steak in your repertoire. There's a place for those, but they do get boring after a while.

Desserts aren't really my thing, because I seldom have any desire to eat them, but I can still make a mean cheesecake, carrot cake with buttercream frosting, angel food cake, or pavlova from scratch. None of those are complicated. The only difference I find with baking bread or desserts vs. just cooking dinner, is that I actually take the time to measure the ingredients reasonably accurately, rather than simply winging it.

Granted, when rolling out pie crust or kneading yeast rising bread dough, it can take a little more flour than you might think you need, on the board, depending on the humidity in your house at the time you make it. So what? That's par for the course.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Wild Sockeye

It's that wonderful time of year when wild sockeye and soft shelled crabs are available. I don't know what to do with a soft shelled crab, nor does the idea of eating one particularly appeal to me, but I sure as shooting know how to prepare a hunk of salmon.

Wegmans advertised wild sockeye for $14.99 a pound. I'm used to paying almost $20 a pound for it, so that seemed like a good deal, and well worth the trip to the store. It was $12.99 a pound when I got there, and there wasn't much left, but I snagged half a fish for about $20. They also had farm-raised Atlantic salmon for half the price, but it's just not the same thing as wild Alaskan sockeye. Flabby and light pink to start with vs. firm and almost red . . . well, there's no comparison.

I sliced off the third of the fillet closest to what used to be the head of the fish, slathered it with some canola oil (we had a really hot charcoal fire on the BBQ, so I didn't want to use olive oil), and gave it the old salt and pepper treatment, before tossing it on the grill. It came out perfectly. Firm, dark, delicious flesh, that needed nothing other than a squeeze of lemon juice, was what I was shooting for, and achieved. The fish didn't stick to the grill, and we didn't even get any flare-ups.

My partner in eating crime likes salmon, but was really skeptical about throwing fish directly onto the grill rack. I was out to prove him wrong, and I did. Oil the fish, not the grill rack, and don't even think of poking the fish for the first three or four minutes. I'd recommend wrapping farm-raised salmon in foil before chucking it on the grill, but that's not necessary with wild sockeye.

We still have 2/3 of that side of fish left, so I think I'll just bake it, let it cool, then make salmon salad from it. I could also use it for salmon croquettes, but that seems like a waste to me.

For those of you in the U.S., happy Independence Day! Fire up your grills, folks, and celebrate.