Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin

The polls are closed. The votes are in. The winner has been notified. And the latest Storm of the Century is due to pummel the Twin Cities later this week.* So I thought before the world as we know it ends (again), it would be a good time to pound out the deets of Food Night Nation’s recipe request…

* I honestly have no idea where we are going to put any more snow here. I really don't. Can someone please hit the "no vacancy" sign or something? We are full. No more room at The Inn for aaaaaaany more snow this winter. Mkay?! Great.

Food Night nation loves it some beef, apparently. Can’t say I blame you, as this preparation is a tasty as it is easy to prepare. You can go all minimalist on this bit, or you can dress it up with garnishes, fresh herbs, blue cheese, etc. But all you really need as far as equipment is; a cast iron skillet, a sauce pan, and some heat. And look at you, you’ve got ALL of those things!

And in all honesty, what you do BEFORE you begin cooking is about as important (if not MORE important) than what happens once you put pan to flame.* What are these important pre-cooking things? I count three…

*Or pan to electric coil, or pan to ceramic stove top…

Pre-Cooking Must Do #1). Buy good beef. Goes without saying, right? But more specifically, we are looking for perfect little cubes of beef tenderloin here. And if you are planning on cooking more than one, you want them to be EXACTLY the same size. Otherwise they won’t cook at the same rate, will they. So have your butcher cut you nice, even, chunks from the center of a tenderloin. Yep, the center, not the ends where the tenderloin tapers down to something too thin to cook properly. We are looking for a perfect cube-o-meat here. And how about buying your meat from a reputable source, too. Humanely raised, happy cows make the best steaks.

Pre-Cooking Must Do #2). Only room temperature meat goes in the pan. Or, perhaps I should say, meat that is right out of the fridge definitely does NOT go in the pan. Why? Think about what would happen if you took a frozen cube of meat, and tried to cook it. You’d get done/burned outsides before you had properly cooked insides. So give your steaks that you lovingly procured the proper treatment. Take them out of the fridge, sprinkle each with a little salt, and let them take a 15 or 20 minute nap on the counter prior to cooking. Your patience and planning will be rewarded.

Pre-Cooking Must Do #3). Use cast iron to cook your beef. A properly seasoned cast iron pan will give you a fabulous sear on the outside, and can go in the oven if you need to cook your steaks a little longer after you have seared both sides.

One more bit of knowledge for you before we get to the recipe… do not try to sear 17 steaks at once. When searing, the steaks enjoy a bit of elbow room. They don’t want to be all touchy-feely with the neighbor steaks, as they are a bit anti-social. Don’t try to change them, that’s just how they are. So just make sure there is plenty of unclaimed real estate in the pan during the searing process. Food Night usually only sears 4 (maaaaaaaaaybe 5 if Food Night is feeling really daring) tenderloin steaks at a time in its 12’’ cast iron skillet, if you must have a number.

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin
Serves 2

- Two 6oz beef tenderloin steaks, of equal thickness/size/proportion, seasoned with kosher salt, rested at room temp for 20 minutes
- Oil (peanut if possible, canola/veggie otherwise, not olive oil)
- Butter
- Fresh Thyme (optional)

Heat your seasoned cast iron skillet to med-high heat. On my stove, this means turning the heat to medium, and letting the pan sit there for roughly 10 minutes. The objective isn’t to get the pan SCREAMING hot, but hot enough to make the steaks really sizzle (but not burn) when they enter the pan. Flick some drops of water into the pan, and when it sizzles vigorously, you are ready to proceed.

Toss a tablespoon or two of oil in the pan. If your oil immediately burns (you'll know if it burns...) your pan is too hot. Cool down the pan a bit, wipe out the burnt oil, and begin again. Add steaks to the pan, and sear on first side undisturbed for approx 4 minutes...

Turn steaks to opposite side (look at the killer krust you just kreated!!!!), toss in a few tablespoons of butter (more the merrier)…

… plus the optional sprigs of thyme, and sear 4 minutes.* While steak is on this second side, tilt pan and baste with butter/thyme.

*NOTE; These 4 minute times are not set in stone. Use your eyes, ears, and nose… if the steaks are burning… turn them (and turn the heat down). If they aren’t properly caramelized at 4 minutes, up the heat a bit and leave them in a bit longer. Simple.

How do you know when your steak is done? Use your finger (NOT your knife). Pressing down on the top of your steak while it’s in the pan should resemble pressing your finger against your cheek* for medium-rare. You do want your steak medium-rare… right?!

*The cheek on your FACE, please. Come on now.

If your steaks are too thick to cook solely on the stove top, you can slide the pan into a 450 degree oven. Once you’ve reached the nirvana that is a lovely medium-rare, take your steaks out of the pan and place them on a plate covered loosely with aluminum foil for 4 minutes or so. Once done, cut steaks in half, serve with red wine sauce (see below), blue cheese, and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. Don’t forget the Maldon.

Red Wine Sauce
1 cup good quality red wine*
1 cup stock (chicken, lamb, beef, pork, turkey, squab, rabbit… whatever)

*When we say “good quality” red wine, we mean use something here that you would enjoy drinking. If you use crappy wine, reducing it is going to concentrate and magnify its crappyness. So choose wisely, and drink the rest of the bottle with your lucky dining companion.

Combine stock and wine in small sauce pan. Reduce until it thickens slightly, you’ll be left with ½ cup or so, give or take. Remove from heat, whisk in a few pats of butter one at a time. Taste, and season with salt and/or lemon juice as needed. Bang. Done.

Time to revel in your greatness with said dining companion.

If you try this, let Food Night know how it goes! Toss out any questions in the comments too, and the Food Night staff will answer them to the best of our ability.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Recipe Poll and the Three Wise Men

Food Night is curious about something. Would you wonderful people like more recipes with your food and wine related musings found on these internet pages? Food Night isn’t going to turn this place in to simplyrecipes.com* or anything. But I thought I'd but up a little poll to let the people of Food Night Nation vote on what they want to see documented in recipe form from the most recent Food Night, held on 11/12/2010.

* Food Night is a big fan of simplyrecipes.com. The recipes there work. And isn’t that the best thing you can say about a recipe… that it works? Skip epicuriwhatever.com, go to simplyrecipes.com. End of endorsement.

At this "Three Wise Men and a Cook*" Food Night, we had myself (the cook), and Alex, Andy and Phil. These three gents manage various Haskells Wine & Spirits locations here in the cities, and let’s just say they have tasted a few decent bottles in their day. It was a really great group, which lends credence to a point Georg Riedel mentioned that we spoke about earlier, which was “Enjoy the company of the people you are drinking with”.

*Please do not confuse this recent Food Night with this…

Similar… but different. Remember when Steve Freaking Guttenberg was a big deal for like 17 minutes? Cripes am I getting old.

So anyway, you don’t have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Burgundy vintages from 1992 to 1995 or some such B.S. to enjoy Food Night, or any dinner party. Just enjoy the people you are hangin' with! Heck - I was an infant Skywalker compared to the The Wise Mens' collective Yoda when it comes to wine knowledge and tasting history. But just listening to the banter and observations about wine from people who KNOW is extremely fun and educational.

And now, the candidates, for your consideration...

Scallops Two Ways
Carpaccio & Seared. Pork belly. Salsa verde. Black olive oil.

Autumn Soup
Squash. Apple. Beet. Brown butter.

Sheep’s Milk Ricotta. Squash. Brown butter. Sage.

Beef Tenderloin
Red Wine. Lamb Stock. Blue Cheese.

Unleash the Voting!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

At Long Last... the Emergency Food Night, starring Hollandaise Sauce, and a Beet Soup Recipe

Remember the EMERGENCY Food Night, when Tyler Durden came to town? Of course you don’t. It happened in June. Heck, I barely do. BUT – via my magic picture taking machine, allow me to regale you (in as much detail as possible) with what went down at Durden’s Emergency Food Night.

As an added bonus, let’s toss in a recipe, related to said Emergency Food Night and to the WILDLY successful initial “Food Night Poll”… as seen on the right side of this interweb page. Food Night likes beets, and wants you to like them too. Beets get a bad rap I think because lots of people grew up eating icky canned beets at school lunch in 2nd grade. See, if you don’t like beets, I’m thinking perhaps you and beets just didn’t start off on the right foot. The recipe at the end of this post… is the right foot. Deets upcoming… but first… one thing I DO remember about this Food Night was that it was an absolutely EPIC evening outside…

So epic in fact, that we had a Food Night First… Course #1 was served outside, on the Food Night Mansion’s spiffy new patio furniture. This first course was a salad I learned from a cookbook that I stole got from my folks called “Cypress”. It’s the companion book from a restaurant of the same name that they enjoy visiting in Charleston, SC. I hope to make it there someday, but until then… I used the book as inspiration for this little ditty…

Very simple and elegant. Take an English cucumber to a mandolin, the long way, so you get long strips. Then just form a ring with said cuke strip, and BANG! Your salad container is ready. Toss some farmers market greens with some herbs (tarragon, dash of julienned mint, lemon thyme) and a vinaigrette. Then for the hell-of-it, I painted* a stripe on the plate to lend some added visual appeal.

*Yes, I did use an actual paint brush. No, said brush is not used for anything other than painting plates.

The “paint” was actually the next course…

BEET SOUP! Your favorite beets, lovingly roasted, and pureed into a silky soup! Only one issue with my particular execution of this soup… it was a titch* spicy. We like spice at Food Night. After all, "spice" is the spice of life, right? Or something. Anyway, spice doesn’t always play well with the wines at Food Night, so we try to strike a balance in the spice department. Obviously we don't want to demolish our uber-deece wines with too much heat, right?

*Titch = ½ of a Tad

To combat the titch of excess heat, I chilled the soup overnight, added a little sugar which tends to mellow the heat a bit, and served the soup chilled, too. This resulted in the final product being only sliiiiiightly more spicy than I intended; an acceptable result for an off the cuff Beet Soup (recipe follows).

Rounding out the lineup of dishes, was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever made. Salmon cakes with……………….. hollandaise sauce! Holy MOLY was this hollandaise fabulous, the recipe and inspiration from the ever inspiring Michael Ruhlman. I decided to take a leap of faith, and attempt this sauce for the first time live-without-a-net, during Food Night. No practice run. No backup sauce. Nada. Just… get it RIGHT… the first time. Which after some whisking… ok, a lot of whisking…

… it was not only right, it was heavenly. It was like yellow ribbons of rich lemony silky goodness enveloping the (oh by the way) French Laundry inspired salmon cakes with grilled lemon. While there would certainly be nothing wrong with this dish without the hollandaise…

... WITH the hollandaise… well, you could say the dish sounded its BARBARIC YAWP over the rooftops of the world.*

* Thanks, Uncle Walt Whitman. I had forgotten about that scene in "Dead Poets Society" until I tried to describe yummy hollandaise sauce (now there is a sentence you never thought you'd read in your life, right?!) I don't even think I knew what hollandaise sauce was when I first saw that movie. But anyway, invest the 2 minutes and check out that scene. Great stuff.

The lesson here is… make hollandaise. You can do it. You absolutely can do it. And your life will taste better as a result.

The final course was a second iteration of Sameh’s cucumber broth, this time with salmon instead of halibut, and crème fraiche with pickled tomato instead of yogurt. Not shabby.

My favorite dish? The Salmon Cakes. That hollandaise was so rewarding. But what do I want you to take from this Food Night? Beets. Yes, beets. Beets are your friend. Roast them, saute some aromatics, toss them in the pot with some wine and/or water, garnish… and you’ll have beauty in a bowl.

Beet Soup

Beets – red, one pound or more
1 small onion, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced.
Carrot/celery – chopped (optional)
Ginger - peeled, chopped
White wine or sherry or madiera or…
Bay leaves
Guajillo chile – optional (lends spice and earthyness)
Salt, lemon juice, brown sugar; for seasoning
Crème fraiche, quality blue cheese, chives; for garnish

Line an oven going sheet pan with tin foil. Toss beets in olive oil and roast in sheet pan in a 425 degree oven, approximately 60-75 minutes, tossing the beets every 20 minutes or so, until tender. Peel (your fingers probably will want them to cool a bit), and chop into chunks.

While beets roast, sauté your onion to your desired doneness (lightly translucent, or caramelize the hell out of it… it’s a free country). Toss in the garlic, and carrot/celery if using. Saute for a bit and add the ginger toward the end. Gently salt each addition to the pot, remembering you can always add more later. Deglaze pot with wine or sherry or water and reduce.

Add peeled beet chunks, and cover by an inch or so with water, and season with salt. Add (optional)chile and bay, and simmer partially covered for at least 30 minutes. Remove chile and bay. Puree. Adjust consistency of soup as needed, by either reducing to thicken, or adding water to thin. Check for seasoning, adding salt, and lemon juice as needed. Use sugar in 1tsp increments to tame heat a bit if necessary.

Serve chilled or warm, garnished with a spot of blue cheese, crème fraiche thinned with lemon juice or water, and chives.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Glassware. Yes... It's important

Yes, yes, yes... the beet-o-riffic post from the Tyler Durden Emergency Food Night is almost done. Really it is. It's more done now than it was when we last spoke. But I thought the following article from the heavytable.com was worthy enough of a Food Night Breaking News Bulletin...

Georg Riedel at Kitchen Window

Two positevely BRILLIANT points Mr. Riedel makes in the article...

1). "Enjoy the company of the people you are drinking with." (Food Night Editor's note; Truer words have rarely been spoken. Wine always tastes better in the company of good people. Always.)

2). "How much do you spend on glassware a year? Zero, right?" (Food Night Editor's note; Buy yourself some decent Riedel/Spieglau/Whatever stems. If you are reading this... you care about food and wine. Treat yourself. Spend $50 on 4 decent Riedel stems. Please. And yes - you have to hand wash them. This will not cause the world to end. You can do it. Food Night believes in you. And Food Night is right about this... drink your wine out of proper glasses. Please trust Food Night on this one. We've gotten you this far....)

Food Night loves the heavytable.com. And Food Night loves its Riedel stemware. And Food Night loves it's loyal and fabulous readers. So, I thought you all should meet.

Happy Stemware Shopping.

One more thing... The wine on the left in this picture (from the above heavytable article)...

...the Roberts & Rogers Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain... um..... yeah. You want a bottle of this stuff. It's AWESOME. I just had it last week and it is drinking beautifully. And, It's on sale at Haskells right now... for half price. Come see your Food Night fellas at the Woodbury Haskells and pick up a bottle or two... and your life will immediately be better.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

You say TAHG-nee, they say TAWN-yee; Our visit to Togni Vineyards

St. Helena, Napa Valley - Food Night is coming to you live, from the shotgun position of the sporty VW Jetta as we attempt to locate Togni Vineyards.*

* Let’s briefly touch on the proper pronounciation of this place, which the owners lend their last name to. As best I can tell, from listening to our hosts pronounce it, it is TAWN-yee. It is definitely not TAHG-nee… which is the way we had been pronouncing it. Linguistics experts we are not. Please forgive us.

After some back and forth, we finally zero’d in on our target. You see, the enterances to wineries typically look something like this…

Or this…

Togni’s enterance? It looks like this…

Yeah. A simple gate with a padlock. No signage to alert you to your proximity to world class cabernet, almost as if to say “We let the wine speak for itself here.” It was later explained to us the gate is useful in keeping deer out of the property. So world class wineries don’t like the deer either... I knew I was going to like these people.

After calling the winery from just outside the locked gate, because we (obviously… and predictably…) forgot the combination to the lock, we coasted down a little hill to a charming little vineyard scene. There were lovely rolling hills, a house further down the hill and what looked to be a winemaking facility next to the “parking lot”. And when I say “parking lot”, what I really mean is the parking SPOT. It was immediately evident that this is not some high traffic tourist trap scenario. This is a small (2000 cases a year, max) family operated winery that the Togni family has taken much care and pride in cultivating.

The experience at Togni was a true highlight of our trip to California. Let’s have a look at we saw…

As we climbed out of the Jetta, Birgitta Togni greeted us and proceeded to show us around the property. I couldn’t help but think it’s probably a good sign that the last name of the person showing us around coincides with the name that is on all the wine produced here. Just an observation. I like to state the obvious sometimes, bear with me.

One of the first things we saw was this awesome medieval-looking door…

What do you think it leads to? I half expected to see a bunch of bearded fellas wearing fur garments sitting at a table drinking meade and gnawing at turkey legs the size of footballs on the other side of that door, but no… twas not to be. What actually WAS on the other side was far better (and less dangerous) than that. That door leads into…

… the barrel rooms. Pristinely clean barrel rooms, I might add. Here, the pressed and free run juices rest in new oak barrels… like this one…

It was here we got the INCREDIBLE opportunity to taste wine from said barrels (I believe it was the 2008 vintage)… a first for me to be sure. I figured we’d be tasting from bottle, obviously, but all of a sudden…

… there goes Birgitta with the “wine thief”, siphoning off juice and releasing it into glasses as I tried my darndest to suppress my inner 5-year-old that was desperately trying to illuminate the room with a joyous rebel yell. I mean, two days ago at that time, I was sitting in a stale cube while staring at a computer screen in St. Paul… and now here I am drinking wine out of a Barrel at Togni Vineyards that ROBERT PARKER drank out of. For you math majors out there… (Wine out of a Barrel at Togni) > (Cube Farm) x 1,000,000.

First we tasted the “free run” juice, which is the juice that is… well, think of this this way. You put a couple of tons of grapes in a tank. The ones on the bottom… they get crushed by their brothers and sisters sitting on top of them. So the juice resulting from that natural pressing is called “free run” juice. This juice is removed from the bottom of the tank via a valve or similar relief device, and is sometimes/often distributed back over the remaining grapes in the tank.

Next we tried the “pressed” juice, which is juice that is extracted from the remnants of the naturally crushed grapes via this bladder press…

I thought the free run juice was fabulous, but the pressed juice….. WOW. That stuff was uber complex and fat and unctuous with massive amounts of structure and acid and sophistication. World Class, the Togni cabernet sauvignon.

After Birgitta showed us around the barrel rooms, we exited the barrel rooms through a different door*...

* What is it with crazy wicked cool old doors at wineries???

... and were led into the warehouse where we met Philip Togni, gentleman, winemaker. Philip started making wine at Chappalet back in 1960’s, and has been growing grapes on the 25 acre plot of land where he and Birgitta live since 1981. These were such “real” people, true masters of their craft, yet completely down to earth, humble and affable.

One of my favorite things about this family owned and operated business I found over in the corner of the warehouse. The label making “station”…. shown here…

I mean, can you imagine how the labels are put on bottles at a place like, say, Sutter Home? Or Yellow Tail? At Togni… there is a table in the corner with a roll of labels and a chair with no back to sit on. Soooooo charming. And real. Loved it.

As we made our reluctant exit, I noticed Philip was somewhere out of view, fudging with bubble wrap or some such thing. Then as we were about to head up to the car, Philip, every bit the gentleman, hands us a bottle of Tanbark cabernet that he has wrapped in bubble wrap and explains in his fabulously articulate and distinguished English accent “I thought you might be having a bit of lunch next, perhaps you might like to enjoy some of our wine with your meal.”

I mean………. Does it get any better than that?!?!? No, it doesn’t. So classy. For the record; we were late for our subsequent appointments, so lunch was quite rushed, and as a result we enjoyed the bottle at dinner that night.

Thank you to the fabulous Philip and Birgitta Togni

… for your gracious hospitality. Making the connection between a wine and the people that make it takes the enjoyment factor of said wine up an immeasurable amount.

And so we made our way back up the hill, past the padlock, bound for more tasting appointments, knowing full well our day had already peaked.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Shoes, and new Blog Stuffs

If you are anything like me, when you were a kid, new shoes made you positively giddy. Unfortunately new shoes also typically coincided with the beginning of a new school year, which was certainly not cause for celebration. But the new shoes provided a nice distraction from the impending 9-month prison term school year. They signaled a page turning of sorts, a new chapter, a fresh start.

So, since it's that time of year, and the old blog here could use a bit of a shake up and wake up... I thought it might be wise to unfurl a few new ditties* here to keep things fresh.

*Ditty (noun). Definition; a thing.

Ditty #1. We are gonna have a go with messing around with the photo on the right side of the page on a daily (or semi-daily) basis. I've got a pile of pictures from various Food Nights and the trip to Cali that are sure to never see the light of day otherwise. Like this one...

I thought the Golden Gate was just a bridge. False. It is not just a bridge. It is a REALLY BIG bridge. And it's REALLY red. And REALLY cool. Ultimately yes, just a bridge. But it is one of those rare things in life that lives up to the nearly ridiculous levels of hype and hyperbole.

Only slightly less transcendent than the picture of one of the most monumental engineering marvels known to man is... the picture of Durden and Alex that is up there now. Or as I like to call it... "Shark Food". That was taken Sunday morning of our Cali trip, when we drove out to the coast, just for the heck of it. Remember, Minnesota boys like us don't get to see the ocean every day. I just love the pose/faces; what a couple of tools. Cracks me up every time I look at it.

So yeah. More pictures. Which is what I wished "Grapes of Wrath" had when I "read" it in high school.

Ditty #2. I'm going to put up a little blog-roll at the right. Basically, these will be links to blogs and/or websites that A). Food Night uses/references often, AND B). you like-minded people might find interesting and/or inspiring. Stuff like Ruhlman, Bittman, Simply Recipes, etc. I'm sure it'll be great.

Ditty #3. As the mood strikes, we'll fire up polls on the right, to query you... the faithful Food Night reader. As you can see... we've already got one going right now; Beets - your preferences. Food Night loves beets, and Food Night thinks you should too. Not to be pushy or anything of course, but they are good, colorful, good for you, AND... easy to prepare. Not to mention, one of Food Night's faithful readers is into beets, and Food Night is trying to cultivate his love of beets. So, more on beets later.

Ditty #4. Most if not all of you no doubt recall that... there is an UNDOCUMENTED Food Night still floating around out in the universe of past events! *** GASP ***. Yeah, I know. The horror. You recall the "Emergency Food Night" I teased a while ago I'm sure. So, to fix this, and since this undocumented Food Night happened in JUNE... I think I might run a quick and dirty version of it... kind of First Grade style. Which is to say, more...

... pictures...

...than words. We'll see. My thought is that way you'll get a little more meat on your Food-Night-bone, without me having to try to remember exactly what went down back in June. Cripes, I can barely remember what I did 20 minutes ago.*

* Which I'm told is perfectly normal. For a 93 year old.

And that's about all I know for now.

Oh wait, that's not true, I also know the post on Food Night's visit to the fabulous Togni Vineyards is on the Food Night Editor's desk awaiting final approval. So you've got that going for you...... which is nice.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Culinary Interlude... Tomatoes

I hope you are enjoying the deets of the trip to Cali as much as we enjoyed being there. But as you surely know, TOMATO SEASON is upon us, so I think it’s appropriate to sprinkle in a tomato focused culinary interlude. Included here are a couple of my tomato-centric recommendations and one recipe from the uber-deece-and-talented Sameh Wadi that is not to be missed.

First, have a go with Jamie Oliver’s simple yet brilliant compilation of tomatoes in what he accurately dubs “The Mothership Tomato Salad Recipe”. It’s elegantly rustic, if that is possible, and above all… the taste is amazing. Make sure you have some crusty bread to sop up the juices from the tomatoes and olive oil and other goodness that’ll be left loitering on your plate as you gobble up the tomatoes. And riff on it… it’s not a soufflé… you aren’t going to wreck it. Toss in some tarragon, some cucumber, some feta… go crazy. One thing to note… I usually skip or drastically reduce the garlic in this recipe. I feel like it overwhelms the tomatoes.

Difficultly level for Jamie's tomato salad recipe is literally ZERO. If you can slice a tomato, you can do this. And what’s more, you SHOULD do this recipe. Now is the time, when tomatoes are plentiful and at the height of their powers. Check out the beauties I saw at the St. Paul Farmers Market this weekend... pictured above, and right here...

Secondly, as a seasoned Food Night devotee, you undoubtedly know that I am a huge fan of the French Laundry Cookbook. Please know that just because the book says “French Laundry” on the cover doesn’t mean it’s out of your league. Case in point… the Heirloom Tomato Tart.

In my opinion, the Heirloom Tomato Tart recipe ALONE is worth the $35 sticker price of this book. I’m telling you… buy the book, and make that recipe. It has changed people’s lives. I’m not even going to say anything more… just buy it… and make it. Perhaps use the above tomatoes, lounging in the French Laundry’s garden,* as inspiration.

*No really, that is a photo I took on Food Night’s recent trip to California** of tomatoes in the French Laundry’s garden. I understand I do a fair amount of kidding and leg pulling around here, but this is not one of those times. Those are actual French Laundry tomatoes. I mean who knows… maybe those tomatoes found their way into an ACTUAL French Laundry Heirloom Tomato Tart!

**Which you have no doubt been reading about……… right?

Difficulty level for the tart is slightly higher than zero, but easily doable for anyone that cares about cooking. And that would be YOU if you are reading this. And if you opt for store-bought puff pastry (as I have done) instead of making it from scratch… I won’t tell anyone. The dish will still be fabulous, too.

Finally, I must point you to Sameh’s recipe for Tomato Jam that appeared in the August issue of Metro Magazine. This issue has a plethora of fun food stuffs in it, including a mouth watering pictoral of Sameh’s BLT… where the “T” is the following Tomato Jam.

You no doubt recall the Bacon Jam that we had with scallops at a Food Night last February. This Tomato Jam is a lot like that… except… with tomatoes! So get blanching and peeling, and your “B” and “L” will be forever grateful to be associated with this “T”. And please, make this recipe year round… just be sure that when you make it in February, use quality canned San Marzano tomatoes, mkay? Great.

Sameh’s Tomato Jam

2 T chopped shallot
2 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T honey
1.5 t Spice Trail Ras El Hanout* (see NOTE below)

2 28oz cans San Marzano tomatoes (peeled)
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, chopped

Saute shallots in oil until translucent. Add honey and continue to cook until shallot is caramelized. Add vinegar and ras el hanout. Add the tomatoes and cook for approx 1 hour, until the mixture thickens to desired consistency. Taste, and season as needed with salt and vinegar.

Bang. Done. You now now have the uber-condiment. Use daily.

*NOTE: You can successfully make this jam without the ras el hanout, but, I would highly recommend picking some up either at Saffron Restaurant and Lounge, or online HERE. It adds a interesting depth of flavor. In addition to its use in this jam, use ras el hanout as a dry rub on pork, chicken, lamb, beef, in stews, and as a way to keep rattlesnakes out of your kitchen. Yep - it's true - ever since I bought that stuff, not one rattlesnake in my kitchen. Nice fringe benefit, huh.

Difficulty level here is “easy”, and the end result is so delicious and versatile, it’s worth whatever effort you put forth and then some. As for uses for this spreadable delight? Use it as the “T” in your BLTs as Sameh does. Top a piece of fish with it. Slather some on a steak that is fresh from the grill (as I did last night - fabulous). Use it as a dip for French Fries or on top of the afore mentioned tomato tart! Just don’t let this season pass you buy without making it.

So get yourself to the Farmers Market, and find yourself some rosey red (or green, or yellow, or orange…) orbs of summery goodness. Then get cooking, because life is better when we cook for ourselves....... especially during tomato season.

Mecca Bos-Williams, Metro Magazine Food and Drinks Editor
St. Paul Farmers Market