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 soufflĂ©… 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