Monday, October 13, 2008

Cooking Light - October issue

Check out this month's issue of Cooking Light Magazine. I am the featured reader recipe this month. My recipe for grilled pork taco's with spicy slaw and toasted pumpkin seeds was a recipe I created last year when I was craving southwest food but did not want the typical cheese, beans, beef....This was healthful and also had tons of flavor. You really don't miss the fat.

Please let me know what you think....

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Tomato Garden

I promise No More Tomato Blogs after the fall harvest....Here are the new babies...recently planted and being tracked from the day of planting to the first fall harvest. This is my first season for fall planting. We pulled up the summer tomato plants over Labor Day and put the new ones in about mid-September. Here are the first pics.

About 2 weeks after planting we noticed the bottom leaves were being eaten by something. All the leaves had giant holes in them. I thought it was some type of slugs, and I was told to put a saucer of beer in the garden. The slugs would drink the beer and die. This did not work, although the saucer of beer was gone, nothing was dead and the leaves were still being eaten.

On closer inspection I discovered this guy. The green horned tomato worm. He is the same color as the tomato plant stem. You really can not see them. They come out at night, and attached to the lower leaves and stems of the tomato plant and begin their journey to totally destroy the crop. Once found, I screamed.

I called the nursery where I got the tomato plants. I explained what I had found, as if I discovered a new species and was told this is very common in the south, and welcome to fall planting. I tried to pull him off, knock him off, scream at him and nothing worked. Finally, I had to cut off the leave where he was sitting on. I was told to step on them, as they would come back if we didn't. I waited for my husband to come home and do this step, but I made the mistake of watching. Don't do this! This worm was so full of my tomato plant that he made a huge lime green mess.

Lesson learned. Look closely at the tomato plant and stems while watering. They hide on the underneath part of the leaf and are very hard to find.

These are the pics of the first planting and the worm. I will follow up bi-weekly with plant stats and record the first tomato picked of the season. By the way, we have tomato flowers on all 5 plants.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto and figs

Figs. This is the first year that I have eaten figs on a regular basis. I never found the occasion to try them before. My mother-in-law makes fig preserves and my husband raves about them. I still did not try them until this past summer. Now I can't get enough. They are very sweet. Pairing them with something savory and salty makes a good combination.

This crostini was spur of the moment. We bought figs over the weekend and stuffed them with goat cheese, rolled them in prosciutto and broiled them until crisp. When you bite into the hot figs, you taste salty from the prosciutto, sweet from the figs and a creamy tartness from the goat cheese. All in all a very good bite. You should try this for a quick appetizer.

Anyway, the crostini. I had leftover figs, prosciutto and goat cheese. I did not want the stuffed figs, but wanted to use all of the above in something different. I always have bread on hand. Remember, I'm a carboholic. I love rustic loaves of bread but this was a french baguette from Panera bread.

I sliced the bread into 1/2" slices. We had 3 each for an appetizer portion. I brushed the slices with a little olive oil and my husband grilled the bread until it was light brown and had grill marks. Do no over grill. The bread should have a slight bite to it, but not fall apart into crumbs. I spread about 1 teaspoon of goat cheese on each slice of warm bread. I topped the cheese with ribbons of prosciutto and a fig half(I peel mine). To make the ribbons, I used 4 pieces of prosciutto stacked and sliced into thin strips. Separate each strip and you will have prosciutto ribbons. These were quite tasty and quick. I think next time I will drizzle a little aged balsamic vinegar on top of each crostini. ENJOY.

Monday, August 18, 2008

rigatoni with spicy tomato sauce and sausage

SURPRISE, another tomato recipe. But get this, canned tomatoes, not fresh. I know I've been telling you about my garden and how great fresh tomatoes are at this time of the year, but I had to use canned tomatoes for a stew last week and I had some leftover and I love to create meals using leftovers. So, tonight was mystery pasta. I had rigatoni in my pantry. I had Italian sausage in my freezer. I had canned chopped tomatoes in the frig, fresh basil in the garden and some new spices from Penzey's that I wanted to try. Let me know what you think of this last minute creation. It took about 45 mins to prepare.

I took 3 links of Italian sausage out of the freezer when I got home from work around 4pm. I started cooking at 6:30, so the sausages were still partly frozen, making it easy to cut thin slices. I sauteed them in a little olive oil and set them aside. I chopped 2 cloves of garlic and cooked it with a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. I really let the garlic sweat, without turning color. Sometimes I took the pan off the heat, for a few seconds, so the garlic would not burn. Once the garlic started to perfume, I added 1/2 cup of white wine. We usually keep several whites in the outside refrigerator. The Chardonnay happened to be the opened bottle. Any white will do. I let the wine reduce by half and then added the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon of Penzey's (a spice store in B'ham, but also available online) Tuscan Garden (it's a mix of thyme, oregano, basil, and other Italian herbs) I let this simmer for about 20 minutes on medium. Make sure it does not evaporate too much. I'm really looking for a little thicker sauce than just chopped tomatoes. After 20 or 25 mins. it was done. I added 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream (I know, so bad!)But every now and then a splurge is in order. Stir cream into tomato mix and cook on low heat while you cook the pasta.

Heat a 5 quart pot of water to a boil. Add about 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of dried rigatoni. I really thought I was going to use penne, but I found the rigatoni first. On any given day, I have anywhere from 6-8 different dried pastas on hand. Did I tell you I was Italian....

Stir the pasta and let the water come back to a boil. Usually another 5 minutes to come back and then stir about every 3-4 minutes until the pasta is al dente. This is so important. DO NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA. It should have a slight bite to it. 2 cups of dried pasta should take about 8-10 minutes to cook. I always snag one out of the pot to try. Before I drain the cooked pasta, I scoop out 1/2-1 cup of pasta water. This will help thin the sauce if it's too thick. Drain the pasta and add to large skillet with the tomato cream mixture. Stir to combine and let cook about 1 minute on high to mix everything together. This made 4 good size portions.

I plated the pasta and topped with freshly grated Parmesan and some torn fresh basil (from the garden). Serve immediately. This could be served with a small salad and a piece of garlic bread for a complete meal. ENJOY, or should I say "MANGIA".

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

roasting garlic

This is so easy and lends itself to so many dishes. On Sunday's I usually roast about 8-10 heads of garlic. I love this stuff almost as much as tomatoes. I whack off the top 1/3 of the garlic head, take off any loose paper skin that is coming off anyway and drizzle a little olive oil on the exposed garlic cloves and a sprinkle of S&P. Wrap tightly in foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. I do a bunch at a time, so 1 head may take only 30 mins. The best way to check if they are done, is by using a potholder, squeeze the little packet. If it is soft, it's done. I let the finished garlic sit on the counter for about 10 mins, unwrapped and then squeeze the delicate pulp into a bowl. From here the uses are endless.

If you can not think of a recipe using roasted garlic, freeze it in ice cube trays and then in a ziploc when completely frozen. Now, you can pull out 1 or 2 cubes as necessary depending on what you are cooking. But let me give you some ideas for quick uses....

bruschetta with roasted garlic and tomatoes

2 or 4 slices of a good country bread or sour dough, about 1/2 inch thick
1 teaspoon of roasted garlic for each piece
1 teaspoon of olive oil for each piece
1 cup of chopped tomatoes, or 4 slices of a great tomato
fresh basil thinly sliced, 1 teaspoon for each slice

Brush the bread with 1/2 of the olive oil. Grill or toast the bread until golden brown. If grilling, brush the remaining half of oil and turn over to grill the other side. If toasting, take bread out of oven and brush the other side with the oil.

Spread the hot bread with the roasted garlic, top with tomatoes, S&P to taste and finish with basil. This is the perfect starter to any meal this summer, or fall for that matter.

*Roasted garlic salad dressing: add 1 to 2 tablespoons to your favorite vinaigrette

**Roasted garlic cream sauce: add 1 to 2 tablespoons to any cream sauce and pour this over pasta. I like to add peas, prosciutto and a little Parmesan cheese.

***Pasta with tomatoes and garlic: Pan roast cherry tomatoes in a little olive oil over medium heat until they are soft and barely bursting, add roasted garlic 1 or 2 tablespoons depending on how much you are making, stir to combine and toss with hot pasta and a little more olive oil. Top with fresh sliced basil and a quick grating of Parmesan cheese.

Monday, August 4, 2008

forgive us our past tomatoes

I write about tomatoes because I love them. But several people have asked me to write about other foods because they hate tomatoes. I can only assume they have had a bad tomato somewhere in their past and can’t get over that mealy, squishy, no taste red thing they consumed. I feel so bad that their first tomato experience may have been their last because of a bad tomato.

I don’t know if it was a hothouse tomato, or “on-the-vine” tomatoes from the grocery store, or even a canned tomato their mother made them eat because fresh tomatoes were not in season, or she didn’t know how to prepare them. Either way, today’s tomato is nothing like that. Especially now. This is the prime growing/eating season for tomatoes. They are at their peak of freshness. They are juicy, sweet, colorful and have great texture. No gases were used to turn these fruits red (as is the case of store bought tomatoes). Sunshine, water, bumble bees and tomato food have made these babies ready for picking and eating. Grab one, you will no be disappointed.

I’m hoping everyone that has a bad tomato memory will vow to try one bite of a summer fresh tomato and see for themselves that the tomato has come a long way baby! Please make it a great bite. Ask a friend who loves tomatoes to fix a bite for you. Whether it’s in the form of a sandwich, flatbread, pizza, sauce or a little salt and pepper, try a tomato now!

No, I do not work for the tomato growers of America. I just love this fruit/vegetable and wish the season would last longer. My plants are loaded now, but I know it’s only a fleeting moment until they are empty and brittle branches blowing in the wind. This year I have decided to make the season last a little longer. I just ordered fall tomatoes.

These plants go in the ground the second week of August and take about 45-55 days to produce. These fall heirlooms are a little hardier and will last until the first frost. Once again, a little prayer for a late, late Alabama frost. It could be as late as mid-November. I will keep my fingers crossed. And if that works out to be the case, then I will only have to wait about 5 months for great fresh tomatoes again!

I will buy tomatoes in the winter but I’m very picky. I will oven-roast a bunch of tomatoes now and freeze them so I’ll have tomatoes all winter long. Of course, it won’t be the same as eating a freshly picked tomato, but you must make concessions. It’s better than the alternative.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tomato Bacon Sandwich

No, it’s not a typo. It’s not a BLT. It’s a tomato bacon sandwich. And since tomatoes are the star of this sandwich, they get top billing.

There are only 4 ingredients in this recipe, but the possibilities are endless. I grew up on bacon, lettuce tomato sandwiches. They had the standard white bread (we never ate wheat in my family while we were growing up), the obligatory 3 or 4 slices of bacon (usually Oscar Mayer) and a couple of slices of tomato, nothing fancy or heirloom, just a hothouse tomato. Nothing memorable, but good.

My husband introduced me to bacon/tomato sandwiches. Toasted honey wheat bread slathered in mayo with a bunch of bacon and tomato slices. No wilting lettuce to worry about or to take away from the bacon tomato bite. Just a big ole juicy sandwich that required a lot of napkins.

I have now perfected the tomato bacon sandwich using the following techniques. I hope you will try some of these variations and let me know what you think. I would also be interested in what kind of sandwich you enjoy. One chapter in my book is on wraps, pannini’s and sandwiches.

I follow the same rules for every sandwich I make. It’s all about the BREAD. I could live on bread alone. I’m a carboholic! I go out of my way to try bread from anywhere. I go nuts in Europe, mostly France and Italy over the bread and pastries….I even gave serious thought to ordering a loaf of Poilane French Bread ( this special baker in Paris, but found out the cost of the bread and shipping was over $80.00. I could not justify that, but almost tried.

For this sandwich, I prefer an artisan loaf of country or farm bread. Sometimes it’s called peasant bread. If I can not find that bread I’ll settle for a fresh sourdough. It is available everywhere these days, in fact, Publix makes a pretty good loaf. Panera and Whole foods also has great bread choices. I usually do not have the bread sliced, as I prefer to slice at home. If I’m going to make a triple-decker, I usually cut the middle piece a little thinner than the outside pieces. It’s all in the construction of the sandwich. But once I have chosen my bread, I move on to bacon.

I like most Bacon, but have been buying the uncured thick sliced. I usually find this at a specialty market. But everyday bacon is o.k. and even turkey bacon is good, but it definitely changes the flavor. For 2 triple-decker sandwiches, I usually allow 6 slices per person. I fry my bacon on a griddle. Some people I know prefer micro-waving or baking their bacon. I drain the slices on paper towel and set aside.

The tomatoes are the best part. Of course, I pick what it’s my garden first. I love a mixture of red, green and yellows. I slice each tomato pretty thin, because I hate to bite into a sandwich and have the tomato slice slip out the other side. A thin slice prevents that from happening. I barely salt and pepper each slice of tomato. I usually allow 3-4 slices per double-decker, depending on the size of the bread and the size of the tomato. I have been known to slice a tomato into pieces so every inch of bread is covered with a tomato bite…did I tell you that I love tomatoes!

I only use light mayo. I prefer Kraft, but any kind will work. Sometimes I add chopped basil to the mayo, depends on the mood.

For a standard tomato bacon sandwich here is the blueprint:

3 slices of honey wheat sandwich bread, or artisan farm, ciabatta, or sourdough bread (sliced into ½ inch slices)

4 slices of tomato (see pic for thickness) and use summer ripe tomatoes when possible

6 slices of crisp bacon

3 ½ teaspoons of light mayo

Toast bread on light to medium setting. Do not over-toast. Bread should be done when it begins to turn golden. Spread 1 teaspoon of mayo on bread. Top with 2 slices of tomato and 3 slices of bacon. Spread another teaspoon of mayo on next slice of bread and put that slice on top of bacon tomato. Then spread another teaspoon of mayo on top of that piece and layer remaining tomato and bacon slices. Spread last piece of toast with remaining mayo and top sandwich. Push down to firmly secure sandwich and cut in half diagonally. (see pic).

Serve with chips and a glass of milk. (This is the way my husband likes to eat it)

Variations that you must try:

Add slices or ripe avocado to any layer
Add slices of turkey to any layer
Try spreading soft Gorgonzola to the top slice of bread instead of remaining mayo, YUM.
Melt 1 slice of white cheddar on the middle layer and then build sandwich up from there
Add chopped basil to mayo
Add chopped seeded tomatoes to mayo for a double tomato delight

*In the August copy of Martha Stewart Living magazine, there is a great article on heirloom seed harvesting. I think I’m going to try this.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

2 crazy nights, 1 good meal

I was ready to give you the recipe for flatbread with tomatoes, roasted garlic and basil since we are talking about summer tomatoes. But my Tuesday and Wednesday nights were so crazy, I have to tell you what happened. And a good meal came out of it.

In Alabama we have great produce, but we also have great big storms and Tuesday night was the biggest one in a long time. It started out sunny and bright around 5pm. My husband and I were out in the backyard watching the dogs play. We decided to grill out hamburgers and I went inside to start preparing. Around 6:00 Jesse lit the grill and came inside to get the meat. The sky looked kinda dark, but lately we have gotten a lot of big black clouds but no rain. In fact we even watered the garden knowing we would not get any rain. And for further confirmation, the weatherman on the 6pm news said nothing about rain in our area….all those signs should have been a warning of what was to come.

At 6:30 Jesse put the hamburgers on the grill. It was beginning to sprinkle, so he ran back inside. Just to be on the safe side, we gave Teddy (our Lab/Great Dane) a Benadryl. He is afraid of storms and the thunder was rumbling in the distance. By the time the burgers were ready to flip, the rain was coming down very hard and lightening was popping in the skies. The thunder grew louder and closer. Just before the heavy stuff came down, Jesse had grabbed our dinner and was safely inside but very wet. The skies broke open.Rain was coming down in sheets at first and then buckets. Lightening was everywhere and the thunderboomers felt like they were hitting the house with every crack. Teddy was on his second Benadryl. We turned off the TV and ate our burgers in silence, waiting for the storm to pass and praying the power stayed on. Just then a huge gust of wind took the screens off the front window. I dropped my plate and without thinking I ran out front to grab them so they would not fly down the street. Within 5 seconds I was completely soaked, but the screens were safe. My husband was looking at me like I just saved a puppy.

The storm eventually passed, about 2 hours later. We never did lose power and Teddy finally calmed down. That leads me to what happened Wednesday night.

I took pork chops out for dinner but did not know how I was going to prepare them. I didn’t want to go to the store and knew I had stuff at home to use. I decided on pan fried chops with a fig sauce and a side of buttered herb rice. I began the prep work for dinner and Jesse played with the dogs. Seemed like a normal night until the skies got dark again. Benadryl was dispursed and we waited for the worst. But it was just a rain shower. No light show, or thunder just a good soaking rain.

I was ready to serve the dinner.The fig sauce came out great. I didn’t know I liked figs until last weekend. We were visiting Jesse’s family in Pensacola, FL and they have fig trees. His Mom made preserves but also gave us a couple of bags of fresh figs. I had never cooked with them before, but found a very easy recipe on a website and adapted it to what I had on hand. Recipe to follow.

Jesse asked me what I wanted to drink with dinner and went out to the frig in the garage to fetch something. He was never coming back. I poked my head out and asked if everything was o.k? No answer….I went deeper into the garage and asked again. “NO” he said. Both the side by side refrigerator and the deep freeze are off. Apparently the power to both was not working. He could not figure out what happened, but we quickly assessed that most of the deep stuff was not thawed, but the ice cream was toast. We pulled out the top stuff, attached a long extension cord and plugged them both into the kitchen outlets. We ate dinner once the power started back to both. I had turned off all the food before I went out to the garage, but I think the pork got a little overcooked. It tasted good, but I know it should have been served 10 minutes ago. Oh well. Jesse enjoyed it and really liked the use of figs in the sauce. You will come to find out that his food pallet is just beginning to develop. He was a 43 year old bachelor when we met. He had never been married and thought Outback was at the top of the fine dining list. He has come a long way since we first met. He is always up for trying new foods, even if he has never heard of them. (fodder for another blog)

So, we figured out we must have lost power the night before when the thunderboomers sounded like they were hitting the house(perhaps one did). The outlet needed to be tripped and the power came back on to both units. However, we did lose a lot of food. The lesson we learned from this…after a big storm, check all electrical outlets, especially those connected to refrigerators and freezers.

Pork Chops with Fig and Chipotles

The spicy sweetness of the chipotle pepper blends beautifully with the figs to give a little kick to the pan gravy which is also flavored with onions, garlic, and thyme. However, you may omit the chipotle pepper if you wish. Prepare all your ingredients in advance. This goes together quickly.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
4 (about 8 ounces each) boneless pork top loin chops, 1-1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle peppers, or to taste (see Notes)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 cup minced onion
2 large cloved garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup diced fresh figs

Preparation: Place each pork loin chop between sheets of plastic wrap and pound down to a 1-inch thickness. Season with salt, pepper, and ground chipotle. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Sear pork loin chops until golden brown on each side, turning only once. Remove to a platter and keep warm. Reduce heat, add onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute an additional 1 minute. Carefully pour in red wine and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping up browned bits. Cook 1 minute, then add chicken broth, thyme, and figs. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring often and mashing the figs until the sauce is thickened. Return pork loin chops to the pan, along with any juices that have accumulated on the platter, and coat both sides with sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes. Serve pork loin chops with the fig sauce.

Yield: 4 servings Notes: Ground chipotle pepper is available in the spice aisle of most major grocery stores.

This is the site for the above recipe:

I peeled and cubed the figs.
I did not have chipotle chili powder so I used ancho chile powder.
The recipe called for boneless pork loin chops. I substituted chops on the bone(because that is what I took out of the freezer, so I adjusted the cooking time.

Please try this recipe and let me know what you think, even though it's not mine.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tomato Time

My name is Linda. I’m 48 years old and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. My love and passion is food. I am a foodie , long before it was cool! I love food. I love to cook it. I love to read about it, eat it, and watch TV about it. Now I’m blogging about it.

But my passion goes even deeper. I have been trying to complete a cookbook that I started years ago. I have updated the recipes, added new ones, deleted some, and now I need your help. I want people who love to cook (and even those that don’t) to try my recipes. I would love your feedback, both good and bad and even suggestions for taking the recipe to a new level.

Each week I will post a new recipe that I have written. Some of these have been entered into cooking contests (some have even won) and some have been published (in national magazines and local papers). I hope you will try the recipe and ask fellow cooking friends to try it, and comment back on the blog with your thoughts. I will then re-do the recipe and re-post. I will include pics of the cooking process and the final outcome.

I also want to share my favorite blogsites with you and have you share yours with me. And since we all live in various regions of the country, I would like to know what produce is currently available in your farmers markets and what you like to cook with it.

It’s tomato time in Alabama and they are everywhere. I plant 8-10 heirloom tomato plants each year. They go in the ground early April (we pray for frostfree nights) and begin to produce in mid-June. I usually lose 1-3 each year from disease or lack of water, or unknown reasons. This year I have 6 producing plants that are full of tomatoes, buds and flowers. I love it. I have cherry tomatoes, Aunt Gerdie Golds, red plums, Mr. Stripey, Mortgage Busters, black cherries and another red variety.

If you have not planted heirlooms before, you must pick them while they are almost ready to turn color and leave them on a sunny windowsill to ripen. If you leave them on the vines too long, our little garden friends will eat them. And we work too hard to have that happen. So, at any give time throughout the summer, I have a bowl of ripe tomatoes on my counter, a windowsill full of tomatoes turning, and plants ready to pop. Not to mention a tomato tart or too lingering in the frig.

So, I thought it would be appropriate to share my Tuscan Tomato bread pudding recipe with you.

Tuscan Tomato Bread Pudding

6 english muffins, halved and toasted
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup onions, diced
2 cups tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon oregano, dried
2 tablespoons basil, fresh, chopped
4 eggs
1 cup 2% milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces mozzarella, cubed

Cut each toasted English muffin half into 6 pieces and arrange them on the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Set aside.

Roast the garlic. Cut off the upper 1/3 of the garlic head (leave paper skin on garlic head) Sprinkle the cut side of the garlic head with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap tightly in foil and bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. It should be soft and tender when it’s finished. Allow it to cool for a couple of minutes, and then squeeze each clove into a small bowl, set aside.

Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute’ for 5-10 minutes, until the onions are transulent. Do not let them turn brown. Stir or shake pan a few times. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. Add onion mixture and stir to combine. Layer this on top of the toasted English muffin pieces. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and cream. Pour mixture over the tomatoes and place cubed mozzarella tucked into the top. Let stand at least 10 minutes before baking.

Allow the bread to absorb most of the liquid. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread pudding until brown and puffed, about 35-45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

*If you can not find fresh basil, substitute ¼ teaspoon dried basil. **If fresh tomatoes are not available, substitute 2 cups of canned tomatoes, drained