Monday, August 31, 2009

Fruit of the (heir)Loom

I love tomatoes. This summer my love of tomatoes has turned into a near obsession (compared to last summer, when I had a weird acidic-mouth-burning-reaction every time I ate them, which severely limited my tomato intake). I can’t get enough of them. Sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Dolluped with mayo. Drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh basil. Sandwiched and dripping between two chewy slices of rustic bread. On a bagel with cottage cheese. In a salad with chunks of mozzarella and cubes of garlicky French bread. If it has tomato in it, I want it in my mouth.

Unfortunately, delicious tomatoes in Seattle are hard to come by. I grew up eating fresh, juicy, flavorful, sun-soaked, homegrown tomatoes straight out of the garden. Store bought tomatoes are, by comparison, like eating cardboard. Of course I could go to the farmers’ market, but this summer has proven far too busy for leisurely Sunday strolls through the market. Yeah, I could join a CSA, but I was unemployed for 2 months right at the beginning of the summer share, and couldn’t fork out the necessary dough for a bounty of fresh summer produce. I mean, sure, I could buy sweet, hearty heirloom tomatoes, but at $7.99 a pound (no joke)… in Mel’s words, that’s highway robbery. So, aside from the garden tomatoes Mel and John have given me the few times I’ve seen them this summer, I’ve been reduced to eating vegetable flavored cardboard.

But wait…vegetable flavored? Aren’t tomatoes fruit!? Yes! They are! Store bought tomatoes in Seattle, however, are so flavorless that fruit is ashamed to claim them, making the tomato one very confused vine-dweller. It isn’t until you bite into a juicy, sweet, homegrown or heirloom tomato that you realize why they call it a fruit. Recently, I was having good-tomato withdrawal, and decided to take advantage of a “sale” on heirlooms ($4.99/lb), and put the tomato-as-a-fruit conundrum to the test.

Using heirloom tomatoes and that other fruit-that’s-confused-as-a-vegetable, avocados, I made a delicious summery fruit salad—one where tomatoes can truly call themselves fruit, without the ridicule and torment of their adversaries.

With the tart-sweet bite of the stone fruits, the acidic tang of the grapefruit and orange, the deep sugary richness of the cherries, and the sweet but not-too-sweet flavor of the tomatoes and avocados, fruits and vegetables-come-fruits melded together to create a perfect union. I ate this salad immediately after tossing, a few hours later, and the next day, and it was fantastic every time.

Tomato and Avocado Fruit Salad
(Serves 2 as a full meal, 4-6 as a side)

2 large nectarines
1 large pink grapefruit (remove peel and seeds)
2 large heirloom tomatoes, any variety
1 large avocado
1 ½ cup of pitted, halved cherries (use a dark, sweet variety, like bing)
1 large navel orange (remove peel and seeds)
1-2 plums

Cut fruit into large chunks, and toss together with their juices. Enjoy salad on its own, topped with yogurt (honey flavored Greek, if you can find it), or, as I did the next day, on a whole wheat bagel with a schmear of cream cheese and a drizzle honey.

Watch out apples… tomatoes might just be the new ‘it’ fruit!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Movin' On Up

I apologize for my August-absence! I have barely had a chance to eat anywhere special, or even pick up a kitchen knife. I have, however, made a few tasty treats… which will be coming up on here soon… once things settle down! There’s been a lot going on, and I suppose now’s the time to let you in on the juicy details, so you don’t think just up and abandoned you… (and so you don’t up and abandon me!)

Evan and I entered into cohabitation. That’s right… we moved in together! After 5 years of dating, we finally took that plunge! This month has been insane with apartment hunting, packing, cleaning, packing, moving… I’ve been a bit of a nut-case, and have had zero time to dedicate to anything beyond work and moving… not to mention I have had no access to internet!

We are finally moved in, but are still living out of boxes. The new place has a balcony (yay!) sunlight (yay!) two bedrooms (yay!), A LOT MORE COUNTER SPACE, and newer kitchen appliances (including a dishwasher)! Did I ever mention that when I was cooking up all those delicious meals before… it was sans dishwasher...?

I still have a few more crazy weeks coming up… visiting the ‘rents this weekend, labor day camping next weekend, Brit’s bachelorette the following weekend, and her wedding the one after…but once things settle down I’ll be doing more cooking, writing, and photo-snappin’ than ever before. I even hope to host a few dinner parties in the roomier new abode!

And since I haven’t posted in so long, here’s a little something to keep you interested: happy hour at Ocho with David and Megan, which included an amazing drink that was garnished with a beet skewered on a rosemary sprig, spicy garlic prawns, Patatas Bravas (spicy potatos), Croquetas Borrachas (fried goat cheese), Banderilla de BoquerĂ³n (anchovy, roasted red pepper, and fried artichoke), and juicy gossip with fun friends. See ya soon!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Oma is Better than Yours

When you have an Oma, you have no choice but to be crazy about food and cooking. Amanda and I got our food-frenzy from our parents, and John most certainly got it from his parents- my Oma and Opa.

Oma and Opa (my Yugoslavian grandparents...from back when there was a Yugoslavia) came to the good ol’ US of A in the early 50’s, with the twins Walter and Ernie in tow, and lil’ Johnny just a bun in the oven. Having survived the war, Oma and Opa spoke no English, had little money, and set out to achieve the American Dream. They ended up in southern California (Hemet, to be exact) where they started an egg ranch. From raising chickens and selling eggs for a living, to making homemade sausages, liquor, goulash, paprikash, spaetzel, schnitzel, and strudel for their growing family, Oma and Opa had a love affair with food from get-go, and passed it directly to their boys- who have taken turns working in restaurants and butcher shops, and who all have fantastic gardens and palates.

Growing up, Amanda and I experienced these delicious traditions through Oma’s Christmas boxes (Oma cookies will kick the butt of your American Grandma cookies any day). Filled to the brim with homemade Christmas cookies (nutty crescents, jam filled butter cookies, sugar cookies with a lemony icing) and thick, heavy strudels with flaky sweet dough (a walnut/rum/raisin, and a gooey-amazing poppy seed) the arrival of these gift baskets meant Christmas had truly arrived. Growing up we didn’t always have the means to make trips to Southern California from Washington, so Oma’s Christmas cookies were the next best thing.

In the summer of 2002, Amanda and I visited Oma and Opa for the first time in about 7years (for the first time as adults), and were greeted with the best of all greetings- a ham hot from the oven with homemade horseradish and fresh juicy garden tomatoes, hot cabbage rolls in flaky wonton type wrappers-still dripping from the fry pan (just a snack, Oma says), and crispy yet moist homemade ‘fryin chicken’ (just an appetizer, Oma says). During that visit, we ate until we could barely move, played more games of dominoes than I can count, marveled at old black and white photos of Oma and Opa in Europe in the 40s and 50s, and snuck into the Orange groves with Opa, where he proceeded to climb trees and toss oranges to us. Opa passed away later that summer, and we have never forgotten how special that trip was, or how happy we were to have spent that time with him. Since then, the four of us (John, Mel, Amanda and I) have made sure to visit more often… which we just did.

Last weekend the fam flew down to Hemet. Our trip started, as most Oma visits do, with a hot freshly baked ham (even in 100 degree Southern Californian August), made into sandwiches on rolls slathered with horseradish and piled high with Uncle Walter’s juicy sweet tomatoes. We dined on ham sandwiches morning, noon, and night, in addition to sticky buns, cookies, pork chops, pasta salads, chicken & rice, burgers, and potatoes. Halfway through our trip, Oma pulled a tray of cabbage rolls from the fridge… all rolled up and ready to fry. We devoured those in seconds.

On our final morning at Oma’s, Amanda and I got a lesson in Oma Cookery. Oma’s “fryin’ chicken” is somewhat of a legend. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, really, just basic fried chicken, but Mel, try as she might, has never been able to recreate the golden fried deliciousness of Oma’s chicken. Amanda and I donned our European style aprons and got to work, frying chicken with our Oma. You can try to recreate Oma's chicken, but it probably won't be the same if you don't actually make it with an Oma.

Oma’s Fryin’ Chicken:

Step 1: Combine 2 granddaughters and 1 Oma
Step 2: Button up your Euro-style aprons
Step 3: Have Uncle Walter or Uncle Ernie de-bone the chicken breasts and slice them thinly
Step 4: Arrange said chicken breasts in kitchen sink and pat dry- sprinkle first with seasoning salt, then with salt & pepper- rub.
Step 5: Whisk 'a little bit' of milk with eggs in a bowl, mix 50/50 Italian bread crumbs and plain in a flat dish, fill another flat dish with flour.
Step 6: Dip chicken breasts in flour, egg, breadcrumbs- repeat with all pieces. NOTE: gently pat breadcrumbs into chicken… do not flatten with your fist.
Step 7: Pour vegetable oil into electric skillet circa 1962 (they just don’t make them like they used to). Heat to about 467 degrees.

Step 8: Add chicken pieces to oil, turning once after a minute or two.
Step 9: Drain on paper towels.
Step 10: Eat as much as you can possibly stuff in your overly full belly, then pack the rest for the plane ride.
Step 11: Hug Oma, kiss Oma on the cheek, devour chicken, repeat.

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