Archive for May 2011
Even though it’s felt like summer here since March, and even though the summer solstice is June 21, I still like think of Memorial Day festivities as the kick-off for summer. And this means it’s time for summertime salsa. This is Daniel’s specialty, and it’s different (but fabulous!) every time he makes it. There are no measurements, and the ingredients and proportions vary, usually depending on what we have around or can find at the store or market. When we first started making salsa, we followed the Pioneer Woman’s Restaurant Style Salsa recipe, and it is delightful. Daniel just can’t be encumbered with recipes, and we both agree that taste-testing as we go is way more fun than measuring ingredients. Furthermore, it’s hard to anticipate the exact heat level of peppers, so it’s always good to leave some room for seasoning at the end. And, finally, why would we use canned tomatoes and Rotel when we live in Mississippi and can have the real thing?
Daniel says the most important step in making salsa with fresh tomatoes is freezing the tomatoes first. (This requires a bit of forethought. Every time we go to the farmer’s market, we stock up on tomatoes and freeze most of them, so we’ll have them when we’re craving summertime salsa in January.) He washes them and puts several in a Ziploc bag and stows them in the freezer. Apparently, when tomatoes freeze, their cell membranes burst – and when they thaw, the water begins to come out. Once they’re at room temperature, Daniel simply punctures the skins with a knife and gently squeezes the water out. This is crucial step if you want your salsa to be more about tomatoes than water. And above all, Daniel says, do not use store-bought/hothouse tomatoes. Use canned tomatoes if you don’t have access to (or time to freeze) fresh-grown tomatoes.
Today’s salsa is comprised of farmer’s market tomatoes, cilantro, onion, garlic, and a couple of peppers from Daniel’s garden. It’s seasoned with lime juice, organic agave, cumin, a dash of sea salt, red pepper, and freshly ground black pepper and lemon pepper. He usually starts with everything but the pepper seasonings, which he’ll add in at the end (along with the agave) to achieve a balance of sweet and spicy.
When it’s time to start blending, we pull out the trusty immersion blender. (Ours is a Cuisinart Smart Stick, and it’s a lot of bang for your buck. In fact, we don’t own a food processor. We use the immersion blender for everything from salsa and hummus to smoothies.)
And then comes the best part: taste-testing to adjust and balance the seasonings. At this point, Daniel is usually focused on the heat. When the salsa is just for us, we like to make so hot it’s almost painful to eat – but we wouldn’t do that to our friends. This time, we added a little heat and a little sweet (via agave).
I’m always wanting to make the salsa hotter during taste-testing, but Daniel reminds me that when the flavors marry, the salsa almost always gets hotter (and better) on its own. So we make sure to allow at least a few hours for the flavors to work their magic before we serve the salsa.
Resource note: The serving piece above is The Good Earth Pottery in Mockingbird.
This week, Daniel and I discovered vegetarian fare in what we thought was an unlikely place: Bakers Burger Co., a local burger joint that opened awhile back. I never considered it, frankly, because I assumed there wouldn’t be vegetarian options and I don’t much care for typical fast food. When Daniel went to lunch there with his colleagues, he was pleasantly surprised to discover a vegetarian black bean burger on the menu, as well as whole wheat buns and sweet potato fries. I had to see it to believe it, so he took me to experience it for myself. I, too, was pleasantly surprised. As noted in Eat Twin Forks‘ review, the black bean burger actually has discernible tastes – unlike the shady concoctions I’ve encountered elsewhere – and is downright enjoyable. Ingredients seemed fresh, and while I think the sweet potatoes could cook a bit longer, they’re still tasty. A fun discovery, for sure. For more great vegetarian options in Hattiesburg restaurants, check out my list of favorite local vegetarian dishes.
By the way, if you’re looking for a yummy vegan black bean burger recipe, check out Chloe Coscarelli’s Mexicali Sliders with Cajun Yam fries.
I love to bake, but I’ve not ventured much into the realm of bread making. I don’t own a bread maker, and the fact that I’m terrible at gardening suggests to me that I’d be terrible at keeping a starter alive, too. Solution: beer bread. Since Daniel brews his own beer, I let him do the hard work and use the beer as my starter. It couldn’t be simpler: sifted whole wheat flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, less than a teaspoon of salt, and 12 ounces of beer. Mix it up, grease a loaf pan, dump in the batter, pour about a 1/3 cup of melted butter on top for a yummy crust, and bake for an hour at 375. With a bit of low-sugar blueberry jelly from the farmer’s market, this makes a hearty and tasty breakfast, snack, or dessert. Or lunch. Or all of the above.
Full disclosure: I am not a gardener. I love the idea of plants and gardens but am no good at nurturing them. Daniel, however, is great at it. He would live off the land as a farmer if he could, but our renter status has curtailed that dream, at least for now. That’s not to say we don’t have options here. Our landlord told us we could garden on the Walthall grounds and even offered to loan us his tiller. But since the land belongs to the neighborhood association and the soil seems a little iffy, Daniel decided to go with a modest container garden this summer.
But that’s not all the gardening we do; we have an indoor garden, too. Situated on the pony wall that divides the bedroom from the landing (and the rest of the condo, for that matter), the garden soaks up light from the 8-foot windows and provides additional privacy/screening.
And of course we enjoy the landscaping around our building and on the Walthall grounds.
Even though I’m technically a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I try to cook and eat vegan when I can. This stir-fry was adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe in his wonderful tome of a cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. (Check out his website here; he’s an omnivore, by the way.)
Grocery shopping for vegetarian and vegan cooking can be challenging in the Hatt, but there is hope: the New Yokel Market here in downtown, my source for tempeh, tofu, sundry vegan items, and organic/whole/local foods. (If only I could afford to shop exclusively there.) Consider this post my humble contribution to the movement to rescue tofu from its terrible reputation among omnivores (and, perhaps, some vegetarians). It’s all about preparation, friends.
I buy the extra-firm, organic tofu–mainly because that’s all there is to buy here. I drain off the water in the package, put it on a bed of paper towels, cover it with another layer of paper towels, and then press it with my super-fancy pressing system for at least 15 minutes. This does miracles for the texture and the likelihood of it not falling apart when I’m cooking it. Since I only cook for two, I use half of the tofu at a time. I chop it all into half-inch cubes, put half of it in a Ziploc bag, and freeze until the next tofu meal. (Bonus: freezing tofu makes it even firmer/chewier. Extra bonus: it keeps up to three months, or so I hear.)
I was working with what I had in the frig tonight, so this was a fairly simple stir-fry. I chopped a red bell pepper, a large clove of garlic (or about a tablespoon), and the caps of some local mushrooms. The other ingredients were vegetable stock, low-sodium soy sauce, olive oil, and of course the tofu. (I recently began spraying rather than pouring olive oil as a way to use less and cut back on fat. Where has my Misto been all my life?) I also seasoned with ground ginger and onion powder at the end. Fresh ginger and a real onion would be ideal, I imagine, but they weren’t too badly missed.
First, I sautéed the pepper until tender-crisp and charred on the edges. I scooped it out with a slotted spoon, set it aside, and did the same with the mushrooms–just until they were good and browned. Then I cooked the garlic (in a little puddle of oil) for a minute before adding in the tofu, which I cooked until it began to brown. I was careful with my stirring to avoid breaking the tofu. (Note: I don’t use nonstick cookware because of concerns about the possible carcinogens in the material, so I had to spritz some extra oil on the tofu and keep a close eye on it to minimize sticking. It’s sticky stuff.)
Finally, I added in a bit of vegetable stock and a dash of water and let the tofu-garlic mixture cook a bit more, until some of the liquid evaporated. I added the pepper and mushrooms back in, seasoned with soy sauce, ground ginger, and onion powder, gave it a few more stirs, and voilà.
Around here, food is doing pretty well to make it onto plates before we eat it. Table? Not usually.