Author Archives: exangel

Chicken Pot Pie Without the Pie

I hate waste. Hate, hate, hate it. I trust that’s clear? It has made me crazy since I was a small child at how much STUFF we throw away, unused…not just ‘stuff’, not even just usable ‘stuff’, but stuff that actually can make your life better if you treat it with respect. If I treat it with respect.

Case in point: the bones of a chicken. From any chicken dish: roasted, braised, sautéed, anything where the main event is the chicken meat, not the sauce around it. If the sauce is the main point, then presumably it has been greatly enlivened by the presence of the bones…which means dem bones didn’t go to waste. But…

Take your roast chicken. I personally love roast chicken. In all modesty, I must say I make a great roast chicken—brined with lots of garlic, then roasted to a juicy turn with a crispy skin. When I make a roast chicken, married as I am to a vegetarian, I get quite a few meals for myself out of it. A leg and a thigh for the first dinner, usually with lots of carrots roasted on the side. A cold leg and thigh for lunch the next day. A wing (or two) for a snack. The breast meat stripped off the bones, and either shredded and made into a chicken salad with cilantro and scallions (my favorite chicken salad, worth two meals wrapped in tortillas), or, my current favorite, chicken in a béchamel sauce. With peas.

“What do you use that for?” the very nice grocery clerk asked me yesterday, after she directed me to where the Wondra flour was found. Wondra flour being an especially finely milled kind of flour that immediately thickens a sauce without making it taste floury…and it never lumps. “For sauces,” I said. She looked puzzled. “What kind of sauces?” “Gravy,” I suggested, realizing what we had here was a difference in terminology.

Her brow cleared. “Ohhhhh. Gravy. I see.” Because really, a béchamel sauce is just Protestant gravy, under another name. White sauce. Veloute. It’s all just gravy.

And what gravy!

So what I do is, as I eat that roast chicken, I keep the bones. If I’m going to make chicken a la béchamel, I strip off the breast meat in large chunks and add it to a buttered casserole dish. Refrigerate while I make the broth. When I’ve got the bones all stripped of meat, I add them, what giblets and neck had been with the chicken originally, a scrubbed carrot, a scrubbed piece of celery, some sprigs of parsley, a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves, a slice of onion, some peppercorns, and a bay leaf, putting them all in a big pot, and cover them with water. I bring that to a boil and let it simmer until I can taste CHICKEN BROTH. And yes, there you have it. Chicken broth. Chicken broth that costs you a small fortune to buy, there it is, in the bones of your roast chicken. (Warning—and I will repeat this—torture chickens, of the kind made into supermarket rotisserie birds, born and bred in unspeakably awful and confining circumstances, will not provide bones that will make anything but pallid tasting water. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Try to make chicken broth from a torture chicken’s carcass. Then try with one from an organic bird. Hah. There. You see? Evidence of your own taste buds.)

Once you have that broth, you can make your béchamel, or veloute, or gravy, or sauce, or whatever you want to call it—I’m not fussy about names, what I’m fussy about is taste. Essentially the same as how you make a cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, except a.) you don’t use cheese, and b.) you can use half milk, half chicken broth…or whatever mix appeals to you that day. In other words, for a whole chicken breast: sauté four tablespoons of butter and four tablespoons of flour (I like to use Wondra, but it’s not necessary, just cook a little longer if you use regular flour). Add 2 cups of milk and or/chicken broth in whatever proportions you feel like that day. Half and half is nice. Simmer until it tastes good, about fifteen minutes for Wondra, and forty for regular flour. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a slug of sherry if you have it, and a glug of cream.

Now…mix with the chicken breast pieces in that buttered casserole. Add a handful of frozen peas, if you like. You can add some diced cooked carrot, though I usually don’t. Top with something crunchy. I use a mix of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, but you can use toasted sliced almonds, toasted pecan pieces—you get the idea.

Bake at 350 degrees until bubbling and browned along the edges.

There you have it. The most wonderful chicken breast dish in the world (and I am usually not a fan of chicken breast). It’s great reheated the next day, and even the day after that.

Here’s another secret: it’s actually chicken pot pie without the pie.

 So much of life is making these connections, isn’t it? And then murmuring, “Eureka!” as you dig in to yet another reason that life is very worth living.

\(At the risk of being boring, let me repeat: save all the bones from your various meat meals in a bag in the freezer, and when you have enough, make a broth. Freeze that and use, oh, for all sorts of yummy things. But don’t bother using non-organic bones. Not for health reasons, though doubtless there’s something in that. Simply for taste. An animal that was raised in a factory will not taste the same as an animal that was raised on a farm. Guaranteed.)

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On Husbands, Farmers Markets, Serendipity, and Red Peppers.

My husband, bless him, loves to go to the Grower’s Market.

This was not the kind of thing I expected when I fell in love with him. Mind you, this was the kind of thing I wistfully dreamed about. But not what I thought of in relation to the Dear Husband…dear as he was and is.

But once again, damned if Fate doesn’t have surprises in store for the unwary. Fate and the surprising husband. He went to the market from time to time with me, mainly to hold the bag as it filled up with my various buys. True, he didn’t look bored, but it never occurred to me he might want to take my place.

I blame the turnip omelet. Turnip omelets can only be made successfully (and what a success!) with early spring turnips, those little white ones with the perky pale green tops. Alex loves the turnip omelets I make, particularly when I make them with fresh marjoram.

So there was this month where I was just too busy to go to the Grower’s Market. There must have been a husbandly longing for said turnip omelet. Because by Goddess, if he didn’t offer to go. Offer and come back with bags bulging with all manner of vegetable and fruit options. Mainly three—THREE!—bunches of turnips. And two marjoram plants.

After that it became (the way these things do) his job to do the Grower’s Market marketing. He would ask me what I wanted, but neither of us took that list very seriously. For one thing, you can’t predict what there will be at the market. Part of the pleasure. And another part of the pleasure is to let the buyer follow his heart.

It turned out that for me, a large part of the pleasure was seeing where his heart led him.

I had a great deal of fun looking through the bags he brought home, trying to decide what to cook with all the miscellaneous and unexpected bounty.

And it was unexpected and miscellaneous.

There was the time he brought two huge bunches of parsley (tabbouleh salad). The time he brought three bunches of carrots even though we had five pounds of them in the fridge (carrots baked in cream, leftovers into soup, carrot tops chopped and added to dog stodge). Five pounds of onions (goat cheese and onion puff pastry tart). Six enormous yellow squash (squash frittata, ratatouille). Five mashed peaches (“I thought I put them on the top of the bag,” —quick jam to fill another puff pastry tart).

This week: a pound bag of jalapenos (chile relish); another bag filled with chile peppers (rajas to be eaten with tortillas), and an enormous bag of the most enormous red bell peppers I have ever ever seen.

There must have been at least ten of them. Each and every one the size of a baby’s head.

Now here was a challenge.


What on earth was I going to do with ten red bell peppers?

The obvious starting point is to char them and peel, storing them in their own juice mixed with a little olive oil, some sliced garlic and a couple of red pepper pods. Do you ever do this? It’s the best way to store peppers of any kind; generally I do this with green bell peppers.

A bit messy, but worth it in the long run. You can just stick them all on a foil lined cookie sheet and put in a hot 450 degree oven, turning them as they blacken, or do the same but under the broiler. OR you can do what I did, which is turn the stove top grating over on the burners so they can cradle the peppers, turn on the burners and, using tongs, carefully turn the peppers till their skin is blackened.

Then toss them into a deep bowl (this can be a paper bag, but trust me, ten peppers is too much for any known paper bag), cover with a plate, and let them steam their skins loose.

When they’re cool enough to handle, push the skin off. (Don’t worry if you leave some black bits behind; they’re actually kind of aesthetic, and they add taste.) Do what Mexican cooks picturesquely call ‘castrating the chile’, which is just the way it sounds: pull the top off and deseed. As you do all this, try to collect the juice in a clean bowl, the one where you plan to store your peppers.

By the time you’ve finished with all your peppers, if you had ten like mine, you’ll probably have a lot of juice. But if you’re going to keep them (and if you’ve just made ten roasted peppers and there are only two of you in the household, this is probably what you are going to do), you want to add some olive oil, probably about a quarter cup. Sliced garlic cloves are nice. Red pepper pods too. Cover and refrigerate.

Now: you have your roasted peppers. What do you do with them?

Ah, roasted red peppers. The luxury of roasted red peppers. Let me count the ways:


–a roasted pepper sandwich is particularly nice lined with some thin sliced white onion atop a garlic mayonnaise, with a few leaves of arugula thrown in

–a roasted pepper pizza is tasty, particularly when the crust has been spread with pesto sauce and the peppers are topped with some grated jack cheese

–a ratatouille made with onions and tomatoes and zucchini is delicious with squares of roasted red pepper thrown in.

–a salad of roasted pepper strips mixed with capers, whole anchovies, and chopped Kalamata olives, tossed with a squeeze of lemon juice, is really superior


But best of all is probably Roasted Red Pepper Puree, which goes on such a variety of things I can hardly stop thinking about it: on top of humuus. On top of crackers. On top of slabs of feta. Mixed in a soup.

Here’s the nice way we had it, though. I had some pesto leftover from an exuberant basil harvest. And I was tired coming home from a day of errand running. So I cooked up some linguine, tossed it with the pesto, topped it with chilled red pepper puree, topped that generously with grated Parmesan, and served it forth.

To hear the husband, it was as if I’d spent all day in the kitchen just to make him something resembling food of the gods for his supper.

I effusively thanked him for the effusive thanks. Then reminded him from whence the red peppers had sprung. Which made him quietly pleased, which, along with being well fed, is not a bad state to have a husband in, any day of the week.



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Cold Soup (yes! that’s right! COLD SOUP).

It’s 104 degrees outside, and you feel like a wilted bunch of parsley. How to revive? How to unshrivel? How to nourish? Two words: cold soup. Yes, that’s right. Liquid refreshment that surges through the system and reminds the body that there is more to life than sitting listlessly in a darkened room. And there are so many delights to be had in the cold soup category. Gazpacho, essentially a tomato/cucumber/herb liquid salad waiting to add its Spanish verve to your day. Potato/onion/sorrel soup, what could be easier?: cook diced potatoes and onions in water till they’re falling apart, add shredded sorrel (or shredded watercress, or shredded spinach), cook till that’s done, salt/pepper, turn off the heat, add a dollop of cream, either blend or don’t, up to you, and chill…some minced chives on top before you serve. Yum.

But today I’m going to share an even easier version, one that everyone loves. You’ll thank me for this. Iced Tomato Soup. The perfect picnic soup. The perfect use, indeed perhaps the only use, for that can of condensed tomato soup lurking in your pantry. (Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup: Cue the “Lassie” theme song and admit your age if you get the reference.) Here’s how: Take a can of the above named soup. Dump in blender or Cuisinart. Add a can of whole plain yoghurt (Greek is best), sour cream, or a mix. A bit of grated onion or some chopped scallion. A branch of marjoram or basil is nice. A grind of pepper. Add two or three ICE CUBES. Hit the ‘blend’ button. Either serve immediately, or put in the refrigerator or a thermos to keep cold till needed. Voilà! Sip dreamily and feel spirit and body revive. There. You’re welcome.

Happy summer.


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Glamorous Camping Food OR The Day The Husband Debearded Mussels

You who know me know also that I do all the cooking in our household. That, in fact, I am even a tad nuts on the subject of not letting anyone else cook in my kitchen. This quirk led me to hardly notice that the Dear Husband’s main function around mealtime was to greatly admire and enjoy whatever was on his plate. And then, of course, doing the dishes after the eating was done.

But I did always have a slightly uneasy feeling that this was not a well-balanced state of affairs. After all, we’ve now been together as a couple for about a quarter of a century. That’s a lot of meals. I had a blast preparing them. But…but what would the Dear Husband do when I wasn’t around to prepare?

The answer over the last twenty-five years: Cheese and salsa sandwiches, with raw carrots on the side.

I did worry a little bit about his being apart from me and subsisting on his inevitable cheese and etc. So the other night when I hauled myself home from a day in town, and unpacked the groceries, to my delight, I found him watching intently.

“What are you cooking tonight?”

“Mussels. For some reason they were marked down. But I had a chat with the butcher, and we couldn’t figure out why—they’re all alive.”

“Do they have to be alive?”

“Oh yeah.”

“How can you tell?”

“If they shut up when you squeeze them. If they’re shut already (but if they don’t open when you cook them, those ones are dead, too). If they’re not cracked.”

“Okay. So what I want to know is: could they be cooked in one pot? Like if I went camping?”

I looked at him in astonishment. Was my Dear Husband actually asking me to teach him to cook mussels on a CAMPFIRE? Oh my. I breathed in and tried not to look as astonished as I felt. Or as proud. If this was what was happening, I felt my success as a wife was complete.

“Are you…are you asking me to teach you to cook things you could do while you’re camping?”

“Well. Yeah. I get kind of tired of cheese sandwiches.”

Oh. Oh. YES! (Silent high five between my spirit and myself.)

Hold back the enthusiasm, Tod. Go easy here. You don’t want to scare him.

“You know, I think that’s a great idea. If you were in a place where they had mussels on sale, they’re a great camp dinner choice. They’re easy, they’re inexpensive, they’re delicious, and you don’t even need a fork to eat them.”

“I don’t?”

“You use the shells. I’ll show you when we sit down with the finished product. But first…”

First. Here’s how to cook mussels in one pot, on the stove or…over a campfire.

Buy your mussels. About a pound is good for one hungry camper. Make sure the store has punched holes in the cellophane if the mussels are wrapped. You don’t want them smothering to death before it’s their time.

Now. Back at the campsite. If it’s easy, fill a bowl with some water and salt. Add the mussels to soak. You can use the bowl to eat them out of later. If it’s not easy, it’s not going to kill you this once to eat mussels that haven’t been rinsed off.

Chop some garlic, and some kind of onion (shallot, white, red, scallion), any kind you like. Add to the pot, in a puddle of some kind of fat (butter, oil, bacon fat, your choice). Cook on low heat until soft. If you have any spices with you that you like, you can add those now. Chile powder is a good camping spice. Smoked paprika. I like to add curry powder myself. Just a small shake is good. Or a sprinkling of thyme is nice.

If you don’t have any fat, no worries. Move on to the next instruction, and add all the above ingredients to the liquid. It will be marginally less toothsome, but this is camping, for God’s sake.

If you DO have fat, cook the above a bit more till slushy. Now add a quarter cup (I mean a quarter cup of whatever you’re drinking out of; no need to get pedantic here) of some kind of liquid. Beer. Wine. Tomato juice. Veggie broth. V-8. Clam juice. Whatever you have on hand. Cook for a moment more.

While that is happening, debeard your mussels. This is simple. Drain the mussels. Then just pull the beard off them and toss the cleaned mussels into the pot. If you can, turn the heat up a bit, but no worries if you’re only on one kind of heat.

Cover the pot. Shake it from time to time to help the shellfish cook evenly. If you have any parsley or cilantro on you, now is the time to chop.

Open the lid cautiously. Are the mussels all open? (If almost all are WIDE open, but one or two aren’t, discard the unopened ones without eating. But be careful—sometimes a mussel is more stubborn than its fellows, and those tend to be the most delicious of all.) IF they are, take the pot off the heat, scatter the parsley if you have it, pour them into your bowl, and have at it, preferably with a bit of bread or tortilla to mop up the juice.

If you don’t have bread or a tortilla, just lift the bowl and drink the juice down straight. After all, if you can’t behave like that when you’re camping, what’s the point of camping at all?

And—as I showed the Dear Husband at dinner that night—you can use the shells themselves as little tongs to pull the mussels out of their shells, conveying them mouthward.

Really. Mussels are ideal camping food. And I never would have known if he hadn’t thought of it. Which is why we’re a great team. Now I have to plot what to teach him next…scrambled eggs with smoked salmon is what I’m thinking, hhhhhmmmmm…







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The Blessing of Roast Chicken.

It’s the time of year for counting one’s blessings, and I have been having a great time with that. Unsurprisingly, an awful lot of my blessings have to do with food. Creamed spinach. Persimmons. Green peas and butter. Salad with walnuts and blue cheese. Oysters…I could go on.

And of all the blessings that make it worthwhile being a human born into this body of limitations and inevitable suffering mixed with joy, one of the greatest is Roast Chicken.

My roast chicken.

My roast chicken is simply the best, having been honed to perfection over years of tinkering. Tinkering and then eating. So you can trust me on this one.

I used to think Nigel Slater’s was the best. Simple. You just slathered a load of butter on a good organic bird, salt and pepper, maybe shove a garlic clove or two into the cavity, then roast it at 400 degrees until done, still a tiny bit rose colored at the joints, and gilded brown all over.

That’s a pretty good recipe, to tell the truth.

But then I discovered BRINE.

The brined roast chicken. If you are into roast chicken (and I think we know by now I’m into them, yes?), this is the recipe for you.

Here’s how:

First…and most important…the bird. It should be organic, and the best quality you can get. No, really, I’m not kidding. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is not just so you don’t have to push out of your imagination the torture some poor Arkansas bred creature went through to get broasted at Costco with so much paprika and cayenne that you can’t taste the fact that the bird itself is, well, tasteless. This is not just for hippie idealistic reasons (although, momentary commercial interlude, THE HIPPIES WERE RIGHT, okay? live with it). This is because most nonorganic birds have by now been so badly treated by techniques of mass production that they have just about no flavor. If we are going to eat meat, we need to understand that the higher morality is the higher practicality. In this as in so many other things.

Okay, now you have your bird. Take a brief moment to mourn the days when it would come stuffed with its own neck, giblets and liver, all of which come in very handy in the Good Eating Stakes. But never mind. We’ll get a good chicken broth out of the bones at the end, which is one of the advantages of roasting your own good chicken. (This is impossible with a supermarket rotisserie chicken. Take my word for it.)

Now you brine the bird. This may seem like a lot of hoopla, but there are times when hoopla adds so much to your quality of life that it cannot be avoided. This is one of those times.

Say you have a bird that’s about three to five pounds, the usual size you find in the market. For a good brine, it should soak about three hours. You can do more if you like a brine-ier bird (which I do). Not more than six hours, though—too salty at that point. (And if I say it’s too salty, believe me…)

Here’s how you make the divine brine:


1 ½ cups of salt (just table is fine) with

1 ½ cups of sugar (here, if anywhere, is the proper use for white) in

A gallon of water (or as much as it will take to cover the bird)

Crush into the liquid a handful of BAY LEAVES (as many or as few as you can spare)

Squash a head or two (two is better) of garlic and add the cloves, even with the skin still clinging to them as all we want is the flavor, you’re not going to eat them (this is a very important step, it adds a dimension to the chicken that is way out)

Now submerge your bird. Refrigerate. From time to time, turn the bird over in the brine. Don’t fuss about this—just when you think of it is fine. And if you don’t think of it, that’s fine, too.

An hour and a half or so before you want to eat the bird, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you want, do what I do: plan to cook the bird in a ridged cast iron pan, in which case, put the pan in the preheating oven to preheat itself.

While all this is going on, drain the bird (garlic cloves and bay leaves can go happily on the compost), dry it off with paper towels, inside and out. If you’re not going to use the cast iron option, put the bird breast down on a rack in a roasting pan.

When the oven is hot (and so is your ridged cast iron pan, if you’re with me on this one), add the bird breast side down. It’s going to take about an hour to cook, but I like to leave it upside down for the first twenty minutes.

After twenty minutes, turn it right side up. NO NEED TO BASTE! Really! I’m not kidding! The brine does something magic to the chicken so you don’t have to bother.

Roast for about forty more minutes, though I would check it at thirty. If you have an instant read thermometer (and really, you should, really you SHOULD), the dark meat joint, where the thigh attaches to the bird, should read a little under 180 degrees when it’s done to my idea of perfection. You’ll have your own ideas, of course.

Take the bird out, let it sit (under a tent of foil if you must, but I usually just leave it out so the crispy skin stays that way) for five or ten or fifteen minutes. Then carve.

Then eat. Then oooh. Then aaahhh.

And if you’ve roasted a few carrots, perhaps even a few potatoes, in the same oven, have them on the side. By the way, I generally serve my portion on top of shredded lettuce, with a little wedge of lemon for possible squeezing.

This is truly the Greatest Roast Chicken in the world. And here’s the other advantage it has over those Costco rotisserie chickens: as you eat, throw the bones into a pot with a scrubbed carrot, a bit of celery and parsley if you have them, a couple of garlic cloves, a bay leaf, and a peppercorn or two. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer. As you eat the chicken, add the bones to the soup. Or save all the bones in a bag in the freezer and make the soup later. Either way, simmer everything together until it smells beautifully like chicken broth (at least an hour, but more won’t hurt), and then cool, drain, use or freeze. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that brined birds can’t make good broth. I don’t know where they got that idea. From some unsalted galaxy far far away, no doubt.

Happy eating. And a happy, happy, happy new year to all. Safety, warmth, creativity, and good food for all.


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In Praise of the Tomato.

The Tomato is a wonderful thing.

Few foodstuffs are more wonderful. There are unlimited vistas to meals as you, the Cook, contemplate the beautiful round vegetable. (Okay, yes, I know, it’s technically a fruit. So sue me.) It goes with just about anything around, with the small exception of sugar. (Which is why I refuse to call it a fruit.) And even that—high falutin’ chefs have been known to make tomato desserts, but we just have to avert our eyes and courteously pretend we haven’t noticed. The noble Tomato has charms enough without being tarted up and led down the garden path of sweets.

Now I want to praise then noble Tomato.

Let me count the ways in which it can be (and is) prepared. Ah, tomatoes! They are wonderful raw: sliced thinly, scattered with herbs (marjoram, thyme, or torn basil…yum), perhaps a bit of sweet raw garlic, shallots, green onions…or sliced onions, white, yellow, red, or purple, lain on top…and then a little salt, preferably the flaky stuff. Sometimes a good grind of black pepper. And then the final anointing, depending on the sweetness or lack thereof of the basic tomato: olive oil alone. Olive oil followed by a squeeze of lemon or lime over the whole lot. Olive oil followed by a shaking of any one of a number of delicious vinegars. Or, if the tomatoes absolutely seem to demand it—and listen to them, as you get to know them, you will get to understand their needs—just a spoonful or two of sweet balsamic vinegar whooshed atop. Leave the tomatoes to marinate in that last. Spoon the vinegar over them from time to time as you wander past the platter. And then…enjoy.

Chop them up this way, add to them some chopped cucumber, a little minced hot pepper, some sliced sweet onion and mashed garlic, a bunch of minced herbs, and a little water or tomato juice to taste…and there it is, like Spanish magic, GAZPACHO.

As for the cooked tomato. I would scarcely have the room here or the time to list all the ways. You’ll have your favorites. Pasta sauce, of course, but in how many delicious variations! With garlic sautéed and then removed from olive oil before adding the tomatoes…and these last can be raw or canned. Canned tomatoes are probably one of mankind’s most profound inventions. They certainly have provided more definite happiness for humankind than just about anything else with the exception of indoor plumbing and modern dentistry. Canned tomatoes make me purr in the winter months. I make sauces, as above. Add a red pepper pod from time to time. Raw garlic chopped and added at the last moment. Anchovies melted into a mix of butter and olive oil before they’re added. This reminds me…raw tomatoes are great mixed at the last minute with a melting of said anchovies, chopped garlic, minced capers, chopped green onion and olives into said olive oil and butter. Add to linguine, toss with handfuls of green herbs. Parsley is nice. Parsley, come to think of it, is always nice with tomatoes.

But wait, I got off the subject of cooked tomatoes: Tomato/Onion/Garlic/Greens/Potato hash! Tomato sauce heated with whole eggs poached atop. Tomatoes and chilies cooked down to a sauce to top fried tortillas and a fried egg. A little cheese never hurts this one. Stuffed tomatoes!

Tomato soup!

And then, the stews and soups that hang their heads with pallid shame without their friend the tomato. But add them and wonder. Beef stew! Mushroom stew! Vegetable soup! Ratatouille!

Roasted vegetables!

Which brings me to the single most useful tomato recipe I have to offer. So useful, in fact, and so cherished in my own home, that it has featured in BOTH “Jam Today” cookbooks. Because I know some of the more informed, tomato-wise, of you are out there making mournful tsk-tsk noises, and wondering why I’m bringing all of this up, all of this about the Wonder of the Tomato, just right at the painful moment for tomato lovers everywhere when the beautiful, perfectly ripe, marvelously flavorful tomato of the summer/fall season is just about to disappear from gardens and markets everywhere. Leaving…what? The relatively pallid, some would even say hockey-puckesque hothouse tomatoes, or those transported from such far away climes that necessity dictated their being picked about a half a century too early for proper flavor.

But wait! There is hope (there is always hope). Because what you need now is a good recipe for OVEN DRIED ORGANIC ROMA TOMATOES.

(I should have mentioned that ‘organic’ thing sooner. Believe me, the kind of pesticides you find soaked all the way through your average store-bought tomato are nothing you want anywhere near the bodies of yourself or your loved ones. Not to mention near the bodies of the poor overworked souls who had to stoop to pick them, breathing in all those horrible fumes. I think the less we encourage the growth of nonorganic tomatoes, the better for everyone.)

Back to the recipe. I find you can get rather well priced organic Roma tomatoes, imported probably from Mexico, even in the depth of winter. All that’s needed to relieve them of their miserable cottony, untomatoey taste is a good long bout in a very slow oven. You want them cooked to the point where they are flexible, not dried out, but without any liquid remaining to go moldy on you later. Then they are extraordinarily sweet, and last an amazing amount of time in a covered bowl in your refrigerator, ready to be taken out and used in any number of ways: in salads, in soups, in stews, or even just mashed up and spread on a good slice of bread.

This is how:

Take as many Roma tomatoes as you want and split in half, leaving them connected a bit in the middle. Cover as many cookie sheets as you need to hold the tomatoes involved, and as your oven can stand, with foil. Put tomatoes on foil. Sprinkle with salt—coarse is my favorite here. Now you can either spoon a little olive oil over each one, or leave them plain. The first way makes a more unctuous dried tomato (you’ll probably never go back), but the real advantage is the olive oil helps them last longer in the refrigerator. However, if you’re dieting, or you want to use them right away and don’t want the oil, for whatever strategic reason, no worries, just leave it off.

Now put them the tomatoes the oven at a very low temperature, 200 or 250 degrees. You can leave them like that all night. In fact, all night is a very good amount of time. You’ll wake to the smell of deep red tomato (yes, it’s true, you can smell the color, at least I always think I can). Of course, they don’t NEED to be in all night, just a good four to eight hours…so for the latter amount of time, the lower oven temperature of course. Once they’re done to your liking (remember: flexible, chewy, not dried out and crackly), take them out, pile them in a bowl, cover, put in your refrigerator, and feel happy, once again, to have a supply laid-in of tomato goodness.

Then silently thank the tomato and the force that made it.

The Wonder of the Tomato. Whoever invented the tomato certainly knew one or two things about the joy of everyday life.




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There’s No Place Like Home.

I firmly believe that everyone has a home, a place where they feel they belong—and if they don’t have such a place, they should, they need one. Where I feel at home won’t be the same as where you do, nor should it. Just think how crowded if we all felt the same way! Having a home that you know and love is just about the best thing a human being can earn, after a partner and a family and some kind of work that brings out the best in you.

So when I count my blessings, I start (after my partner and my family and my work that I find absorbing day after day) with my home. I’ve lived in many different places over the years, many different countries, many different towns, many different kinds of places…but home has stayed the same for a good long part of my life. And that is the Pacific Northwest, or as some of us fondly refer to it, Cascadia.

When I came home this time, after years of commuting back and forth hundreds of miles to an undeniably lovely and hospitable spot whose only defect was that it wasn’t home, I felt as if my feet were more firmly on the ground than they’d been in years. I could breathe again. I could hear stories of new possibilities in the wind through the trees. (That last is no hyperbole by the way, just simple fact. Try it, next time you find yourself alone in a wood.) I set out, delighted, to reconnect with my neighbors. And to connect with neighbors I had yet to meet.

One of these connections which I delightedly made was with the food editor of our local newspaper, the Medford Mail Tribune. I’d idly read her posts on and off from far away, and thought with a touch of homesickness, of how she was foraging in my home markets. I noticed when she foraged, she found similar opportunities to the ones I would have seized upon myself. Her recipes, in short, showed we had a lot in common.

This had happened a few times before. When Gourmet magazine was still going, I used to clip a recipe or two out of every issue. One day I noticed that every single recipe I clipped—every single one—was by the same food editor. So I sent her a copy of Jam Today, and now, you know, we are very good friends. We meet up every time I’m in New York, and indulge together in a mutual love of garlic laden Chinese food. We never stop talking the whole time. Mostly about food. But about a lot of other, related, things as well. Because the people I have the most in common with know that food is just one of the ways, albeit one of the most important ways, that we have of expressing the fact that we are human. And that we are human together.

Remembering this, I sent the food editor of the Mail Tribune a copy of Jam Today Too. And sure enough, it turns out we do have shared food values—and maybe even more. For example, take frittata. Anyone who knows me, knows I love a good egg dish. They’re all over the Jam Today series, all over. And honestly, I thought I knew every single egg dish there was on offer. But here, today (June 22), in this blog post by Sarah Lemon (and if that isn’t a great name for a food editor, I don’t know what is), is an egg dish I have not only never heard of but am dying to try. How often does that happen, I ask you.

Mashed potatoes, herbs, and eggs. ‘Fresh Herb Kuku’ it’s called. Yes, indeed, I am going to make this one pronto. And if I’m going to gild the lily (which I suspect I am), I may add a bowl of garlic mayonnaise, aka aioli, to the table to be dipped into at will and used to anoint said frittata. I think that would be very nice indeed. And then maybe I’ll use a trick I discovered about how to easily make a salad on the side. I’ve mentioned this in both the Jam Todays, I think. First you make your garlic mayonnaise in a food processor, then scrape it out into a bowl. But wait! There’s still lots of the unctuous stuff clinging to the sides of the processor bowl, not to mention the blades. Don’t worry, there will be no waste (and there probably wouldn’t be if you have someone in house who wants to lick the bowl, either…but that is a slightly more dangerous option, those food processor blades being sharp as they are).

What I used to religiously do was add chunks of cabbage to the bowl, and then process. It turned out there was just enough aioli clinging to the sides to mix with the cabbage to make a fresh tasting salad for the side of whatever else I had going.

Then the other night, I made an aioli to go with a Spanish style rice dish. But no cabbage in sight—it had all gone into a tuna salad the night before. I was just going to make a green salad, when, looking in the vegetable drawer, I had a mild brain wave. Why not make this salad with carrots? So I peeled some, chunked them up, threw them in, and processed.

It tasted fine, but it looked a little pallid. I wanted something green in there. That was when I remembered I had a huge bag of sorrel, which grows like a weed in the Indigo Ray’s garden, and which no one around here but Indigo and I ever pick (can’t imagine why, it makes fantastic lemony tasting soup). So I threw some of that in and pulsed. Beautiful orange and green flecked salad resulted. And the taste! My! Lemony and garlicky and sweet and fresh all at once.

I highly recommend it. In fact, I would recommend you seek out some sorrel to make just this dish. And if there’s anything I think it would go superbly well beside, well, it would have to be the Fresh Herb Kuku that Sarah Lemon so wonderfully revealed to me today.

It’s good to be home. Yes, indeed.





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