i say plum and paste tomatoes

IMG_8629 Visual only! Don’t even dream of canning these wonderful ‘Ananas Noire’ tomatoes on view at the farmers market last Saturday at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis.

IMG_8624 These guys?  Probably not.  Very much slicers, too, in my book.

Paste tomatoes are the bane of the gardener/canner’s existence, I’m feeling more and more.  They taste bad, they’re prone to blossom-end rot, and they take forever to ripen.  I’ve tried a number of varieties, always seeking that nirvana of good flavor and robust health, but every one seems to have its significant downside.  Every year I end up supplementing my significant acreage (ok, one super long row) with purchased plum tomatoes.

IMG_8620Plums are gorgeous and long-lived when they’re grown properly, especially the new striped and black hybrids, but the taste doesn’t advance beyond mediocre.  Although I strongly disapprove of adding bottled lemon juice when processing tomatoes, I kind of think it doesn’t matter when you’re using plums, since there’s no flavor to begin with.  Regular ‘Roma’ tomatoes are useless, and ‘San Marzanos’ are particularly awful here in the Willamette Valley.  People insist on buying them, since they are the Italian variety everyone knows as quality, but they just taste like cardboard in and out of the jar.

IMG_8619So what’s a local girl to do?  Keep searching for better varieties for our region.  I grew ‘Saucey’ for several years.  In 2014 my biggest success is a grafted plant of ‘Jersey Devil,’ which may be a new offering from Log House this year. They have a very pleasant little tail at the end and turn bright red, just like Satan.  They didn’t crap out like my highly anticipated ‘Orange’ and ‘Black Icicles’.

But paste tomatoes, in my opinion, are better than plums, but still prone to diva behavior.  They’re the ones that are not necessarily elongated and hollow/seedy in the middle, but may be more heart-shaped and solid flesh with very few seeds.  They will be a bit more liquidy at first than plums, but cook down nicely and produce a much more flavorful sauce.  I’ve posted many times about ‘Amish Paste,’ so I won’t go into it here, but the 1-pound tomatoes I get from the good strain of this plant (i.e., not the small tomato strain), are excellent.  Farmer Anthony Boutard recommended it to me several years ago, and he’s since moved on to his own ‘Astiana’ line plucked from a market in the Piedmont region of Italy.  I’ve yet to haul my preoccupied behind up to Hillsdale to get in on some of that ‘Astiana’ action.

IMG_8623Heart-shaped, solid tomatoes are also good for sauce.  One possibility for me this year might be these ‘Reif Red Hearts’, spotted last weekend next to the ‘Ananas Noires’. They look quite promising indeed as a sauce tomato, from what I’ve read on the internets.

IMG_8618As for local plums, and there are better varieties than ‘San Marzano,’ like ‘Scipio’, which was good last year from Sweetwater Farm, and these fat and gorgeous ‘Opalka’ plums from Mountain View Farm in Junction City.

Another possibility to consider are the good ol’ round canning tomatoes, like the all-purpose Moskovich, again from Ruby and Amber’s stand at the market.

IMG_8625What varieties are you picking, buying, and canning this year?

niblets: the more things change, the more things stay the same edition

IMG_8671Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene. Syndicate me?  You know you want to.  Or, if you don’t own a magazine or newspaper or media outlet, join Facebook and friend me there for updates about many more local events than I can post here on the blog.

Today, it’s all about Olivo Tapas.  We had an achingly delicious meal there yesterday, reminiscent of times past at Soubise and Rabbit Bistro.  Chef Alejandro Cruz was trained by Chef Gabe Gil, and it shows in his flavors, presentation, details, and sheer joy in the kitchen.  We opted for the chef’s tasting menu and watched him in the open kitchen smiling his way through the service.  Such a lovely thing to behold, a man who loves to cook and does it well.

The menu was at once unusual and comforting, “relateable,” as my students might say.  We had two oysters with a slightly spicy lemon-tabasco granita to start that were delicious but could have been even colder.  I’ve grown obsessed with icy oysters in my old age; not sure what’s up with that.  The oysters were followed by that sublime combination of watermelon and tomato, kept lively by little bits of cured salmon and pecorino and basil, then a perfectly fresh medium rare fan of albacore with a green olive sauce on squash succotash (corn, tomatoes, and a surprise of summer chanterelles).  Colors and flavors popped all over the place. Pork belly over slightly too al dente white beans was utterly enchanted by cilantro; I didn’t want the plate to end.  As my dining companion said, “I could go for a do-over on this!”

And the best of all?  The pictured dessert.  Like a molecular gastronomist’s dream of a deconstructed crisp with cream, oh my.  Pecorino custard with charred peaches and crumbled cinnamon Japanese-pan churros (which I happened to recognize because Masa gave me a taste last time I was there).  So. Good. Sigh.

The menu’s available all weekend, so hurry down and try it.  Nice, simple wine list, too (we sampled very different but equally good glasses of white bordeaux and pinot gris.  Maybe when it’s ready they’ll add this year’s William Rose rosé?

Check out my photo album for more snaps of the fabulous food and more information about the restaurant.

We also stopped by the new Oregon Electric Station for a quick cocktail before dinner. Charming host and barkeeps trying hard. I was delighted to run into bartender James West there, who will be presiding over the smaller bar with a specialty menu in the east room off the main dining hall, open officially on Monday.  I’ll be glad to see him back in action.  Food menu for the OES?  Well, it’s large and varied, with an unfortunate collection of customer favorites from the old OES (think coconut shrimp, or rather don’t).  Happy to see several varieties of ‘carpaccio’ offered, including beef, salmon, beet, and lobster.  And more types of fettucine alfredo than one can shake a stick at.  Way too much Maine lobster for a local restaurant with access to Dungeness crab, IMO, and ahi instead of albacore tuna (egads, in season!) but let’s give them a chance to learn our local.

I haven’t had the chance to patronize the new Elk Horn Brewery, run by Chef Stephen Sheehan of Delacata, because it was overrun by fans in its first few days of business.  I’ll wait for the chaos to settle, but I admire them for putting an elk burger on the menu with all their fried delicacies.

IMG_8569I *have* had the chance to eat sweet corn honey butter ice cream in this neverending-nineties weather.  The patio at Friendly Street Market is the nicest casual outdoor dining space I’ve seen in a while in this little ol’ town, and Red Wagon Creamery’s new scoopery inside the market is perfect.

And last but not least: I’ve urged you to always get the specials, especially the fish tacos, but the sangria special at Tacovore is a must-try.  It’s the best sangria I’ve had in a long time.  Thanks, bartender Amy Hand!

ozette potatoes and a sauce from garden herbs

IMG_8647I bought some delicious, glossy PNW-native ‘Ozette’ potatoes from Turnip the Beet Farm at the Lane County farmers market on Saturday.  I’ve written about them before, and think they’re fantastic for the locavore and armchair anthropologist.  They taste good, too!  As far as I know, Turnip the Beet is the only farm that produces them around here.  Farmer Lela says it’s the second crop of the year and they should have them at the next couple markets.

I like the Ozettes because they’re waxy and flavorful, so they make good fried potatoes and potato salad.  Or simply boil them and serve with the brilliant German green sauce, Grüne Soβe (or in the dialect of Frankfurt, Grie Soß).  It’s more of a spring thing, but if you’ve got a burgeoning herb garden, it’s a great summer dish.  All you need is seven herbs, a binder (e.g., sour cream) and something sour (e.g., lemon) and a little mustard.  The herbs that are traditional are sorrel, chervil, parsley, borage, burnet, cress and chives, but there are many variations.  Why not make a PNW herb blend?  I’ve seen basil and dill and marjoram included in some recipes, even.  Here are a few variations:

Mine was made with my very thick homemade sour cream (read: too thick for this sauce), a little milk to thin it out (bad idea, as it de-emulsified the fats), wine vinegar, mustard, and the traditional herbs minus cress.  Sorry about the poor picture, I was hungry.

I’m particularly excited about these potatoes because they represent yet another young farmer couple who are making a go of it in Lane County to bring us heirlooms and unusual produce, produced in a sustainable and labor-intensive way.  They’re worth supporting.  Even better, they just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for new greenhouses, so they’ll be able to extend the season in the future.  Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

grapest show on earth

IMG_8636Whoa, looks like my green table grapes (of indeterminate variety) really liked having more airflow and a less severe prune!  For a change, my laziness resulted in happy times: a bumper crop of the little, seedless, acidic things. So. Many. Grapes. Expecting yours did as well as mine, I won’t try to pawn mine off on you as a hopeful gentleman did the zucchini bat below:

IMG_0188Thus, I present to you the recipes I’m experimenting with this year. I’m afraid my grapes are less juicy and more tart than the average grape, so I’ll probably have to adjust the recipes. 

I’m looking forward to:

You might be tempted to try some of these 51 grape recipes.  I dunno.  Some of them look awful.  And that goes for most grape recipes on the internet.  Anything remotely indicating a grape pie, for example — a weepy, mushy grape pie with some offensive topping where the recipe writer warns the reader ahead of time — is not going to be something I sample.  If you do, and you like it, let me know!

One recipe link that’s broken is an interesting one for “burnt grapes,” which seems to be just a raspberries Romanoff adaption, in which one tops the fruit with sour cream then brûlées it.  Eh.  Not my fave, and grapes would be slipperier.  But here’s another link for that.

Pickled grapes?  Hmmm, maybe.  You tell me.

Or this grape almond olive oil cake that won the contest that produced the Collins and chutney recipes?  Sure thing.

You could also try fresh grape juice, which is made by processing a ton of grapes in a blender, then straining. Or grape juice for canning, recipe here.  I had some wonderful grape juice this winter sold at the Cottage Grove farmstand made of blends of table and wine grapes, both red and white, so I know it can be good, and not a trip down Welch’s memory lane.

IMG_8631Aaaand upon seeing the price of table grapes at the market…anyone want to buy about 50 lbs. of grapes? I’m trying to fund a freelancing career, here. ;)

but first, the tomato news

IMG_8416Tomato time.  I take advantage of cooler nights and melt down chunks of paste tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in a 225 degree oven overnight to make tomato paste.  After I mill out the skins and cook the rest of the water out, I freeze the paste in ice cube trays.  I’ll do this several times during tomato season to keep up with the harvest.  Not everything needs to be canned/preserved in big batches!

For a change of pace, try my green and red pizza sauce, cooked similarly to tomato paste but with more seasoning and green tomatoes.  You don’t need any special equipment for this one!

And later in the season, you can bet I’ll use up all the rest of the paste tomatoes in my ketchup recipe, one of the best recipes I’ve ever developed.

This year my always huge tomatoes got away from me in the dry heat, and I’m battling an even more severe blossom end rot issue than usual.  It’s clearly a calcium/fertilizer deficiency, since they grew so fast and I thought I had covered my bases with my usual treatment of dried milk and eggshells, plus even watering.  Even a calcium infusion late in the game didn’t help much.  Kind of mad at myself, since I’ve now lost about 75% of the plum tom crop, but I still have huge numbers of tomatoes, so I can’t complain about anything other than my own lack of vigilance.

What’s growing extremely well is the next generation Indigo tomatoes developed first at OSU.  I planted a grafted variety from Log House Gardens called ‘Indigo Cherry Drop’ that has proven to be blossom-end-rot (BER) bullet-proof (the only plant that emerged unscathed).  The others, not so much:

Tomatoes 2014

  • Orange Icicle and Black Icicle (both very prolific but wiped out nearly clean with BER, orange variety tastes terrific)
  • Black Ethiopian (a solid salad tom, pretty good BER resistance)
  • Indigo Cherry Drop – terrific, perfect golf ball size; actually tastes good, unlike the first gen Indigos (not great but good), and very pretty
  • Sungold
  • Amish Paste (got the big strain this year, thank goodness, and it’s stronger against the BER than expected)
  • San Marzano (grafted) – still tastes bad and full of BER
  • Jersey Devil (grafted) – another plum but same problems
  • Sunset’s Red Horizon
  • Henderson’s Winsall
  • Anna Russian – another big paste (or rather heart-shaped) that resembles Amish but seems heartier
  • Rose di Berne
  • Black Mt. Pink

And while I’m at it, just thought I should mention the peppers are doing very well.  I had to pinch off blossoms early in the season to encourage the plants to grow large enough to support the crop, so I’m just now getting some full, beautiful pepper development.

Peppers 2014

  • Corbaci (a long skinny sweet pepper, really cool and prolific, grew in pot)
  • Sweet banana
  • Carmen (x 2, not sure why i grew two of these)
  • Paradisium Alatu Sarza Szentes (yellow ribbed flat guys)
  • Jaloro (yellow jalapeno, in pot, hot)
  • Atris (F1 hybrid, huge)
  • Mulato
  • Mulato Islena
  • Padron
  • Aji Amarillo  (no flowers yet!!)
  • Negro de Valle
  • Pasilla Baijo (chilaca when fresh)

pricing albacore for canning

IMG_0443If you’re planning to can tuna this year, and you just so happen to at or near the Oregon coast, be sure to use my handy, research-based, certified Master Food Preserver vetted, proofread (etc., etc.) guide to canning tuna.  (Or check out more tips if you want to can salmon.)  I’m going to amend it with more info about buying tuna, with thanks again to fellow MFP and tuna canning expert Dale Dow, who clarifies:

To order fish, a rough rule of thumb is to order one pound of fish (whole fish, not fillets) per half-pint jar.  This is the whole fish and about 50% wastage is expected.  But the size of the fish, the skill of the fishmonger, and the skill of filling the jars all determine how many jars can be filled.  In other words, I’d say,”I want 24 pounds of tuna for canning, filleted” if I planned to do a canner full.  It is cheaper to filet your own if you have the skill and time.

Thanks, Dale!

separate two eggs: smashed patriarchy grilled pizza

IMG_8371Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

“Amanda cooks most of the food.  She says there’s no reason for her to grill.  Her husband is really good at it.  And she thinks for him it’s about more than just the food.”

Sound familiar?  A short podcast on masculinity and grilling, narrated by a cheery young woman, presents this description and a background on the caveman ethos that seems to undergird so much of the American rhetoric on man-with-fire-meat.  The piece goes on to comment that Amanda’s husband now lets his daughter grill.

Of course it’s about more than just the food.

I’d venture to say grilling is one of the last widely visible and critically unexamined bastions of mid-century masculist culture.  American girls are still raised with our dads or stepdads or uncles or self-identified-male-gendered individuals or manbuddies of our mom (or whatever configuration of masculinity operating in a family unit) at the Weber, joking, commanding, drinking a beer.  Manning the grill.

And the rest of us take pleasure in paying tribute to the priesthood by visiting and peering into the grates, smelling that meat sizzle, complementing the chef.  We are rewarded with the best of summer: hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks, all piled up on a platter and presented like an offering to Xiuhtecuhtli.  He’s the life of the party, the hero, the chef.

It’s so often among the happiest moments we remember.  It’s a peaceful time.  Sunny, family, “family,” bountiful, happy.  Fraying relationships are mended for the moment, and we believe it will be ok.  It’s almost magic. Why mess with that juju?

And we’re thus indoctrinated into the system.  Girls never learn how to grill because there’s no reason to grill.  I wonder about Amanda’s daughter, whose father “lets her” grill.  What’s going on there?  Is it an occasional thing?  A novelty?  Are things changing?

Are things changing.

It’s not that we feel oppressed or left out.  It’s a way to get the dad-figure involved in the party, and it helps him feel useful and central, reinscribing the patriarchal order in its most comfortable and pleasing form because here the order seems almost natural and harmonious, his place assured and his place needed and beloved. And for a change, everyone’s participating in meal preparation.

(I write this.  My heart aches.  The unbearable lightness of political consciousness, of feminist conscience. There’s no choice, really.)

IMG_8292 IMG_8293I have a reason to grill.  As previously and begrudgingly narrated, I’m negotiating singlehood and the unpleasant loss of an excellent griller myself. But as I assume the labor for two for the household tasks, I’m taking the opportunity that many women, even feminists, don’t have when they’re in heterosexual partnerships, even enlightened ones.

I’m learning how to grill.

And I kind of suck right now.  It’s not just another heat source to master, it’s a whole ‘nuther rhythm.  The grill doesn’t require an attentive sous chef, but it pretty much bites not to have one.  (See “Amanda cooks most of the food” and patriarchy, above.)  My excellent griller, and grillers across America, make grilling divine by a hidden system of support that includes hours of unacknowledged labor.  That labor is performed joyously in many cases (and it certainly was in mine) but I’m pondering it with some critical distance as I take on both roles.

IMG_1858 DSCF4114IMG_6193Just like in any performance, for any performer, the team behind the scenes makes the show.  For every piece of chicken or burger gloriously presented, there’s the planning and the shopping and the chopping and the marinating and the coordinating and the side dishes.  The side dishes.  Those take hours alone.

I figured that since I knew how to do all that, the actual grilling part would be a snap.  And you know what?  It hasn’t been that hard and certainly not that time consuming, save all the little things that no one gives me a hand with. Because any idiot can grill.  Think about it.

DSCF4259

I still have no reliable control over the heat, and I’ve burned a few meals because I’d forgotten to add something and had to run inside or whip up a sauce or chop up some herbs.  I try not to think about the danger of burning down the city because of my inexperience. My excellent griller would religiously rely on a thermometer and a cookbook, but I want to learn grilling from an intuitive angle, just like my cooking.

And then there’s the exquisite loveliness of freedom.  I had to argue for the inclusion of grilled vegetables since they take up space.  Pizza wasn’t even a possibility: he insisted I call it “grilled flatbread” and I was only allowed to make it for the privilege of the grill a couple times.  And there’d be no patience or need for delicacies like grilled peaches or plums or bananas or lemons or cheese or parsley or boquerones or onigiri or meatballs or omelets.

The world of grilling is open to you…and it’s fabulous.

So I bring you my Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza, with an informal recipe.  Try it, ladies.  Pizza isn’t meat.  He’ll let you. Or just Occupy the Grill!  But don’t blame me for the divorce.  :)

(Oh, on the way, you might want to support the Kickstarter for the ladies who brought you the men grilling piece on the Feminist Fork. They’re fundraising for a new quarterly journal called Render: Feminist Food & Culture.)

Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza

Serves 2-3, or one lonely feminist for three meals.

You’ll need two sides (hot and cool) for your grill and a lot of oil.  Don’t try this on a tiny hibachi, as you’ll be too close to the coals and the dough will burn rather than char.  A gas grill is easier than a charcoal grill, and make sure you pre-oil the grate with some paper towels dipped in a small bowl of veg oil, held by long tongs.

The easiest method is to use a pre-made store-brought dough.  Mix 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste with dried oregano, basil, garlic powder and a little olive oil.  Pour a few tablespoons of  olive oil in the plastic bag and massage it in the bag to get it pretty oily, then stretch out the dough on a cookie sheet so it resembles a pizza crust. With a fork, spread out tomato paste, concentrating on moving it to edges not middle of dough.  Layer on fresh mozzarella slices and sprinkle sparingly with toppings.

Heat the grill up to about 500 degrees, oiling the surface as you begin the grilling process and not later (FIRE!). Move your pizza outside on the cookie sheet; hopefully there will be enough oil on the bottom to aid transferring it over to the HOT side of the grill with a metal spatula.  Let cook there for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to char and blister and get stiff enough to move, then carefully move it over to the COOL side of the grill.  Close the grill lid to melt the cheese and cook the top of the dough.  Moisture is your enemy.  Dab away any liquid from the tomatoes or toppings with a towel.  Sprinkle on herbs just before removing from grill and serving.

Pro tip: clean the grill while it’s still hot with a wire grill brush.