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?

indigo rose tastes like a tomato

A few years ago, I reported on the new ‘Indigo Rose’ tomato being developed at OSU by vegetable development specialist, Dr. Jim Myers.  At the time, he was soliciting names for his purple tomatoes, which looked much purpler at the time in controlled conditions. Then unnamed, the tomato captivated visitors interested in the process of hybridization and Jim’s claims of a gorgeous aubergine color and some anecdotal and research-supported health claims. It’s now completing its first year on the market.

Unfortunately, the marketing for taste still hasn’t caught up to the marketing for color and health buzzword of the day. Back then, Jim didn’t have a good answer for the single pressing question asked by several people at the demo, and I’m sure thousands of people since then.  He still didn’t when my husband asked him last weekend at the Lane County Farmers Market:

What does it taste like?

His response: it tastes like a tomato.

He was absolutely right: it tastes like a tomato. There’s nothing particularly distinguished about the taste, but it’s not bad, either.  It just wasn’t bred for taste, and I think that’s a shame.

‘Indigo Rose’ doesn’t have the acidic zing and sweetness of the “black” varieties like ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Cherokee Purple,’ which turn a greenish brown color.  The ‘Indigo Rose’ isn’t as dull as a supermarket tomato, but a regular beefsteak in the heat of summer beats the pants off it for flavor.  The size is great — it is a bit bigger than your average large cherry tomato, but smaller than a plum.  I think they call them “salad tomatoes” in the biz.

Ah, it can’t be denied that you sure are pretty, ‘Indigo Rose’.  The ones I’ve seen in the farmers’ market (mine aren’t ready yet) are not purple but a mix of red and aubergine in color, like the ones depicted above.  The chemical reaction with anthocyanins that causes the purpling is cool; it’s rather like those sun prints one makes in childhood with photosynthetic paper.  If the tomato is shaded, it develops a purple color; if not, it develops red.  The tomato in front, for example, has little stripes that I imagine were caused by the calyx.  It looks great in a mixed tomato salad because of its unusual coloration.  Is this enough, though?

Have you grown or tasted this tomato?  A discussion has begun on my Facebook wall (you need to request to be “friends” but I don’t turn anyone down except that chick who was trying to link me to her porn site).  Folks mention the tough skin, which could be beneficial in a stuffed tomato recipe.  What do you think?

izakaya meiji flight and a bite

Feeling flighty?  Try the Flight and a Bite Tuesday tastings at Izakaya Meiji.  Bartender and Flight Captain Elliot Martinez hosted an Islay single malt scotch whisky flight earlier this week.  Nice pairing with a piece of singed house-smoked salmon hakozushi (that Osaka-style boxed sushi I like so much) and salmon roe, too.  This was a challenge, given the band-aid/cherry/tobacco chaw/burned newspapers/smouldering haystack/seawater/earth flavors we love in Islays. The event ran $20 for a flight of three whiskies and the salmon.

Inquire about the next Tuesday flight at either Izakaya Meiji or Booze Week International, Elliot’s zine, on Facebook.  I understand he will be continuing with the whisky theme.

iron chef story in register-guard!

My story on the Iron Chef competition appeared in the Register-Guard today.  See the lovely photo of all four chef-competitors here, and be ready to support your favorite chef.  Any bets on who will win?  Eugene Eats is conducting a Facebook poll, and they’ve asked twitterers to twitter the event.

See you at the festival!

(P.S. For those of you interested in the pressure canning gauge testing, I’ve amended the information a bit.  See previous post.)

 

when CE talks, people listen (yikes!)

PLEASE TAKE THE POLL AT THE END OF THE POST! :)

I’ve heard feedback from local businesses that sometimes a recommendation on Culinaria Eugenius can lead to customers requesting that particular item.  Awesome!  But if that’s the case and you don’t like a recommendation, don’t let me go unchallenged.  I’d love to hear back from you, positive and negative, about things you try on CE.  I may disagree with you, but I’d like to hear your perspective.  Leave a comment, send me an email at wellsuited at gmail dotcom, or post on my Facebook page.

Do check out my Facebook page, either way, because I post little tidbits frequently over there.

I’ve got the Facebook page currently set up like a regular profile, but am thinking about switching it over to my unused fan page (where, frankly, I’d have less flexibility, so meh) where you can “like” CE and not have to “friend” CE. I rarely ever look at the CE “friends” page, so if you’re hesitant to make that connection, don’t worry too much about your privacy.  But I certainly understand.  Feedback on this?  I might even make a Google Plus page.

As it stands, CE is a rather uneven spread of recipes, local food news, and travel essays.  I’d really like to feature local food worker interviews in the future, and write more about literary food, but these things take more time.  So what is most important to you, the reader?

I’m also pondering a redesign of the site while I still have time to ponder such things — nothing too jarring, just a way to access more posts more easily, and provide more content.  Stay tuned.

iron chef eugene winner: chef gabriel gil!

I had so much fun last weekend judging the final round of the Iron Chef Eugene competition at the Bite of Eugene festival at Alton Baker park.  Congratulations to the winner, Chef Gabriel Gil of The Rabbit Bistro!  Gabe gets to go on to compete for Eugene at Bite of Oregon in Portland on August 7. [ETA 8/11: HE WON.]

Due to unforeseen technical difficulties, the entire competition got started a couple of hours late. Chef Adam Bernstein of Adam’s Sustainable Table battled and won against his competitor, Chef Scott Whitus of Café Zenon.  Gabe took on Chef Max Schwartz at Café Lucky Noodle…and reigned supreme.  By the end of the finals, it was pretty dark and the chefs could barely see.  Staff rustled up some lights for the stage and some charming Christmas lights for the judges’ table.  Unfortunately, a half-naked kid stood right in front of the table as we judged the dishes.  Rather unappetizing, sorry.  But I did like the mood lighting.

The final round began with the finalists, Gabe to the right and Adam second to the left, trash talking and getting ready to throw down.  (At least, that’s what I envisioned — I couldn’t hear what they were saying!  But they look particularly badass in this shot.)

Just as in the original Iron Chef competitions, the chefs had a secret ingredient: goat cheese.  The task was to integrate the ingredient into several dishes in 60 minutes as Steve, the emcee and festival organizer, chatted with the audience.  Then, the judges gobbled down as much of each dish as they could and tallied the results!

Two of my favorite dishes:  Gabe’s lamb “lollipops” with goat cheese pudding and sweet pepper purée.  The lamb was sauced with a fennel and port reduction, and garnished with shaved aged goat cheese.

The second photo is of Adam’s melted lavender goat cheese ice cream with berries and a black pepper tuile…”it’s become a crème anglaise!” he said.  (The delays meant that both of the chefs’ desserts didn’t take properly, and I didn’t critique “acts of god” in the judging.)  I’m a big fan of sabayon and similar sauces with berries, and really liked the combination of berry-pink, slightly sour goat cheese crottin, beautifully and saucily enhanced blackcap raspberries and currants, and the crème.

I didn’t get a shot of another favorite: Gabe’s dessert, a slightly droopy (again, technical difficulties) goat cheese panna cotta with a cilantro purée, a very light caramel sauce, orange segments, and strawberry Pop Rocks.  Yep, you heard it correctly.  And I was heard saying for the first and last time ever in public that I wanted even more Pop Rocks!

Gabe also pulled off a stunning salmon belly roulade on a salad of vinaigrette-dressed tomatoes and watermelon cubes. I have to say that he didn’t make much of the goat cheese on this dish (I think it was under the beautifully acidic tom-wat salad?) and that’s not a good thing in Iron Chef competitions, but as a food lover, I have to say that it was an inspired combination.  The fat in the succulent salmon roll and the meaty flesh of the fruit and the acid in the dressing, plus a few herbal leaves from the garnish, made me roll my eyes back in my head in joy.  THAT GOOD!  I hope this one ends up on the menu.

Sorry about the dreadful photos in the dark.  Here’s a cute one!  The daughter of my personable fellow judge, King Estate winery’s head winemaker Jeff Kandarian, watches little moths flit around the Christmas lights.

I had so much fun at the competition, and thanks to everyone who stayed until the bitter end.  Adam and Gabe both showed off their best for the competition, and I was so pleased to taste the results.  They’re very different chefs.  Adam aims for simple, more conservative, nearly 100% local fare (some of it from his garden, even).  His aesthetic would be at home at an upscale hotel restaurant or a place where well-heeled businessmen conscious of their food delight in his creations.  Gabe is more of a young Turk, experimental and whimsical.  His molecular gastronomy and odd flavor combinations are unlike anything else we have in Eugene.  Both chefs make me think there are changes afoot in the Eugene dining scene, and that things are getting better all the time.

And I can’t end this post without saying that judging an Iron Chef competition has been a fantasy of mine for my adult life.  My brother and I used to watch the Japanese version of Iron Chef together when he was little, and we’d pretend we were Chairman Kaga:

I have a disturbing number of photos of myself posed unintentionally (?) as an adult as Chairman Kaga, including this one:

See?  Dead ringer.

So now that I’ve been a judge, do I dare to ask to emcee next year?  Could I really fill those brocaded, 18th century Kitchen Stadium shoes?  It would be the pinnacle of my life’s ambition!  I’ll see what I can do.  Stay tuned…and ALLEZ CUISINE!