Tomato Soup from a Frozen Asset

Frozen Tomatoes 2015Now that Tomato Season 2016 has launched, I am turning my attention to the freezer.

Last October, right before a major rain storm, I raced into the garden and gathered the last of the season’s tomatoes. I had tons of them and simply didn’t want them to get ruined by the cold rain coming my way.

I had no time to start stewing and brewing over a hot stove to make sauces so I grabbed some quart size Ziploc freezer bags and shoved the washed tomatoes (of all shapes and sizes) straight into the bag. Ripe, whole and raw, they all went into the freezer. We’ve been using them in slow cooker vegetable and minestrone-style soups all year.

Earlier this week, I decided I really needed to use up the stash so I grabbed a couple bags from the freezer and let them defrost overnight. Yesterday morning, I had very soft tomatoes and lots of excess liquid. Admittedly, that visual  holds little appeal but I quickly tackled the mess with my Cuisinart Stick blender and my All-Clad Slow Cooker.

The tomatoes went into the slow cooker with a bunch of chopped basil found in the veggie bin. I blended the concoction with my stick blender and turned my attention to the stove where I sauteed one sweet onion and four or five cloves or garlic over moderate heat until softened. I then added a little flour to the onions, stirred in some chicken broth and made a thickener of sorts which got added to my tomato basil mixture.

The slow cooker got set for six hours on low and later that day I had a beautiful tomato basil soup ready for a simple meal. It needed little more than a blast of sea salt and pepper. Served with croutons, it was just what I needed for a quick pick me up mid day.

So, if you are planting your tomato garden, make a note to harvest and freeze some of your crop once the colder weather circles our way.

 

Starter Tips for Tomato Season 2016!

Tomato Harvest September 2015Well, I am pushing the envelope again this year.

Last April I decided to plant my tomatoes right around Tax Day. Admittedly, I don’t like that day but I love tomatoes so I think I used that day in the garden as a little fiscal therapy. I figure what I lost in one arena I could gain in another more delicious one. Indeed, I had a whopper of a season last summer…one of my best ever.

Well, the same urge stoked me this week and I decided to gear up and plant early.  Seattle is seeing some unprecedented warm and sunny weather. So I got my act together, purchased some great tomato starts as Swanson’s Nursery on Thursday and planted my tomatoes on Sunday.

tomatoes 2 2015

Are you gearing up? Well, here are a few of my random tomato season starter tips.

Location, Location, Location

Without a doubt, commandeer the sunniest southern most corner of your yard. I have tried many locations and I’ve had my best results in a raised bed near the house and adjacent to a brick wall. The house and the wall bounce heat back onto the tomatoes and the southern facing location gets sun all day.

Make the Bed

Regardless of whether you use a raised bed or just a garden bed, it’s important to amend the soil before you plant. Add some compost, manure, worm castings, and/or organic fertilizer. I often have my son pick up truck loads of compost at the nursery but bagged compost works too. As for worm castings? If you don’t have a worm bin going, you can get bagged earthworm castings too. They are ridiculously high in nutrients and I am convinced they are a key component. As for fertilizer, I am very partial to Dr. Earth Home Grown Tomato, Vegetable and Herb. A dry fertilizer, this product is great simply sprinkled alongside the plants during the season and at planting time. .

Varieties

Choosing the right varieties for your climate and your family’s dining preferences is critical. I am very partial to heirloom varieties and a few of my favorites hail from Eastern Europe. I love Cosmonaut Volkov, Moskvich, Stupice, Black Krim.  All of these do well in our cooler climate and they produce consistently through October when our first frost generally hits.  Regarding dining preferences for your family, if you eat a lot of salads, then be sure to add some of the great cherry varieties on the market. They ripen reasonably quickly, they are easily tossed into salads without even being sliced, and they can be frozen whole for use in soups in the winter. Kids love cherry tomatoes and it’s an easy way to pump another vegetable into a kid-friendly menu plan.

 

Add Heat

If you live in a cooler climate, it is critically important to add a little heat to get your tomato plants going. Here in Seattle, I lean towards using a Wall of Water or a large cloche made from PVC piping and  plastic sheeting. Both methods work and both have advantages and disadvantages. Admittedly, I waffle between methods. I’ve used the PVC cloching method for years. The cloche covers the whole bed and the heat ramps ups quickly but I have to open and close the cloche daily to moderate the temperatures to be sure the tomatoes don’t accidentally sizzle if the day gets too hot. The Wall of Water lets me “cloche” each tomato individually but the walls can be a hassle to fill–you have to fill each tube with water and it can be tedious doing that, especially if you don’t have another gardener nearby.

I have lots of other tomato growing tips on deck so I will be posting those later in the week and as the season progresses. So stay tuned for more.

 

My Five Minute Yakisoba Noodles

Are you hard pressed to find quick dishes that easily incorporate healthy vegetables into the mix?

Indeed, I am challenged by this daily. My two athletic sons mow through the meals like there’s no tomorrow, and I am constantly challenged to find ways to work more greens into their diet.

Feeling fairly exasperated by the whole thing a few weeks ago, I resorted to the Asian noodle option. Shoreline’s Central Market had a large display of Asian ingredients on display for Chinese New Year and one of the sections featured the fresh Yakisoba noodles made here at Wan Hua Foods in Seattle. Alongside the noodles was OtaJoy Yakisoba noodle sauce. Admittedly, I fell for the marketing gimmick, grabbing the  store’s handy recipe card and buying the noodles and sauce.

Well, it was  a good move. These noodles, which sell for under $3 per two pound pack, are superb for quick and easy stir fries. The noodles can be used promptly after purchase or, even better, they can be frozen in smaller portions.

    I have found that the frozen noodles defrost quickly and cook just fine.

Rather than give you a strict recipe for my Five Minute Yakisoba Noodles, I am going to lay out the basic steps because this approach lends itself to adaptation and flexibility, leaving you, the cook, to incorporate bits and bobs of vegetables that you might have handy in the bin.

Five Minute Yakisoba Noodles

Step One: Chop fresh ginger, garlic and onion. I usually use about one to two tablespoons of each. Sliced scallion works great too.

Step Two: Chop miscellaneous vegetables into roughly one- or two-inch pieces. I’ve used snow peas, sprouting broccoli from my garden, celery from the fridge, sliced peppers and even a handful of bagged coleslaw mix.

Step Three: Drizzle some oil into a large skillet or wok. Preheat over moderately high heat until oil sizzles when water is flicked onto the oil. Add the garlic/ginger/onion mixture and stir quickly to heat. Do NOT let it burn.

Step Four: Add the mixed vegetables and cook, stirring for a minute or so, or until the vegetable start to turn a bright green. DO NOT overcook. Turn the heat down to moderate if it looks too hot.

Step Five: Add a handful of the noodles, breaking them up into strands as you add them. Grab a pair of tongs and toss. (Note: the noodles do not need to be precooked so that is part of the beauty of this recipe! Furthermore, you can adjust the quantity of noodles to suit your taste or dietary needs.)

Step Six: Add two or three tablespoons of the Yakisoba sauce, tossing quickly with the tongs.

So, it really is this simple to make a quick Asian noodle dish at home. I’ve made this many times since I first purchased the ingredients. My sons hardly notice the vegetables and the dish overall makes a great accompaniment to sliced steak or teriyaki chicken. Feel free to experiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February in the Garden: Organizing a Big Hot Mess of Seeds

Things are getting brighter here in Seattle. We are scheduled for a full week of sun this week and by next Monday, which is President’s Day, we should be gearing up to plant our first round of spring peas.

Compost 2016This weekend we had a “family work party” in the garden. This involved wrangling teenage boys out of the house and into the garden. One of those teenagers picked up and hauled home two cubic yards of steamy Cedar Grove compost which was spread on my raised beds. We also had a family lesson in mechanics because my youngest son learned how to fix the wheel on the secondhand wheelbarrow. Family dynamics took a turn for the worse when it came time to deal with the big messy compost heap in the corner of the yard. I feed that heap with leaves, clippings, and coffee grounds through the winter.  No one likes that arduous and sloppy task but the worms, those quiet garden workhorses, needed a little attention.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli February 2016Last night, I finally got around to seriously perusing the seed catalogs. I have been poking through them intermittently but last night I sat down with pen and paper to craft my list. I must say I was surprised to see how much seeds prices have skyrocketed this year. One of my favorite purveyors wants $5 for ten tomato seeds. This reality check sent me on a housecleaning mission this morning….it was time to inventory my unruly collection of seed packets. I have packets stashed in Ziploc bags in a box. Not the best system admittedly but it has worked pretty well…until now.

This morning I spent a few minutes sorting those packets by variety. I then took note of the date on each packet and how much was left in each packet. Even after that I realized my sorting wouldn’t be very useful while placing mail orders or buying off the seed rack at the garden store. I really wanted to have a quick way to survey my stock and decide if I need to risk using older seeds or if it would be better to buy new.

So, I decided to take an inventory and create an Excel spreadsheet, categorizing each type of vegetable and then noting the variety, date on the packet and how much is left in each pack. Now, some of you might be masters of the Excel spreadsheet…I must admit, however, that I’ve never done one for this type of project but it came out great and I can now easily sort and peruse exactly what I have and what I need. (I just Googled an inventory spreadsheet template, downloaded it and it worked great.)  I’ve even stored the list in my Dropbox so I can access it from my phone while shopping.

I suspect I will still buy a few more packets than I technically need but I think my little seed inventory sheet will be very helpful when buying, planning, and planting for 2016.

Duke’s Chowder House Publishes First Cookbook

Duke Moscrip, one of Seattle’s longtime and legendary restaurateurs, has just released his first cookbook. As Wild as It Gets: Duke’s Secret Sustainable Seafood Recipes is a hefty treasure to hold. Published by Aviva Publishing in New York and clocking in with a whopping 382 full-color pages, this book shares the recipes for all of the dishes served at Duke’s Chowder House.

Moscrip opened Duke’s in 1976 and the restaurant’s flagship dish, clam chowder, was inspired by Duke’s New England grandfather and the chowder that he served to Duke when he was a child. Over the years, the business has expanded and there are now six locations throughout the Puget Sound. Chowder remains a hallmark at the restaurant but over the years Duke has expanded the repertoire to include wild sustainable seafood much of which hails from waters here in the Pacific Northwest and, of course, Alaska.

The book, co-authored with Chef “Wild” Bill Ranniger, explores the story of Duke’s…and Duke…in great detail. Duke’s salmon sourcing trips to Alaska are highlighted as are family meals with his children and grandchildren.

I only received my review copy this morning and was pleased to be offered a copy as I cook a lot of seafood in my little kitchen. I’ve also eaten at Duke’s many times and a few years ago I wrote the press releases for the restaurant.   At first glance, the color photography in the book grabbed my eye and enticed my culinary instincts.  The recipes aren’t only geared towards seafood…they obviously run the gamut from soup to desserts.

Over the years,  I’ve admired Duke’s wedge salad, an iceberg classic,  so I was happy to see Sweet Blackberry Wedge Salad on page 116. The recipe for Nothing But Blue Sky Bleu Cheese is revealed and that’s one that is now on my recipe to do list.

After a quick glance through the recipes, I realized that I’d need to get organized and dedicate a little more time to recreating some of the dishes at home. Because these are restaurant recipes, there are often recipes within recipes, meaning to make a salad you have to make a specific dressing the recipe for which is found on another page. Some people might think this is too complicated to follow but it’s the nature of the beast when you recreate chef recipes.

That being said, even though I was short on time, I soon found myself rustling up ingredients and adapting one of the salmon recipes, “Wild Alaska Salmon Caesar Shoots” found in the “Appeteasers & Shared Plates” chapter. The photo shows little blackened salmon strips tucked snugly into romaine lettuce leaves drizzled with Caesar dressing.   In the recipe introduction, Duke mentions how he loves salads but salads require a bowl, utensils, a napkin, a chair etc. He said he liked this recipe because you have all the comforts of a salad but you can eat it with your hands! Aha! That description was perfect and it was all that I needed to launch into a spontaneous cooking session.  Admittedly, I didn’t follow the ingredient list exactly because I didn’t have all the spices handy for Duke’s Blackening Spice of Life. That being said, I used the technique described and the results were excellent…perfect finger food for Super Bowl Weekend.

So if you want to add to your seafood cookbook repertoire, check out this newbie. You will be inspired to not only follow the recipes but to use them as a culinary launching pad, tweaking and testing to suit your wild, wonderful and whimsical ways.

 

Process This: The Ultimate Salmon Burger Method

My husband and sons love to fish here in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, I always have a freezer full of flash frozen wild salmon. Pink. Coho. King. Hot smoked. Cold smoked. Over the years I’ve learned to use these nutrient-rich treasures in many ways.

In 2009, while judging the Alaska Symphony of Seafood, I perked up and took notice when fellow judge, Jordan Mackey, casually shared one of his tricks of the trade—how to make a good salmon burger.

“With this method, the burger stays really moist and you don’t have bread flakes or egg. They cook just great!”–Mackey

The Executive Chef of Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel at the time, Mackey explained, “I am not a fan of binders.  With this method, the burger stays really moist and you don’t have bread flakes or egg. They cook just great!” While many salmon burgers can indeed be laden with fillers, it was obvious that Mackey’s savvy method for using up trim and fat laden bellies was worth trying at home.

Mackey explained that after they trim the scraps from the fillets of salmon, they cut the salmon into small to medium dice. They then sprinkle the diced salmon lightly with kosher salt and a smaller amount of sugar. He then lets the mixture stand, chilled, for about 15 minutes. During this time the fish begins to weep and get slimy. It’s this natural protein laden slime that acts as the natural binder for the burger.  No panko! No eggs! No nasty additives!

Mackey then takes 30% of the mixture and quickly mixes it in the food processor to make a light chunky paste which he then stirs back into the diced salmon. Voila. There’s your basic salmon patty mixture! The restaurant presses this into 9 ounce patties and cooks them to medium rare in an omelet pan or Teflon skillet. (Mackey was careful to explain that his salmon patties and/or scraps are always previously frozen so any parasitic risk from eating medium rare burgers is minimized due to the freezing.)

Over the years, I’ve made these burgers many times, tweaking the ingredients according to whim and taste. Sometimes I take the classic route and just add lemon and dill to the mixture. When I am craving Asian, I add diced ginger, garlic, fresh cilantro plus a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil.  If I want a smoky Southwestern slant, I add some cumin and chipotle pepper.  While cooking the burgers I waffle between using a classic cast iron skillet and my beloved Le Creuset ridged grill pan. The grill pan creates great ridges and adds a touch of telltale smokiness to the burger.

Regardless of the flavors added or the type of pan used, the Ultimate Salmon Burger technique always results in a juicy and flavorful burger!

Note: I realize many readers probably don’t have whole fillets of salmon that need to have tips and bellies trimmed. Nonetheless, this method works great with previously frozen fillets or fillets purchased fresh at the store. The bottom line is that salmon burgers are a great way to add interest and flavor to a very nutritious seafood. 

 

 

Broccoli Salad Revisited

I often buy the large three pound bags of broccoli florets sold at Sam’s and Costco. Having a stash on hand makes it easy for me to work broccoli into the meal plan. Of course, the simplest approach is to steam or simmer it and serve it as a side. Sometimes my husband makes cheesy broccoli, or I roast the florets with a mess of other vegetables. The bottom line is that I always have broccoli around to experiment with.

Last night, thanks to my recent posts on winter salads, I was inspired to make a broccoli salad. The ubiquitous broccoli salad easily found online often uses raw florets, mayonnaise, raisins and sometimes bacon. This rendition is good but I wanted something healthier and a little more palatable. While standing in my kitchen I wondered: Could I soften and cook  the broccoli itself while at the same time keep a bright fresh color and appealing aroma? Could I add a seasonal fruit to create some natural sweetness thereby balancing the bitterness of broccoli?  Would nuts or seeds add crunch to replace that crispy bacon found in the other version?

I soon concocted this salad and dressed it with the Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette featured in yesterday’s blog post. One of the keys to this salad is cooking the broccoli only slightly and then plunging it into cold water to stop the cooking and keep that bright green color. This is a technique that is often used with green beans or when preparing vegetables for the freezer. It worked great in this salad!

The leftovers kept beautifully in fridge overnight and made a great lunch today. The curry flavor (and color) infused the salad even more and the broccoli and apple stayed appealingly crunchy. (Note: This photo was taken today so the salad looks a bit softer and more yellow than when I made it yesterday because everything had time to meld together in the fridge.)

Broccoli Apple Pine Nut Salad

Broccoli, Apple and Pine Nut Salad with Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette

3 cups chopped broccoli florets

1/2 apple, diced

2 scallions, sliced

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted lightly

2-3 tablespoons curry cilantro vinaigrette, or dressing of your choice

Prepare the broccoli: put the broccoli in a pan, cover with water and simmer over moderate heat for about three minutes, or just until it turns a bright green color and is crunchy. Drain broccoli, rinse quickly with cold water and plunge into a pan of cold water to stop the cooking and set the bright color and crunch. Drain well. Chop the broccoli finer if desired.

in a large bowl toss the broccoli, apple, scallions, and pine nuts. Drizzle with about two to three tablespoons of dressing, or to taste, and toss well.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serves two to four.