Archive for August, 2008

The Big, Red Aftermath

Well, gentle readers of the internest, it has been almost 5 days since I threw down the gauntlet and decided to undertake the great tomato project.  And now, as I sit here at 7:30 pm on Thursday, I can say that it is finally over, and I emerged victorious.   No, really!

It started out simply enough, but, as with most of my best laid plans, it spiraled out of control into a massive undertaking quite quickly.  Originally I had just planned to can some homemade bruschetta; just enough to last through the winter, and it was going to be with my homegrown heirloom tomatoes.  Unfortunately, that was before I understood how there are specific chemical balances required in canning, and that you can’t just process whatever random recipe you feel like putting in a jar using a home canning setup.  At this point I thought to myself that if I was going to go to all that trouble, I might as well just do several things together anyway.

And this is how I ended up with close to 140 pounds of tomatoes littered on my kitchen and living room floor.  You see, I’d ordered two bushels from my friendly, neighborhood organic delivery guy, but he ended up bringing me forty pounds, thinking that I really couldn’t need that much.  And at the time, those tomatoes were hopelessly under-ripe and not ready for my canning.  So, that is how the Everyman and I ended up at Fiesta Farms on Monday, purchasing two huge bushels of tomatoes.

When I got home Monday night I set to work sorting and cleaning and coring and peeling tomatoes.  That night I canned half of the twenty four cup bruschetta recipe, and ten litre jars of whole crushed tomatoes.  I was probably on my feet from 6 pm until almost midnight and the floor was still entirely covered in tomatoes.  Oh calamity, what have I gotten myself into?

Tuesday morning saw me finish processing the rest of the jars of whole crushed tomatoes and head off to work with tomatoes on the brain.  When I returned home that evening I set to preparing the other half of the bruschetta recipe, and several trays of oven roasted tomatoes.  By the time I went to sleep that night the bruschetta was put to bed and the oven roasted were well on their way to being done too.

On Wednesday morning I awoke to find our house reeking like a pizzeria.  The oven roasted tomatoes had been cooking overnight, and were just about done.  If you are ever so inclined to make these, make sure that you plan accordingly, as it can take as little as 10 hours and as many as 14.  And I suggest that you do make these, because they are absolutely marvelous, like biting into a pizza without the dough.
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Holy Harvest, Batman!

You know, being that this is the first year I’ve really thrown myself into any sort of gardening, I can’t say whether this is what it is always like, or whether I just got lucky this year, but we’ve been experiencing some pretty sweet bounty lately.

About a week before we left for Chicago the tomatoes started coming in with increasing regularity.  We’re now at the point where I am able to harvest approximately a pint every day.  Since I am only growing heirloom varieties they don’t get very big, but we tend to prefer the juicier, sweeter cherry tomatoes anyway.  From currant to cherry and all sizes in between, our favorite way to enjoy them has been just plain in a bowl, popping them into our mouths like some weird, veggie popcorn.  When we inevitably start tiring of tomatoes then I doctor them into a salad with fresh herbs and balsamic, but that’s pretty much where I draw the line at changing the flavor of these amazing beauties.

All season long I’ve been trying my hand at putting up various fruits and vegetables (jams and pickles) from the farmer’s market too, but today marks the beginning of my most ambitious project to date.  I’ve ordered 2 bushels of roma tomatoes from my local organic delivery service which I plan to transform into canned bruschetta, italian-style tomato sauce, whole crushed and oven-roasted tomatoes.  Reading through all the recipes I expect that the next 48 hours will be exhausting, but will be so worth it 6 months from now when all that is available are those gross, pinkish winter tomatoes at the supermarket.  Then I shall laugh in the faces of the fools who didn’t want to spend the time preserving as I did, while they eat their crappy, grocery store tomatoes shipped in from Mexico.  Oh yeah, did I mention I’ll be enjoying delicious, fresh bruschetta in February 2009?

I spent most of yesterday afternoon barbecuing the baker’s dozen of corn cobs I purchased at the market on Thursday.  These sweet little niblets of sunshine were shorn from their cobs and individually quick frozen for use later this year.  A few of them also made their way into a roasted corn and sweet pepper salsa I made too.  The Everyman seemed to really enjoy that with our dinner last night, because you could never quite tell which bites had the chopped up jalapenos in it until it was too late.  Perhaps you’d like to try it some time too:

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The Billy(Goat) Kid

It’s been a tough week in the personal lives of the Everyman and I.

Suffice it to say that I won’t be going into it here, but we both realized that we were disillusioned about a major aspect of our lives.  And we’ve decided that adjustments and corrections must be made.

In trying to end the week on a more positive note, I’d offered to take the Everyman to his favorite restaurant for dinner, Cowbell.  The first time I offered he was too down to accept, but the second time he decided he was game.  So, to Parkdale we would go…

I must agree, Cowbell is probably one of my favorite Toronto restaurants too.  Mark Cutrara just gets it.  He’s local and seasonal without being gimmicky.  And, he’s clearly respectful of all the animals that he serves, since he’s made a business model of wasting as little of them as possible.  It doesn’t hurt that I could call on a Friday night (not being a notable VIP either) and still get a seating in the busy restaurant either.

We started with a cold duck consomme with corn and watercress, and beef carpaccio with a roasted tomato puree.  We had intended to enjoy half of each dish and then switch, but the Everyman liked the consomme so much that he didn’t want to give it up.  I had a few spoons, and it was amazing, with just a clean, pure essence of duck and corn.  The carpaccio was spectacular too, but every time I have ordered it there it has been.  The Everyman’s verdict; “It’s just so GOOD” followed by a claim this afternoon that he could’ve had that consomme for breakfast this morning.

For the main course the Everyman had a Cowbell burger, which was essentially the same as the last time he had it, except that this time it featured back bacon instead of pork belly.  The Everyman is not usually a fan of back bacon, but the burger was to die for, especially with the sharp, aged cheddar.  I probably stole half of the fries on his plate and could not quite put a finger to the source of their deliciousness.  While I was enjoying my meal, a plate of three cuts of pork, braised belly, jowl and cotechino sausage with fennel kimchee, chef Mark happened to walk through the dining room to survey all that had come to worship him that night.  The Everyman’s eyes were following him around the room, so I playfully suggested that he might have a man-crush on Cutrara.  To which the Everyman responded that he did, because as he put it, “Mark happens to be very good at something that is very near and dear to many men’s hearts… meat”.  High praise for the chef indeed.  I thoroughly enjoyed my entree, especially the pork belly, which melted from the heat of my tongue.  The cotechino was a surprise hit too, with it’s mixture or pork rinds and ground pork meat and spices.

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The Secret Lives Of Garden Things…

I must admit, I’ve been very bad at chronicling my garden progress this month.

Here we are, almost two thirds through August already and I haven’t even written one post about what is going on up there.

Well, I apologize.  I have several excuses, but both are pretty lame.  Firstly, I’ve been sick since we returned to Chicago, and secondly the hard drive on my laptop died, so I lost all of my stuff and was sort of dejected about it for a while.

Now I realize that it’s time to move on.  In the spirit of that, let’s recap…

Starting in my favorite part of the garden - the tomatoes are quite robust now.  The one thing I will say for heirloom varieties is that although they are extremely delicious, the fruit do not seem to get as big as your average grocery or farmer’s market variety.  This has been puzzling me a bit because I have been giving my plants a steady diet of organic fertilizers since I started in April.  Every other day or so I am able to harvest about a pint’s worth of tomatoes, from cherry and currant-sized to what passes for full grown and pear-shaped.  As of this morning I noticed that one of my Black Zebra plants has officially died, so tonight I will attempt to dig it out to give the others room to grow.  Two other plants (Pruden’s the purple tomato and the strange Greek hybrid from my S-I-L) have yet to achieve their full potential, though both are full of large, beefsteaky tomatoes that are still maddeningly green.  Maybe some day soon I’ll wake up and find a nice red one to eat.  Our favorite overall plant has been the Red Currant, closely followed by the Green Zebra and Garden Peach.  The White Queen was a bit of a disappointment because it had a sort of mealy texture that I didn’t much enjoy.  I really liked the Black Zebra but wished it had been more prolific.  The Black Cherry was amazing, and the Blondkopfchen tasted like eggs.  I’ve decided that next year I’ll need twice as many plants, but will most likely only grow half of the varieties I tried this year.

On the pepper front, we’ve had about three full size Purple Beauty peppers so far, and the Chocolate Beauty peppers are maturing, but not yet brown.  The Chinese 5 Color plant has now moved on from purple to red and yellow – it really is quite pretty and I’ll have to post a picture some time soon.

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I’ve Been Everywhere, Man, I’ve Been Everywhere…

It’s been quite a whirlwind lately.

Last weekend was the Everyman’s birthday – (and being the most awesomest girlfriend on the planet) I decided to take him to Chicago for Lollapalooza – to see his most favorite band (that he’s never seen before) – Rage Against The Machine.

Only, a trip that was supposed to be about enjoying some really good music strangely turned into a trip about enjoying as much completely satisfying food as possible.  Of the 120+ bands that were playing at Lollapalooza that weekend, we managed to catch two.  Yes, twoRadiohead on Friday night and Rage Against The Machine on Saturday.  It’s funny how that happens sometimes, isn’t it?  I guess I know how to Bogart things without even noticing it…

Anyhow, in some ways it was the impossible trip.  Our flight to Chicago was delayed by 3 hours, and by the time the plane came in we were told that it wouldn’t be going anywhere, because the crew couldn’t fly anymore due to flight regulations regarding their shifts.  These 2 crazy girls who were on our flight started freaking out about how they had a concert to get to and generally annoying the desk clerks.  Of course, we were also going to this concert, but we weren’t about to throw a hissy fit about it.  It all ended up working itself out in the end – the flight crew got back on board and flew us to Chicago double-quick, and we got free booze on the plane for our troubles.  Of course, by the time we got to Chicago it was almost midnight, but this was nothing compared to our trip home (more on that later).

Our first true meal in Chicago ended up being honey barbecue wings from room service at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart, and they were surprisingly tasty.  Honestly, at the time I thought my opinion might’ve been tainted by exhaustion and general frustration at that point, but we ended up ordering them again later on in the trip, and they were indeed delicious.  One order of wings is about 15 huge wings, which are both breaded and fried, and then doused in a tingly barbecue sauce.  They were unlike any wing I’d ever tried before.  The Everyman and I devoured the plate between us and then tucked in for some much needed shuteye.  We had a whole trip full of eating to get ready for, after all.

Like any good foodie, I’d researched the best places to eat in Chicago before our arrival, focusing mainly on downscale and delicious fare.  So when we woke up famished on Friday morning I knew exactly where to go.  Although, in hindsight, I might not have known exactly how to get there.  Overall during our stay I’d say I didn’t get us lost, but that I do have quite a knack of getting us to exactly where we needed to be based on hunches.  And when all else failed, we just grabbed a cab :)

Friday morning we headed to a diner called Lou Mitchell’s.  This place was a blast from the past.  When you walk in they offer you homemade donut holes and tiny boxes of Milk Duds to whet your appetite.  It was exceptionally busy, even though we arrived at 10:30 on a Friday, so I took that as a good sign that I’d made a solid choice.  I needn’t have worried.  I had a divine caramelized pecan belgian waffle, and the best chocolate malted I’ve had in years, with a side of smoky bacon.  The Everyman literally inhaled a stack of banana pancakes and a side of bacon (plus half of mine).  The one thing I began to notice about Chicago is that they love their large portions.  I was unable to finish more than half of my waffle or my malted, so when our waitress offered us complimentary homemade ice cream, I had to beg forgiveness.  She actually looked sort of insulted that I couldn’t finish my meal.  After the stuffening we hopped in a cab to our first tourist-y destination, the Shedd Aquarium.

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