Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fresh Tomato Sauce

I've managed to eat a lot of tomatoes in the last few weeks...on BLT's, Caprese Salad, I made a heavenly Bacon Egg Tomato Cheddar Sandwich, and have eaten straight up plain tomatoes. Frankly, tomatoes are one of my favorite foods on the planet. I pulled off several more pounds of tomatoes this morning, and realized I'd need to eat a LOT more tomatoes to avoid them going to waste. So, I thought I'd give this Fresh Tomato Sauce recipe from Gourmet cookbook a try. I am a bit miffed at myself - I can't believe I haven't tried this sooner! It was so easy, and so good. But in my excitement to eat this pile of noodles covered in flavorful, yet delicate sauce, I left my burner on low and burned the last cup of sauce left in the pan. No worries though - I've got a pile of tomatoes double the size of the photo below to work with!

Here's the recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl, 2004. Pgs 207-208

  • 6 pounds of ripe tomatoes, such as beefsteak or plum, peeled (I didn't peel mine! Oops...and I have no idea if I had 6lbs. I eyeballed it and used about 5 medium sized tomatoes.)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves thinly sliced (I minced 6)
  • 1 tsp sugar (In hindsight, I would have tasted the sauce first, then started with a half teaspoon of sugar and work my way up.)
  • 1 tsp salt (Same thought on the salt as the sugar)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley (I went with the basil from the garden)

  1. Core tomatoes and halve crosswise. Working over a sieve set over a bowl, squeeze the tomatoes gently to remove seeds. Discard seeds and reserve juice (I had to press the seeds in the sieve to get additional juice out). Coarsely chop tomatoes.
  2. Heat oil in a 6- to 7-quart pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and cook, stirring until just golden, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, reserved juice, sugar, salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered stirring occasionally, until thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Stir in basil and salt to taste.
Can be made up to 4 days aead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Makes approximately 6 cups, enough for 2lbs of pasta.
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Summer's Bounty

The first of the tomatoes coming out of the garden! Big beefsteak and romas. Makes some of the best BLTs and Caprese Salad ever...
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My version of Beecher's Mac & Cheese

People who know me know that I love Seattle. And, that I especially love Beechers' Macaroni & Cheese. Beecher's Handmade Cheese is a tiny cheese shop in Pike Place Market and it is just incredible. I love every square inch of the store - the windows to the room where they're making cheese, the well stocked, impressive cheese case, and even the crowd drooling over the glorious macaroni and cheese. Frankly, I dream about this place and its macaroni. The macaroni is incredibly rich. Perfectly creamy and just the right amount of heat. I. LOVE. IT.

Well, my regular scouring of the internet brought me to this blog - Bring to Boil, and their Mac & Cheese theory and read on, discovering why Beechers' mac & cheese is so good, AND discovering the recipe! So, I had to give it a try. Could I possibly re-create the world's best macaroni and cheese in MY kitchen?

I came across one of the ingredients that gives Beecher's mac it's signature taste - Chipotle Chile Powder - at the The Spice House at Milwaukee Public Market. A wise investment as it can be used in SO many different foods and truly the key to the great flavor. The next key ingredients were the cheeses...Well, I live in Wisconsin. Land of Cheese. And, I live in Madison, home to the great Dane County Farmer's market where it seems there are cheese sellers every other stall! I am a bit unsure of what Beechers' Flagship Cheese tastes like - this is what they use in their macaroni - so I sought out a cheese at the market that delivered on some creaminess without being too sharp. I chose a 3 year raw milk cheddar by Brunkow Cheese. This booth is always incredibly popular at the market because of their Brun-uusto cheese (the cheese you put on a hot griddle and eat warm), but they've also got a ton of different cheddars to choose from. I tasted all of the 'regular' cheddars (didn't want one with herbs, garlic, etc) and settled on this particular cheddar for it's smooth profile and tad bit of sharpness. I needed a semi-soft cheese as well, and opted for a monterey jack. I thought this would give it an over-the-top creamy texture (and it'd be great with some other meals I had planned!).

The recipe itself is a pretty standard macaroni recipe. Start with a roux, add milk and thicken, then stir in the cheese until melted, toss in the al dente pasta, and bake until bubbly.

Results of this macaroni were as I anticipated - creamy and rich! A very close version of the Beecher's Mac & Cheese. The chipotle pepper really does kick it into high gear, setting this recipe apart from many other macaroni recipes I've tried. Serve this with a's so rich you'll probably go overboard if paired with anything heavier! Give this recipe a try. You won't be disappointed one bit!

Here's the recipe, via Bring to Boil

Beechers’ Style “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese
Adapted from Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh All-American Recipes From The Pacific Northwest.

  • For Cheese Sauce:
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 14 oz semihard cheese, grated, ~3 ½ cups (cheddar, Gruy√®re, Swiss, Gouda, Provolone, Emmenthaler, Beecher’s Flagship)*
  • 2 oz semisoft cheese, grated, ~ ½ cup (Colby, Fontina, brick, Havarti, Montery Jack, mozzarella)*
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ to ½ tsp chipotle chili powder

For Pasta and Toppings:
  • 12 oz tubular pasta (high-quality, pasta would be welcome here)
  • Kosher salt for pasta water
  • 2 oz cheddar, grated ~ ½ cup
  • 2 oz Gruyere, grated ~ ½ cup
  • ½ tsp chipotle chili powder, or more, if desired (this will be to sprinkle atop your final product. See above for the chipotle chili powder notes. If you are not using chipotle and do not wish to add more heat with cayenne, you can also sprinkle the top with sweet paprika, which adds a lovely color and some flavor without added heat.)

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Set a large pot of water on high heat.
  3. Meanwhile, begin the sauce by making a roux: in a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Continue to stir this roux over medium heat for two to three minutes. The roux should be “cooked” and free of the flour flavor but still light in color.
  4. Gradually add milk, whisking briskly to maintain a smooth sauce.
  5. Cook the sauce for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. When sauce thickens slightly, turn heat to very low.
  6. If you have a moment, place the salt, garlic powder, and chili powder together in a mortar and pestle and grind them together to coax additional flavor from the spice and to coat the salt with the spice’s flavor. You could also use a bowl and the back of a spoon for this.
  7. Add cheeses and spice mixture to the sauce, and stir until all the cheese has melted.
  8. Somewhere during this sauce-cooking process, your pasta water has started boiling. Add a generous palmful of salt to the water and cook the pasta until almost—but not quite—al dente (two minutes before the package directions indicate). You want barely undercooked pasta so that it can finish in the oven later. Halt the cooking by draining the pasta and rinsing with cold water. Return pasta to pot.
  9. Pour sauce over pasta and stir until completely incorporated. The combination should be fairly saucy, almost soupy. Dish the mixture into a buttered 9”-13” pan and sprinkle with grated cheeses and chipotle powder.
  10. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, until you have beautiful, browned edges. Those edges will be a welcome and flavorful addition to each serving. Let the dish sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Serve small portions with something raw and fresh; this dish is rich.
Makes 8 small yet decadent servings.
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Chicken Gyros

I wanted something that'd pair pretty well with Tabbouleh and Hummus since I had pita on hand for those. I decided to give this Chicken Gyro recipe a try. I saw this recipe on a couple of blogs: Elly Says Opa and Annie's Eats. I modeled mine after the adaptation posted on Annie's site, but I tweaked hers a little too...recipe is posted below, with my changes.

This was a tasty meal, but to be honest, did take a fair amount of time. The tzatziki sauce needs to sit for 30 mins or longer...You need to marinate the chicken breasts for an hour - but once you do that prep work, the rest comes together quickly! It's a light meal that works well in the summer when you've got some fresh tomatoes you need to work through!

For the tzatziki sauce:
  • 16 oz. plain yogurt (not nonfat, if possible) - I used greek yogurt Fage
  • 1/2 hothouse cucumber or 1 regular cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press (or finely minced)
  • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil

For the chicken:
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 heaping tbsp. plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/4 lbs. chicken pieces (I used 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to even thickness)

To assemble:
  • Pita bread
  • Fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • Red onion, sliced thin
  • Iceberg lettuce sliced ultra thin

  1. To make the tzatziki sauce, strain the yogurt using cheesecloth over a bowl. Let strain for several hours or overnight, if possible, to remove as much moisture as possible. You won't need to strain greek yogurt, and so you can make this sauce the day of.
  2. Shred the cucumber. Wrap in a towel a squeeze to remove as much water as possible. Mix together the strained yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
  3. To prepare the chicken, pound to even thickness. Combine the garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, yogurt, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Whisk together until mixed well. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and mix well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
  4. Cook the chicken as desired, either in the skillet or with the broiler. I used a cast iron grill pan:
  5. Once the chicken is completely cooked through, transfer to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut into thin strips.
  6. Heat pitas in foil for 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven
  7. Top with chicken, tzatziki sauce, diced tomatoes, super-thin iceberg and sliced onions. Serve immediately.

Source: adapted from Annie's Eats originally seen on Elly Says Opa!
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Ina's Hummus, Take 2

I tried making my own hummus earlier this year, but never managed to find tahini. This time around, I found some but only after searching high and low at Woodmans - a grocery store that carries EVERYTHING. I was about to give up my search at Woodmans when I approached the start of the freezer cases and the end of the dry salad dressings and peanut butters to be exact. I walked over towards the guy stocking the shelf to ask if he knew where it was as I glanced down at the bottom shelf at the end of the aisle and there it was. Two tiny jars of tahini. FINALLY.

This recipe (like most hummus recipes) is easy. Put the stuff in a food processor and whirl away. Tweak the lemon and hot pepper seasoning to your taste but be careful to not overdo it! I serve it with pita (untoasted) and veggies. Particularly good with cucumber and tomatoes.

Ina Garten's Hummus Recipe on

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups canned chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons water or liquid from the chickpeas
  • 8 dashes hot sauce

Turn on the food processor fitted with the steel blade and drop the garlic down the feed tube; process until it's minced. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and process until the hummus is coarsely pureed. Taste, for seasoning, and serve chilled or at room temperature.
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Monday, August 3, 2009


I was introduced to tabbouleh a few years ago when I was in New York. We had some from the deli of a the Amish Market near my sister-in-law's apartment. I think I inhaled an entire tub myself. Ever since then, I've been on the lookout for a tabbouleh recipe that'd hit the spot like the Amish Market tabbouleh did. I think this recipe is close!

Overall this recipe is pretty simple I love the tang that the lemons add to this recipe. Combined with the cool tomatoes, and surprising flavor of parsley, this little salad is a great partner to light meals or a good 'munch-all-day' snack. I served this tonight with my chicken caesar pitas and some rice pilaf. I plan to also eat it alongside the Gryo's that are planned for tomorrow night thanks to a recipe on Annie's Eats. A tortilla chip is my vehicle of choice for getting this lemony dish to my mouth, but pita bread would be good too.

Next time I plan to soak the bulghur wheat a little longer than the 10 minutes the recipe suggested. 10 minutes left the bulghur a little too crunchy for my taste. However, I imagine that the longer the tabbouleh sits in my fridge all mixed up, the bulgher will continue to soak up the olive oil and lemon juices and become softer.

Here's the recipe on Tabbouleh

Or halved below (which makes about 2 cups):
  • 1/2 cup bulghur wheat - You can find this in the bulk food section of the grocery store
  • 2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped, with their juice
  • 1/2 cups plus 6 Tbs finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 1 medium bunch) I eyeballed the parsley. You don't want to overdo it!
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt (or to taste!)
  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint

  1. Soak bulghur in cold water 10 minutes. Drain in a sieve lined with damp cheesecloth; squeeze out all water. Transfer to a serving bowl; fluff with a fork.
  2. Stir in tomatoes with juice, parsley, and scallions. Add lemon juice, salt, and oil; season with pepper. Toss to coat. Just before serving, stir in mint.
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Glorious Grilled Chicken

This isn't really a recipe post. I just had to share the photo I shot of the chicken and corn we grilled. See that smoke wafting off that deliciously charred chicken breast? YUM.

The key to the best BBQ chicken is using bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Start with a dry rub if you've got it. Then lightly baste in your favorite BBQ sauce (I prefer Stubb's or Sweet Baby Ray's). Continue basting - I usually go 3 or 4 times - 'til cooked through. It takes somet time, so be patient, it's worth it.

And the corn was the best we've ever had. Juicy, giant kernels that popped right off the cob with just a light bite. Trick to these were shucking the corn, wrapping in foil along with a pat of butter, and putting on indirect heat. The indirect heat part is important. We tried grilling foil-wrapped corn on direct heat a few days later and ended up with over-cooked/charred corn. Not so good. I'm not sure I can ever cook corn on the cob on the stove again! Grilling is the way to go.
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