Author Archives: dave379

About dave379

www.foodnsight.wordpress.com Adventures and Observations in Food and LIfe

Invitation to Tomato Risotto

You’re invited!

I hope you come, because it’s going to be worth it.

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Tomato risotto.

Crunchy. Soft. Sweet. Sour. Sweet. Intriguing. More please.

These are some of the initial adjectives and commands that come to mind whenever I make this. After you try it, you might find yourself adding some more. The last two times I made it, for the family picnic last summer and a Princeton tailgate last month, I was party to almost the exact same, honest-speaking exchange:

My cousin (last year) / A new friend (this year): “Wow, this is really good.”
Me: “I know, right!?”

Lucky for me was the day sometime during the summer of 2009 when I happened to borrow Invitation to Mediterranean Cooking by Claudia Roden from the public library. I tried a few recipes from it at the time, and they were all good, but the one that stood out was Tomato Risotto. I’ve taken the book out several times since – let’s just say that mark on page 87, opposite the tomato risotto picture, may or may not have been caused be me (a food bookmark is what you want to see in a cookbook anyway, right??) – and I was looking forward to seeing the familiar pages again after I’d decided to make the recipe again last month. When I went to get the book from the library, though, someone else had taken it out! I also couldn’t find the photocopy I’d made of the recipe, which I wanted to see to double check the amounts. So, to the computer I went, and a small donation to the internet commerce fund later, I became the owner of my very own kitchen copy.

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Simple, good design outside, and like recipes inside

Here’s how to get the party going.

Tomato Risotto

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 12 fresh ripe local tomatoes, diced (about 6 cups, including the liquid)
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 1/2 tsp sugar

Steps

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until partially softened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the rice.
  4. Add the tomatoes.
  5. Add the wine.
  6. Simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the rice is mostly cooked (just a little crunchy), stirring occasionally.
  7. Add the salt, pepper, and sugar.

I love writing three-word steps.

The next step is to try not to eat too much of it before going to your picnic, potluck, or tailgate. I like it best either warm or at room temperature. If you think the recipe looks really easy – and it is – allow me to note the following also: the original recipe doesn’t include onions (I added them), and I doubled the recipe (why make less when you can make more). A few other small variations from the C.Roden original are the salt, pepper, and sugar quantities. I listed what I used this time, but as I’ve noted in the past, such as when making lyrical tomato sauce, how much to add is up to you.

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Two before shots

Yes, that’s how my table looked right before picking the 12 ripest tomatoes for the risotto.

These days, as in today, it’s looking more varicolored:

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Red and green and shades between,
The fruit picked and the plants stripped,
Some ready and some waiting,
A table of the frost’s creation.

Yes, last weekend New Jersey had its first frost, which means a few things: I picked all the tomatoes from my community garden plot ahead of time (red and green), and farmers around the state, and in other states, picked their last tomatoes for the season too.

There were still some tomatoes at the farmers’ market when I went this week, though, and when I asked a farmer friend about it, he said you should be able to still get tomatoes at the market for a week or two.

Which means, of course, tomato risotto! As in, it’s not too late. It’s there if you want it, a little summer wow to help bring in the fall.

Summer Roasting

I write this from a place of sitting-sweating.

Labor Day has come and gone, but for those already missing summer, I have the answer: Summer Roasting.

To do it my way, there are five easy steps: 1) Stop at the local farm stand (Z Food Farm) on your way home, 2) Turn your oven on to 400 degrees, 3) Turn your air conditioner off, 4) Put the chopped vegetables into the oven, and 5) Let them roast for 50 minutes while you do your own best roasting impression while preparing the rest of dinner, standing or sitting nearby.

That’s how I did it today, and also once last week and the week before (except for the air conditioner part; no need to turn mine off because I don’t have one. 🙂 Yes, it’s often summer roasting time here in my kitchen).

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The results are worth it though, and you also can’t discount the perspiration inspiration.

Sweat I swear
Is what I wear,
My beats are bold and
My beets are golden.
My features wetter
Than washed red peppers,
Onions chopped and garlic diced,
Potatoes cut and pink flesh shown,
This time I own, as pieces roast.
My current state, do not bemoan,
The heat is real, but here, no boast,
Cooled a bit with fresh apple juice,
Fifty minutes? Sixty would be nice,
Got an eggplant going, for baba ghanoush.

That is the state of things here, truth in rhyme.

Olive oil and salt and pepper were also involved, and purple carrots too. I’ll include them here in the more traditional, full version of the recipe.

Summer Roasting Roasted Vegetables

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 red potatoes, peeled
  • 3 golden beets, peeled
  • 3 purple carrots
  • 3 onions
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  1. Dice the garlic.
  2. Chop the other vegetables (into similar-sized pieces; I did roughly 1 cm cubes).
  3. Add the vegetables, olive oil, salt, and pepper to a baking dish.
  4. Mix everything together.
  5. Roast at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes.

The end result is nothing but sweet, roasted vegetable goodness.

It’s also easy to make, and the choice of vegetables, and colors, is up to you. Later in the fall I’ll also add Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. The numbers of each vegetable is also flexible, but if you do solid threes across the cutting board, you can make it a game of culinary #threestag. This time, except for the one red pepper, I was threezing (but not freezing). Next time, I’m going try 2 Tbsp of olive oil too instead of 3 because I think that’ll be enough, or I’ll add more vegetables.

And that’s summer roasting! Yes, there’s the oven. But there’s also the taste, and the colors a plenty (some shown here below, before roasting), for the overall loving.

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Adirondack Red Potatoes

adfs

Golden Beets

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Purple Carrots

 

Double Sweet Summer Garden Salsa

Growing up, I always loved sweet corn. It was a true summer treat, bought fresh from a local farm and then steamed at home for 5-10 minutes before being rolled around on a satisfying-to-the-sight-now-melting stick of butter (or sprinkled heavily with salt if you’re my dad) and eaten along with the rest of dinner. Yellow, white, or bi-color, it didn’t matter to me so long as it was sweet and fun to eat, which is what it was.

And it still is – and still is that simple to make.

But what else can you make with fresh sweet corn that is similarly simple and tastes great? Double Sweet Summer Garden Salsa! Of course. 🙂

I made it twice this week, the first time because it seemed like a good idea, and the second time to confirm that it was ready for the world. The key ingredients are sweet corn and grape tomatoes, both of which I had growing in my garden.

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Ready for picking

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Ready for a close-up

The other fresh ingredients, onions and garlic, I got from my CSA market share. And then the rest – the olive oil, salt, and pepper – were in my cupboard already and ready to go.

Double Sweet Summer Garden Salsa

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped into pieces about the size of corn kernels
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed
  • 25 grape tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  1. Saute the onion and garlic over medium heat until softened, about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Add the corn and grape tomatoes, and cook for about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and pepper.

And that’s it! Sweet and simple.

The simplest actually would be to do each on its own – an ear of sweet corn husked and then eaten, uncooked, right off the cob (if you’ve never tried it, give it a shot!), and grape tomatoes picked and then popped right in the mouth (it’s more likely you’ve tried this, but if not, give it a shot too!). The combination of sweet corn and sweet grape tomatoes, though, with a touch of the natural tomato tartness, is worth the extra time. And what’s 30 minutes in the end when you’re making something else at the same time that takes a little longer (fresh tomato sauce in my case this time).

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On the cutting board

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In the frying pan

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And in the blue dish

You can eat it hot or cold, but I like it hot.

I’ve been eating it straight like a side dish, but it would also be good with chips or as a taco, burrito, veggie burger, or salad topping. Hmmmm, maybe another name for it could be sweet corn and grape tomato summer salad dressing.

However you use it, and whether the ingredients come from your garden or the farm, there it is, Double Sweet Summer Garden Salsa. Enjoy! Two summer sweets brought together.

 

Friday Flowers and Pedal Progress

Two weeks ago, the sunflowers in my garden, that the garden planted for me, were just beginning to bloom. Friday, June 26 saw a couple of these:

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and a few of these

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Also present were some of the following:

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Readers of past posts and those who grow gardens will probably recognize these vegetable varieties. For others, who might need a helpful hint or who like a little challenge, here are clues as to what the three plants above are: the names of the plants, provided in the same order as the pictures above, in newspaper comics-page jumble form.

    • AHIRDS
    • MOTTOA
  • MURMES SSUAHQ

(*Unjumbled answers below)

Two days ago, on Friday, July 10, my morning trip to the garden included a show of similar, and greater, color.

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Yellow, red, orange, reddish-orange, and more, the full blooms have begun, and the bees are buzzing, about they go.

In the garden, I took a tour, and like walking through an outside room full of sun, the leaves and I are loving, all that grows.

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Along with the sunflowers, the three plants above (*radishes, tomatoes, and summer squash) continued on as well. Not pictured are some of the fruits and vegetables already harvested from these plants. The garden also planted some more of the following for me this year (July 10 portraits as well):

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Morning glories

and I transplanted in some of these

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Cucumbers

The flowers are from my garden back home, but the words come from the road. The petal progess is something to behold, and I’m happy to share it with everyone who loves flowers, color, and life.

Meanwhile, I’m also pursuing some pedal progress, about which I’ll share a bit too.

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Today I went for a 74 mile bike ride, from Oswego to Geneva, NY. Tomorrow will be another 60 miles, and then it’ll be about the same in the 70 to 80 mile range each day after that, until on the seventh day I arrive back at our final destination in New Jersey.

Along with 175 other riders and a crew in support, I’m participating in the annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways, which helps raise money for the Anchor House, a nonprofit in Trenton, NJ that supports runaway, abused, and at-risk children.

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The Anchor House provides temporary housing, counseling, and other important services for kids in need.

If you’re in a giving mood and would like to join in the support, here’s a link you can visit. Your generosity, whether expressed at home in your corner of the world, or expressed and felt also in Trenton, is always appreciated. If you like, you can also follow the events of the Anchor House Ride through the articles posted this week at Planet Princeton.

Hope you and everyone are having a great and bright week 🙂

-Dave

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A two t-shirt day

Those who know me, and in particular those who have seen my closet, know that I have a fair amount of t-shirts.

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I can’t remember the last time I bought a t-shirt, but I sure do have a lot of them. On this one shelf (not all pictured) there are 81. I counted. After tidying them up for the picture.

They have a variety of origins – gifts, giveaways, events, races, and the occasional (way back when) purchase – but mostly they’re from races. Run a race? You get a shirt! You get a shirt? Add it to the shelf! And then you kind of rotate through them, with some getting more attention than others, owing to factors like a good design, a better fit, and that it’s easier to grab the ones near the top.

This past Sunday was a two t-shirt day, as in, I got two new shirts to add to the collection. The reason was that I did a 5K, which naturally came with getting a t-shirt, and then after the race they gave me another t-shirt as part of the award…for winning the race!

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Race shirt

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Award shirt from one of the race sponsors, a toute heure

I usually don’t make a big deal about accomplishments, and part of me, as I’m writing this, wonders if I’ll actually post this when I’m done, but what the hell :). I haven’t written a race recap in a while, and I felt good and had a good time doing it, as in I was enjoying it while I was running. So here we go!

First as a disclaimer, I would say that yes, my current running fitness is pretty good, but it’s also not at the level that would typically win a race. Usually even in a smaller race like this one, there’s a handful of people who will go faster than the 19+ minutes I did. I also didn’t enter it because I had visions of winning. I entered because my brother was doing it and it would be another opportunity go see him and his family. Running it could also confirm where I was at running-wise; in the past month or two, I feel like I’ve been getting back into it, enjoying it more again and feeling like I want to keep building it up.

All things considered, my finishing position at the end was a highlight, since it’s a pretty rare thing for me end up there, but what else stood out? Mostly it was the process, which is to also say the story, the guts of it.

While warming up and then standing at the start, my mindset this time was actually better than it usually is. I was pretty successful at staying relaxed and not worrying about it. I don’t do too many races, but often there’ll be a time right before the start that involves some focused worries about ‘not doing well’ or ‘not running good enough’ (‘what if I can’t do it?’, ‘what if I don’t go fast enough,’), which are typical and understandable thoughts but also ones I could a little more without. Butterflies are good, but to a point.

A minute or two after the start, the field settled, and the following became clear: there were only two people in front of me, they were at most five seconds in front of me, and we were going about the same pace. My basic, non-winning and relaxing-but-still-pushing-it-a-little plan going into the race was simply to stay calm and collected and go slightly faster than would feel comfortable. And there I was, doing that, and near the front. Which then produced a minute or two of the old worry…what if I keep this up? what if I pass them and take the lead? what if I can’t do it after that???

And then I was like, Whatever, I’m just going to keep doing my thing. We passed the first mile mark at just over six minutes, with me still a few seconds behind and feeling good, and then the guy in second slowed his pace just slightly. I had a brief moment where I thought, I could just hang back, not take a chance, and run with this guy, and then the moment passed, and I passed him. And then I was up behind the guy in front, who now also was slowing. The thought repeated itself, but this time in more of a split-second format, and I passed him. It was about seven or eight minutes in, and I never looked back.

I kept going at my pace and my original plan, and it flew by. I noticed that being in front also seems to get you more cheers, but not considerably more than say, two years ago, when I last did the race and did it at a more modest pace, while pushing my niece in the Bob. I led in the stroller division that day and remember getting a equal amount of “Go Dad!” cheers from the people watching and “Go faster Uncle D! You’re not going fast enough!” statements from the four-year old getting the free ride.

My brother pushed his other, younger daughter in the Bob this time, and a highlight of the race this year came a little over two miles in, as the route made a left turn past the corner where my sister-in-law and my now six-year old niece were standing.

“Uncle D! Uncle D! Uncle D! Uncle D! Uncle D! Uncle D! Uncle D! Uncle D!”

I think that’ s an exact quote.

Plus or minus.

And then before I knew it, I crossed the finish line. And my thoughts went from, I’m doing this, to, I did it 🙂

What if I can do it. What if I believe in myself. What if I keep doing my own thing and keep enjoying it. What if what if becomes more of memory.

It was a good run, and one of more to come.

On time, and in time, in the garden

The community gardening season is back! Actually it’s been back for a month now, with the recreation department having prepared the plots and let us know we could get started on May 1st. I’ll admit that my initial reaction to the later start was to be annoyed (late March/early April would have been better for peas and other things), but when I did finally make it there on May 9th (yep, more than a week after I could), it turned out alright. Like it always does 🙂

Had I gone right away, I wouldn’t have seen the small plants coming up from the seeds left behind by last year’s plants – sunflowers, morning glories, and radishes! Apparently there were some strong little seeds that made it through the winter and the recreation department’s roto-tilling.

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Upon initial inspection, seeing a lot of brown

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But then after looking more closely, some green

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And some more

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And more! Here, a radish seedling.

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A cilantro plant said hello as well

It was a reminder that timing is everything. And that also important is how you respond. This time (and lately more times than not, I believe) my response was (and has been) one of more going with it and seeing the beauty and appreciating what’s there. I wouldn’t call it a laissez-faire attitude, which would imply a lack of action and responsibility, but rather more of a forward-moving, active one, with ownership acknowledged. I can control and act on what I can, like getting started in the garden and planting things (tomatoes, basil, hot peppers, summer squash, cucumbers, corn, edamame, and more sunflowers, cilantro, and radishes!, so far), but you never know how it’s going to turn out. So you go with it and adapt along the way. Like, for instance, how it looks like I’m going to be planting some more seeds or buying more transplants (I actually just got some cucumber and tomato transplants at the farmers’ market yesterday) for the places where the cucumber, edamame, and cilantro seeds didn’t come up. And that’s okay. And like, for instance, how I can take more classes, write more, draw more, apply for different jobs, go on dates, meet more people, and do whatever, and we’ll see how it goes and figure it out.

When you have the right mindset, things also seem to happen at the right time. A friend of mine, who read a number of foodnsight posts recently, remarked how a lot of them were about time, and I think he’s right. I’d thought about starting the blog for a while, but it didn’t actually happen…until it happened to be right time.

A coconut falls when it’s ready.

You can’t say your mother’s soup is the best until you’ve stepped out of her kitchen.

Proverbs add spice to language.

I think, but I’m not completely sure, that’s how these three food / life / thought proverbs go. That’s how I remember them at least, having heard them in lecture and in conversation by a bouncing, full of life college professor who was originally from Ghana and who you could tell truly enjoyed what he was doing both in school as a professor and outside of school as a minister, which in general was teaching, connecting with people, and adding a lot of energy and spice all around.

It’s always the right time to do what you want to do, and to do what feels right. The coconut for the inception of this blog fell a little over a year ago, and more have been falling since, at different rates. Sometimes it’s a chance encounter with a special rutabaga (and a day off from work, and the deadline of a family gathering), or sometimes it’s a neighbor’s gift of plantains (and a good run, plus a friend’s general suggestion to let the words come more easily), and then it falls more quickly. Other times it’s the lessening shelf-life of a winter squash, or that the gravity (and levity) simply builds up, and then it’s time. In any case, the cumulative result is also a chronicle of time passing, a certain curated version of my life that also, I hope, comes with bits of art, truth, and beauty mixed in with the radishes, pumpkins, and risotto. It’s also great when the fun, funny, and creativity are all flowing.

Given the timing of this post, more than a month after the last one, I say we also take a little time and a quick look at some of the food highlights and time-points from May.

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Plantains – I made them, and they were awesome! I more or less followed my neighbor’s recipe, which in my case turned out to be the following: after letting three yellow plantains ripen (after about a week they softened a bit and the outsides turned somewhat black), I peeled them, sliced them into coins, and fried them for 5-10 minutes (flipping them halfway through) in an oil mixture of 2 cups canola oil and 2 Tbsp palm oil. I also let the oil heat up first before frying them (medium heat), and when they were done I placed them on a plate with a paper towel to dry.

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Spinach – This one also deserves an exclamation point. Sauteed spinach with chopped garlic and rutabaga, made in a mixture of canola and palm oil! I could have eaten a plateful of this it was so good. It was easy too: I sauteed the diced rutabaga (about a cup’s worth) in a few Tbsp of oil over medium heat, then added the diced garlic (a few cloves worth) and sauteed that also until it was softened just like the rutabaga (this brought me to about 15 minutes now from the start), and then added the spinach (about 8 oz, but you can add more) and let it cook over low heat for a few minutes until the spinach was wilted (pictured above). As if that wasn’t good enough (though it was, believe me), I also tried the following: 1) adding a handful of chopped raisins and chopped sliced almonds, and 2) adding the chopped raisins and almonds, and also adding some finely shredded Parmesan cheese. Both ways, so good.

If the canola and palm oil mixture sounds familiar too, it should! It’s the same oil that I used for the plantains. And by the “same” oil, I do literally mean the same oil because, really, although plantains soak up some oil when they’re fried, the amount that remains from the original 2+ cups of oil when frying three plantains is…well, I didn’t measure it, but it looked something like 1-2 cups still remaining. So there was plenty left for me to use with everything I cooked for about two weeks afterwards 🙂 And the rutabaga! Like a squirrel saving a food-prize for later, I still had a softball-size piece of rutabaga left over from the original big one, tucked away in the back of the fridge, waiting for me to use. I had just gotten a fresh bag of spinach from the farmers’ market, and something in my head put the two together…spinach and rutabaga. Yes! It was time to cook the acorn. (I used the rest of the rest of the rutabaga, similarly diced and plantain oil sauteed, in a good tomato sauce the same day.)

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Asparagus – Spring time means not only fresh spinach, but also fresh kale, lettuce, strawberries, and asparagus! (and more). The picture above is from a few weeks ago, when I stopped at Terhune Orchards one afternoon after a bike ride and picked a few pounds of asparagus and several quarts of strawberries. Mmmmmmmmmmm, fresh local strawberries. I wish I had some right now… Yes, and asparagus too 🙂 Part of me also wishes that I had a good picture of the strawberries to use here, as a nice, sweet, juicy, red picture would look great following the yellow and green ones above. But that’s alright. And in the absence of such a picture, let’s give asparagus a little extra love. If you’ve never seen asparagus growing, that’s really how it looks in the field, the green shoots growing right up out of the ground (followed by tall ferns later if the spears aren’t harvested). To pick asparagus, you just snap the shoots off at the base. And then once you’re home, you can steam them, add them to pasta, put them in risotto, grill them, roast them with olive oil / salt / pepper and then add a little lemon juice right at the end!, and do lots of other things I’ll try sometime. Lately I’ve been steaming them since it’s quick, like 5-10 minutes, and then adding either a little salt or no salt. Easy and good.

In the process of finding the rutabaga, I came across a few other things in the fridge that, shall we say, ran out of time. Usually I’m pretty good at using things up, but there were a few small things I had to toss this time. And in the world where food mirrors life, and combine, so too were there some ideas I thought I would use when I started writing, but that now I know I’m going to have to toss. In the process of writing, and now feeling where I’m at and the writing is at, I’m reminded again that not everything can make it into the soup. Ideas, people, and stories can’t be forced; it’s better when it all flows and happens naturally. As another friend once reminded too, if it’s important and needs to be felt or said, there’s always another post, another time.

In the garden, things are growing. The passage of time, a month, allows me to share the following:

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May 9

May 16

May 16

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May 23

June 5

June 5

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Projected future outcome

Actual results may vary…

But where there are buds, flowers often follow 🙂

For now, I found some flowers of another kind, from thinning the radishes,

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Radish bouquet

and found some color, and neat patterns too, from underground.

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How about that for beauty? It’s like looking down at farm fields from an airplane, but with every shade of red instead of green (and with a lyrical inspiration nod to “The Hudson” by Dar Williams). I think I have a thing for radishes.