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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tomato Essence: An Experiment

Michael and I recieved an invitation to join friends for a fun day filled with food and laughter at the lovely hilltop secluded  home of a dear friend. Magical. Everyone was asked to bring something burstingly fresh to share and enjoy with beautifully prepared lamb. What a wonderful challenge this time of year when fresh everything is everywhere.

During the past month or so, Michael and I have eaten fresh tomatoes almost every day.  We can't get enough of them. We've enjoyed them in every possible form.  I didn't think there was anything else I could possibly do with  a perfectly ripe humble sweet tomato. I thought I'd covered the bases....until the garden party.

As an experiment, with caution thrown to the wind coupled with a bit of culinary insanity, I set out to explore the complexity and  essence of uber fresh market tomatoes.....and serve it up as a unified whole.  Crazy.  Really.

I couldn't visit the farmers' market at all last week. I'm still in a weird withdrawal mode about that, I might add.  Michael did our shopping.  I gave him a very basic wish list as a guide for procuring my needs and wants.

* 2 heirloom green tomatoes
* 2 heirloom yellow tomatoes
* 2 heirloom black tomatoes
* 2 heirloom red tomatoes

When I arrived home from work, I found a paper bag filled with baby green zebras, black brandyvines, great whites, cherokee greens, red beefsteaks, and big orange stripes.  Wow.  Tomato heaven.  I was ready to play.

Hold onto your hats.

Tomato Water.
There are several methods for creating tomato water. Although somewhat similar, they vary in preparation.  Not wanting to miss a  beat, I combined them all. After slicing a few wedges from each of the tomatoes, I covered them and set them aside while I chopped the remaining tomatoes into 1 inch pieces.  Working in batches, I pureed them in a blender and poured the pulp into double lined unbleached cheesecloth. At that point, I hit my first glitch because I hadn't thought past that step. 

I knew the tomatoes were supposed to drip and drain, releasing their flavorful juices.  It didn't occur to me exactly how I was going to manage that in my kitchen.  Kitchen twine is usually a very basic thing to have hanging around, right?  I didn't have any, so I used bright red Christmas ribbon to tie the buldging  tomato pulp-filled cheesecloth bag together. 

After stacking 4 thick law books on the counter a foot apart, I placed two copper Moroccan kettles on the books for needed height, placed a bowl between the books, slid the ribbon tied bag through a rolling pin, secured the rolling pin handles onto the copper kettles, and stared at my ridiculous contraption. When Michael wandered into the kitchen and caught a glimpse of our new kitchen art, he laughed. We both did. We had to.

But, it worked. 

 The pure tomato essence slowly started to drip through the cheesecloth. As tempting as it was to squeeze the bulbous bag of pulp, I allowed it to slowly drain,  drip by drip,  for eight long  hours.  Yep.


Tomato Powder,
Ok. I was knee deep in my tomato experiment.  There was no turning back. I climbed to the edge of sanity and jumped.   I really wanted to juxtapose the tomato water with an extreme opposite. Tomato powder was the perfect weapon.  I lugged Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook from its lofty perch and got familiar with his simple method for making tomato powder.

"Squeeze the tomato pulp in a towel to extract any excess moisture.  Line a microwave tray with a piece of parchment paper and spread the tomatoes out in a thin, even layer.  Microwave on low power for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pulp is completely dried, but maintains its color.  Let cool to room temperature,  Grind the pulp in a coffee or spice grinder until as fine as possible.."

Easy. After blanching a large red beefsteak tomato in boiling water for 10 seconds to release the skin, I peeled it, removed the seeds, and diced  the pulp.  I tumbled the pulp into double lined cheesecloth and squeezed every ounce of liquid from the tomato. It seemed funny, after spending  all of those cold winter months longing for juicy summer tomatoes, I was squeezing the life out of an innocent tomato. 

I placed the tomato pulp on parchment paper, slid the plate into the microwave, set the timer for 40 minutes, and took to my couch.  I should have known not to trust the simplistic seductive power of Thomas Keller.  Awash in my tomato powder glee, I overlooked "...microwave on low power".  Thankfully, Michael put out the fire and cleaned  up the mess.

I repeated the process using low microwave power, staying close to my dehydrating pulp the entire 40 minutes. Aside from an occasional spit and flare up, it worked.  I ground the dried pulp into powder, set it aside, and took a deep breath.

As a riff on mayonaise-topped tomatoes, I made a quick lemon chive aioli to accompany the fresh tomatoes.

I plated the gorgeous tomatoes with a sprinkling of  red Australian sea salt and cracked Tellicherry black peppercorns. After topping the  aioli with the tomato powder and snipped chives, I slid the aioli filled ramekin next to the tomatoes.

With a simple garnish of thinly sliced cucumber spears, I filled small parfait glasses with the tomato water and nestled them in soldier-like fashion alongside the pitcher. Crazy.  Each sip of tomato water tasted  like freshly picked profoundly ripe sun warmed tomatoes. Mysteriously delicious.
While the sliced tomatoes needed nothing to boost their glory, the intense tomato powder paired nicely with the bright lemon chive aioli, giving the fresh  tomatoes an earthy depth.

My tomato experiment was a blast. Great fun. Was it a bit of trouble?  Hell, yes.
Would I try it again?
In a heartbeat.

It was worth every adventurous second to capture and enjoy
the true essence of fresh  tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Peachy Keen

Sunday night, Michael grilled a killer slab of barbecued baby back ribs. When they were ridiculously caramelized, we tossed a couple of ears of husk-wrapped sweet ambrosia corn cobs onto the grill to cook alongside the ribs. While devouring supper that night, we bathed ourselves in barbecue sauce and melted butter.  After licking the last salty butter puddle from my plate, I happily volunteered to clear our plates and clean up.  Why? A half slab of meat remained on the bones and I had a plan for it.

I cleaned the kitchen, poured myself another glass of wine, sat down at the kitchen table, and deboned the sticky barbecued pork meat while merrily sucking the bones completely clean along the way. Cook's treat.

Last night, I revisited that happy pork meat. I planned on making  pulled pork barbecued sandwiches with something. As I  rummaged through my farmstand vegetable drawer looking for that something, I ran across a bag of Kentucky grown peaches that I thought Michael had already eaten with his beloved cottage cheese. 

Peaches. I could work with that.  Peaches and barbecue just felt right.  The usual suspects,  grilled peaches or peach barbecue sauce, didn't fit my mood. I wanted  something a bit brighter and fresher.  When I stumbled upon a  jicama bulb tucked behind a slew of golden beets, I was inspired. Peach and jicama slaw.

I peeled the rough skinned jicama, sliced it in half, and julienned it on my mandolin before tossing it into a large bowl with julienned red bell pepper, slivered green onions, and thinly sliced peaches.

After whisking 2 tablespoons honey, dijon, fresh orange juice, and fresh lime juice with 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar into a smooth dressing, I poured it over the slaw, and slid it into the refrigerator to macerate while Michael and I drank wine, sharing our tales of the day.

When it was time to eat, I pulled the luscious pork from the refrigerator, shredded it, and slowly reheated it over a gentle flame in a pool of melted butter. Yep.

I piled the pork onto buttered toasted buns, dropped a few vinegar/sugar marinated cucumbers beside them, and spooned the peach jicama slaw into small vegetable shaped serving bowls.

Honestly, the butter-poached repurposed pork barbecue was better the second time around.  Although it was just as messy, it felt softer and mellower sandwiched  between butter toasted bread. Sticky butter barbecued pork heaven. Crazy good. 

The slaw was a revelation. Gorgeous sweet peaches, crunchy apple-like jicama, sweet red bell peppers, and biting green onions punched through the subtle honey-sweetened citrus dressing with their individual flavors and textures intact, perfectly balancing the richness of the pork.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mess O' Beans

A few days ago, just before the ridiculous heat wave smothered half the nation, a dear friend gave us a mess of fresh green beans plucked  from her mother's garden.  That night, I made a pretty decent double-dredged buttermilk fried chicken topped with fried  rosemary and thyme leaves.

Ultimately, my plan was to serve long simmered bacon-infused green beans with the fried chicken. The perfect pairing for a Sunday supper. Somehow along the way, time got away from me and I lost the luxury of time needed for a long slow simmer of the green beans. Although delicious, I didn't want to settle for beautifully sauteed crisp  green beans.  I craved bacon, especially green beans with bacon.

 Culinary insanity.

After trimming the green beans, I blanched them in salted boiling water for 3 minutes before dumping them into an iced water bath to stop the cooking. When cooled,  I dried them with paper towels and wrapped them with thick cut applewood smoked bacon strips. 

I drizzled the green bean bacon bundles with oilve oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and slid them into a blistering hot 425 degree oven to roast for 15 minutes.  During the last minute, I cranked the broiler to crisp the bacon.

Quick and easy.

The caramelized char of the green bean bundles were wonderfully crunchy, smoky, and sweet.  Combined with the crisp salty bacon, they were perfect bites alongside buttermilk fried chicken. Messy fabulous finger food.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Food Journeys

Michael and I both  adore Greek food. We simply love it. I spent a few weeks there as a kid with my family on a long layover before we moved  back to the United States.  Michael spent a summer in Greece as part of a study abroad course during college. Although our individual time there was years apart, it's interesting to think that our whispered  footsteps might have crossed paths somewhere in Greece.

 I've conjured up many Greek meals throughout the years, hoping to tap into Michael's food memories and shower him with pleasant feelings from his time there.  During my kitchen shenanigans, I've cooked them all; baklava, pasititio, spanakopita, moussaka, gyros, tzatziki, and souvlaki. 

Eventually, after a botched bechamel for yet another moussaka, Michael finally confessed that he never ate those foods while staying  in Greece. At fifty cents a shot, the youth hostel where he stayed offered spaghetti, meatloaf, and cheeseburgers.  Really?  All righty, then. 

That didn't stop me. I did, and still do, cook a lot of Greek inspired food.  I no longer do it in hopes of unlocking tucked away memories of steel blue skies enveloping stark white-washed terraced Santorini homes.  I cook Greek food because we love to eat it. We're seduced by the intoxicating tastes and aromas of garlic, lemon, oregano, and olive oil that identify the Greek flavor profile.

Last night was no exception.  Lately, it's been hotter than hades outside, but the heat hasn't kept me out of the kitchen. Although it alters what I do in the kitchen, I still get in there and play. Last night,  I didn't light a single burner or touch the oven. Nope.

I threw together a very classic Greek salad. A true Greek salad is very straightforward.  It doesn't arrive on a bed of lettuce or have a creamy feta flecked dressing. It's simply sliced tomatoes, red onions, kalamata olives, cucumbers, and green peppers topped with sliced Greek oregano-dusted feta cheese lightly dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper.

On the way to work yesterday, I stopped by the farmers' market and picked up an assortment of tomatoes: baby yellow bells, small black bells, sun gold cherry tomatoes, and black branywine tomatoes. While negotiating the sight-seers, I bagged a few kirby cucumbers, green bell peppers, and baby purple candy onions.  On the way home from work, I literally ran into Fresh Market (wearing blinders to avoid distraction) and grabbed a fabulous block of Greek feta cheese along with a pint oil cured kalamata olives.

When I finally got home, I poured a goblet of chardonnay, sat down at the kitchen table, and lovingly sliced the farm fresh produce into bite sized pieces.  I adore prepping food, loving  the way it feels and smells while working with it. When it's as fresh as it was yesterday, it's shear joy. Each turn of my knife released burstingly fresh vegetable mist into the air and onto my face.  I could see it, smell it, and taste it. Non-cooking doesn't get any better than that. 

The dressing was a snap to prepare. Using a traditional ratio of one to three, I mixed 3/4 cups olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, 1 teaspoon  minced garlic, 1  1/2 teaspoons Greek oregano, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, and whisked it together until the dressing emulsified.

I tossed the vegetables into a large bowl, showered them with dressing and gave them a gentle quick toss. After sliding  the vegetables into the refrigerator to marinate, I joined Micahel in the parlor for a few glasses of while we discussed our upcoming vacation. 

When it was time to eat, I tumbled the gorgeous Greek salad onto our plates, nestled sliced feta cheese on top with a sprinkling of dried oregano, scattered feathery fresh dill, and spooned additional dressing over everything.

It was the perfect foil for a hot summer evening. When sliced, the tangy feta crumbled into the glistening vegetables. Each bite of subtle slivered onions, crunchy cucumbers, meltingly fresh tomatoes, and velvety black kalamata olives  exploded with hints of garlic, soft acidity, and luscious olive oil.  Simply delicious.

Sometime during  the night, after falling asleep on the couch, I was awakened by a notification on my phone.

Michael had posted on Twitter: 
From my travel journal, Summer 1983.
Thank you for an exact duplication.  With
Kentucky tomatoes, and you.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Without even trying.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Trips Too Bountiful?

I'm really not one who believes in the notion of too much of a good thing.  How can too much good be bad? Well, my farmer's market shopping habit has had me rethinking that notion. I shop three times a week, which isn't offensive.  Buying too much stuff on each visit might be. We are not a family of five. We are a family of two. When I browse the market this time of year I can't help myself.  Everything is so damn beautiful and delicious.  That being said, we haven't been able to eat all the stuff that I've accumulated over the past week. Trust me, we've  tried. I think we've eaten fresh corn  (every way imaginable)  every night for two weeks now.

Last night, my vegetable hoarding finally caught up with me.  I had an array of things I really needed to either use or toss.  I used it all. 

I lugged  bags out of the refridgerator vegetable drawer to assess our supper plans.  We had plenty of vegetables.  Plenty.  Soup was the obvious choice. Vegetarian vegetable soup, no less. After chopping, dicing, and mincing green bell peppers, small Yummy orange bell peppers, purple candy onions, green beans, garlic, and speckled roma tomatoes, I sauteed them in olive oil until they were tender.  Just as the onions started to caramelize, I deglazed the pot with a cup of white wine and added 2 cups of vegetable stock.

I had a few large heirloom black brandywine and yellow brandywine tomatoes sitting in a bowl on the countertop that were slightly past their salad prime.  I decided to use their juices to finish the soup base. I could have used my food mill, but didn't feel like dealing with cleaning seeds from the blades.  Messy.  I went the primative route with an oridinary box grater. It was fun. 

After slicing the tips from the tomatoes, I grated them into a fine chinois strainer fitted over a mixing bowl until I had a heaping pile of tomato pulp.  Using a wooden utensil, I sieved the pulp through the strainer until only the seeds and skins remained.  When finished, I had 2 cups of gorgeous tomato essence. 

I poured it into the soup pot along with parsley, oregano, fresh thyme, salt, and pepper.  When it came to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer, clamped on a lid, and let it gently bubble away.

While the soup simmered, I whipped up a quick basil pesto, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it aside.

Corn.  A few nights ago, I made creamy fresh ambrosia corn risotto with sauteed rainbow chard as accompiments for balsamic glazed chicken.  Although the fresh corn risotto was fantastic, we had leftovers. Happy dance. Lefttover risotto is the gift that keeps on giving, especially the gift of arancini di riso or fried risotto balls.  Bingo.

Arancini di riso are usually served as snacks with dipping sauces, but I decided to serve them as dumplings for our soup. Sacrilege.

I pulled the leftover corn risotto from the refrigerator and rolled it into meatball sized 1 inch balls. Using my thumb, I made holes in the centers of each rice ball, stuffed the holes with fresh mozzarella, enclosed the holes by rolling them back into balls, and slid them into the refrigerator to firm up.

Much wine followed.

When it was time to eat, I heated  peanut oil in a heavy pot until it reached 350 degrees. Once the oil tipped the thermometer at 350, I dredged the cheese-filled risotto balls in flour, egg wash, and panko bread crumbs before carefully dropping them into the smoking hot oil to cook.  After a few turns to brown the balls evenly, I  scooped them out, placed them on paper towels, and doused them with kosher salt.

After ladling the soup into  large pasta bowls, swirling in the pesto, I scattered fresh snipped chives along with a few basil leaves and nestled the arancini into the soupy broth.  Fresh lemon finished.

It was a fascinating combination of....well, everything. The hot tomato-infused broth slowly defused the pesto, gradually melting the parmigiano and releasing the basil-flecked olive oil into soup. The broth was light. Very light.  Like sipping air. Tomato air.  Heaven.  The vegetables vanquished to the broth, adding flavor with subtle bites.

Oh my.  When sliced, the arancini crackled and snapped. Splayed open,  the crunchy rice balls oozed cheese, creamy rice, and sweet corn into the soup.  Ridiculous. Really.


This morning, I stopped by the farmers' market on the way to work...
and reloaded.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wrap It Up

I'm not really a sandwich wrap type of guy. I'm simply not a big bread eater, unless it's a tool for sopping luscious sauces and juices from plate drippings. Lately, I've been cranking out sandwiches as if I owned  my own little sandwich shop.  Weird.

Although our kitchen is one of the cooler rooms in the house, the stifling heat has cut into my desire for major stove action. We've eaten more salads, vegetables, and sandwiches in the past few days than we have eaten in the last six months.  Last night, I had a gorgeous head of market bibb lettuce floating around in the refrigerator  leftover from a fried shrimp po' boy supper we devoured a few nights ago.  What to do with it?  For some strange reason, lettuce wraps came to mind. Although intrigued with the idea of lettuce wraps, I've only ordered them once in a restaurant and have never made them at home.

I know there are hundreds of recipes bouncing around the internet, but I decided to throw it together with what I had on hand. Lettuce wrap purists, please don't bawk.

Sauce. After blending  water with fine caster sugar until the sugar quickly disolved, I whisked in citrusy ponzu soy sauce, hoisen sauce, oyster sauce, ketchup, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil.  To bump up the citrus element and cut through the sweetness, I added fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Filling. I sauteed a pound of ground Certified Angus Beef with minced green bell peppers, diced red candy onions, and minced garlic. While the beef and vegetables sizzled away, I whisked together equal parts of light brown sugar and dark soy sauce. After the ground beef, peppers, and onions caramelized, I poured the brown sugar-soy glaze into the pan and let it ooze through the meat mixture, coating every morsel with the sticky salty-sweet glaze.

Assembly. I tore the outer leaves from the bibb lettuce and lined our plates.  After spooning a modest amount of filling into each lettuce leaf, I topped them with roasted peanuts for crunch, sesame seeds,  and quartered grape tomatoes.. I ladled the additional sauce into small ramekins on the side.

Well, well, well. I finally discovered what I've been missing. They were fabulous.  The buttery bibb lettuce leaves were perfect. They were delicately tender, providing a soft crisp wetness that balanced the rich filling. The roasted peanuts added crunch and the tomatoes freshness. The side sauce was a delightful overkill.  Sweet, salty, sticky, messy, and fun.

I looked over at Michael and watched as the dark sugar-soy-infused meat goo dripped through his fingers, down his wrists, and onto his plate. Without a single break in eating, we licked our fingers, chins, elbows, and plates completely clean.

That's a wrap.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Eating Summer. A Farmers' Market Plate

Lately, we've been crazed with farmers' market produce. Crazed turned into frenzy when we had our first bites of fresh locally grown corn a couple of nights ago. Talk about fresh. The corn silks sprayed moisture when I shucked them, squirting  my eyes. Loved it. That night, we had them simply boiled, buttered, and salted. Tender sweet  Peaches & Cream  corn on the cob. Summer. We wanted more.

Early yesterday morning, while Michael slept, I snuck out of the house and made my way to the farmers' market.  Being very early, the market was quiet and peaceful. The calm before the storm. I made my usual three passes, while taking mental notes, before getting down to business. Everything was gorgeous. Corn, yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, blackberries, and swiss chard were everywhere. It was dizzying. Life was good.  I bought everything I wanted, filling my Martha Stewart Tote until it spilled over. I had to stop. Almost.  I had just enough room in my canvas bag for a basket of intriguing green plums that I had my eye on all morning. Done.

We spent a lovely hot and breezy day at the public pool, leaving us tingly, sun-kissed, and heat zapped.

Beaten down from the day-long beating sun, we happily  decided to have vegetables for dinner last night. Vegetables. A plate of summer vegetables. In our house?  Thunder clap?

It was a great idea.  Ok, so we've done the zucchini and yellow squash thing. What we both really craved was something very simple, light, and refreshing. Tomatoes, broccoli, and corn. 

I had to mix it up.....just a bit.

Knowing that we had 8 ears of silver queen in the refrigerator to eventually  butter, smother, and cover, I decided to make savory small corn souffles to accompany the tomatoes and broccoli. By small souffles, I mean really small souffles.

With the addition of fresh cut-off corn, any savory souffle recipe would have worked.  Since I made teeny tiny 3 oz. souffles,  I had to alter the proportions dramatically. I melted 1 tablespoon of butter before adding 1 tablespoon of flour to creat a roux.  Once  the roux thickened and the flour cooked out, I added 3/4  cups milk and 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese.  When the souffle base cooled, I whisked in one beaten egg yolk, fresh cut-off Silver Queen corn kernals, and snipped chives.  After beating one egg white until stiff, I folded the souflle base into the fluffy egg white and poured the mixture into two buttered 3 oz ramekins. Really?   Seriously.  Why would anyone make two tiny 3 oz souffles?  I had to laugh at myself.  Anyway, after filling the ramekins, I slid them into my turquoise  Kenner Easy Bake Oven and let them bake for 20 minutes.
I steamed drop-dead gorgeous Anderson County broccoli until it was perfectly cooked and set it aside. After slicing Pulaski County black and yellow heirloom brandywine tomatoes, I fanned them around our plates before placing the trouble-free corn souffles in the center of our plates, twirling  the broccoli florets around them. Not wanting to muck it up, salt and pepper were the only seasonings.

Specks of chervil and chives finished as garnishes.

All kidding aside, the corn souffle bites were delicious, light, and airy. Sometimes, I have to laugh at myself.

The juicy heirloom brandywine tomatoes and hot steamed broccoli rocked. So fresh. So good.

After devouring everything, we tipped the plates to our lips and drank the remaining juices.

A great way to eat and drink summer.

Friday, July 8, 2011

After The Party

Whew. The three-day Fourth of July weekend was an adventure in unabashed gluttony. During the holiday, we devoured gyros, pizza slices, smothered loaded hot dogs, fried fish, chips, cupcakes, funnel cakes, and Kettle Korn.  Festival food.  All washed down with hundreds of cocktails from various street bars, beer vendors, drag clubs, and gay bars. It was crazy fun,  unrivaled revelery, and  utter debauchery.  When it finally wound down, we were exhausted.

We needed a break. 

We needed calm food.

During the celebratory weekend, we failed to grocery shop.  Who had time?  Why bother? There was plenty to eat and drink on every corner of every street. When the fun died down and we actually had to eat at home, I had to resort to what we had tucked away in the pantry and refrigerator to feed our cheery wearied souls.

Thankfully, I had the basics stashed away.  Combined with pieces and parcels of other things, I managed to pull together a peaceful meal.  I had forgotten about market fresh  pattypan squash buried in the vegetable bin under zucchini, cucumbers, scallions, snow peas, and gnarly carrots. They weren't the cute one-bite tiny ones more suited to a quick saute. They were a bit larger and required some thought.  I didn't want to simply cut them up and cook them.

When I was a kid, Marge cooked fresh yellow squash and mashed the pulp with cream cheese, salt, and pepper. They were fabulous. Over the years, I've adapted her squash recipe by stuffing it back into the hollowed out cooked yellow squash shells.

I thought something like that could work with the saucer shaped pattypan squash.

I had a plan.

I sliced the tops off the pattypan squash, reserved their lids, and scooped out a small hole in each squash using a melon baller. After mixing fresh goat cheese with snipped chives, I filled and mounded the squash with the herbed cheese.  I tossed together panko bread crumbs, paprika and fresh parsley.

Once it was thoroughly blended, I rolled the goat cheese topped squash through the breadcrumbs, gently patting the crumbs into the cheese.  After cranking the oven to 400 degrees, I slid the squash into the oven and let them roast for about 35 minutes, until they were browned and tender.

While the squash roasted away, I sauteed asparagus tips until they were crisp tender, sliced roasted red bell peppers into thin strips, halved a few grape tomatoes from the back deck, and quartered small yellow bell pepper tomatoes from Best Family Farm. After tossing the vegetables into a bowl along with a  handful of fresh spinach leaves, I lightly dressed the salad with a white balsamic vinaigrette.

While still recovering from the barrage of margaritas, gimlets, vodka tonics, and shots from the previous festive days, I joined Michael in the parlor for several soothing glasses of wine.

Welcome home, reckless revelers.
When it was time to eat, I gave the salad a final toss, plated it,  and nestled the roasted goat-cheese encrusted pattypan squash into the dressed spinach leaves, letting the tomatoes, asparagus tips, and roasted peppers tumble where they may.

For a note of luxurious soft saltiness, I tucked thinly sliced prosciutto ribbons into the salad alongside the roasted squash.
It was fantastic. The slightly sweet white balsamic vinaigrette whispered subtle acidity, providing a gentle brightness to the roasted sweet squash. The crispy goat cheese was ridiculous. It didn't melt while roasting. At all. Suspended under the crispy breadcrumbs as if it were a savory mousse, the tangy smooth goat cheese was as light as air.

The excessive holiday party was great fun,
but there's nothing quite like a quiet afterparty.
At home.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Spaghetti Squash?

Among other things, I'm afraid of heights.

The past month has been a whirlwind  of doctor appointments, blood tests, and ultrasounds. The battery of tests eventually culminated with a biopsy of a growth on my thyroid.  The entire process took about 3 1/2 weeks.  Ample time for thought and introspection. My response was to go on auto-pilot. I worked without uttering a  word of the process, leaving the thoughts to dance in my head. I shopped haphazardly and passionless, parking, shopping, and driving home. I cooked recklessly, but ate with abandon.  I drank and attended happy hours. I tried to be happy.  On auto-pilot. The entire time, a silent emptiness weighed me down.  What was the point of anything or everything?

During the last few days of waiting for the biopsy results, I found myself perched  on a very high precipice looking down on my life, love, and future. Heights.While emtionally teetering on the edge of nowhere, I slowly and methodically became  paralyzed by fear.  Fozen.  Numb.  Waiting. As I look back, I don't even recognize the me that was me, at the time. I thought I was fearless, brave, bold, and snarky.

Michael was a rock.

When the good news finally arrived, the world changed. My world changed.  Everything seemed softer,  sweeter, and clearer. Life mattered again.  I felt focused and real. I woke up. 

I was back.
I shopped at the farmers' market this past Thursday.  It felt different because I was different.  
Thursday morning, I left the house for work an hour early to have time to really enjoy the market, breathe the air, stroll around, and  talk to the vendors. I had the best time. 

The Thursday famers' market has finally come into its own.  It was bustling at 8:00 am. I loved it. Baskets of Roma Beans from Anderson County drew me in. "They're the first crop of the season.", she happily offered. I bought a pound.

Across the graveled path, Best  Family Farms had the most beautiful early season heirloom tomatoes.  I couldn't believe it. I asked Bill Best if they were hydroponically grown.  They had to be. Most of the market tomatoes were.  "Nope.", he muttered.  "I grow them in the ground, covered with plastic.".  "Growing them in the ground this early covered with plastic makes them taste like late August tomatoes." Indeed.

I made my way to the other side of the market.  After passing Kentucky grown peaches (who knew?) and tons of blueberries, I discovered the land of zucchini and yellow squash.  Wow. Must be squash season.  One vendor had yellow squash that was an incredibly deep yellow. Deep deep yellow.  I asked him why they were so yellow. Shrugging his shoulders, he simply said, " I don't know. They'er just yellow."  All righty, then.

While in the land of zucchini and yellow squash, I loaded my bag with small discs of patty pan squash and  gorgeous zucchini.
Michael and I usually don't eat a lot of zucchini. We've always attributed it to the tons of zucchini bread we felt obliged to eat from a zucchini-crazed former college roommate. I wasn't going to bake zucchini bread. Nope. I had a trick up my sleeve.

Zucchini squash. Spagetti squash. Zucchini spaghetti squash.

It was embarrasingly simple.

Using the finist julienne attachment on my mandolin, I sliced 4 plump zucchinis into fine pasta strands. 

 I got a cast iron skillet smoking hot before drizzling it with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil rippled, I tossed  the zucchini pasta into the skillet, seasoning it generously with salt and pepper.  I sauteed the zucchinni  for exactly 1 minute before twirling it onto our plates nestled beside  panko-parmesan-encrusted pan fried chicken smothered in San Marzano tomatoes and oozing fresh mozzarella cheese.

That was it.  A different take on pasta.  A huge departure from traditional spaghetti squash.  It was zucchini squash spaghetti.

Crisp, al dente, and fresh.
Just as life should be.