Archives for posts with tag: vinaigrette

Yes, I am still here (I haven’t decamped for France again), but I thought you might enjoy a special tomato season treat, a guest post from my friend Deborah Sandler.

Deborah Sandler has enjoyed California’s bounty of fresh local food since arriving here in 1979, and swears never to live anywhere else because the food is so good.  She loves to cook and to feed people, and often tells her guests, “Nobody goes hungry at my house!” Deborah is a Farmer’s Market freak, often attending at least two a week, year round, rain or shine, on the lookout for whatever is in season and at its best.  Tomatoes are one of her favorite foods, and she shares one of her tomato recipes here.  When she isn’t cooking, she sings, and practices family law (while making sure to bring her office-mates lots of fresh food, because nobody goes hungry in her office either).

Original watercolor painting shows platter of tomatoes, olives, basil, feta cheese.

“My Somewhat Famous Tomato Platter.” (after Deborah Sandler). 8″ x 8″ Acquarelle on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Tomatoes are finally in season!  I yearn for them during the winter, and sometimes am seduced into buying hothouse tomatoes that look lovely but do not have the texture or zing of the real thing.  When you bite into a tomato that has been locally grown, recently picked, and never refrigerated, the flavor is huge and unmistakeable.  When I was growing up on the East Coast, tomatoes came wrapped in plastic, colored a sickly pink, four to a package, all exactly the same size and shape, firm and tasteless.  I lived in the suburbs, and didn’t know anyone who was growing tomatoes, so it was quite rare that I got to taste a real tomato.  That changed once I moved to California.  Many of the restaurants featured amazing tomatoes in their salads, and friends actually grew some in their yards.  I had no idea a tomato could look, smell or taste like this!  In recent years, heirloom tomatoes have appeared all over the place, stunning in their profusion of shapes, colors and flavors.  Their names are poetic and whimsical – here are just a few examples from one web site that sells seeds for them, and from my  local Farmer’s Markets:  Arkansas Traveler, Banana Legs, Bloody Butcher (ew!), Cherokee Purple, Black Russian, Dingwall Scotty, Green Zebra (and yes, these have stripes), Halfmoon China, Hank (hey, that’s my dog’s name!), Jersey Devil, Berkeley Tie-Die, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Mr. Stripey, Nebraska Wedding, Yellow Pear, and Stump of the World.

I live in Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 30-45 minutes inland from the ocean and from San Francisco.  For those not in California, that means that the climate here is far different from that in San Francisco.  Where the City might be 62 degrees and foggy on a summer afternoon, here it may be over 100 degrees and sunny.  We get some of the San Francisco fog, but not much.  The down side is that our winters are colder, foggier, and danker than those in San Francisco.  We are only an hour from the Central Valley, which runs down through the center of the state, and where much of the nation’s produce is grown.  Even closer is Brentwood, a major agricultural area just to the east of us, that features plenty of U-Pick farms and orchards, as well as farm stands.  Because our local weather is so warm, plenty of people around here grow their own produce, and some even sell at the local Farmer’s Markets.  Here is a partial but by no means exhaustive list of Farmer’s Markets within 15-30 minutes of my house:  Martinez Sunday morning (I think this is now year-round), Martinez Thursday mornings, Concord Tuesday afternoons (year round), Concord Thursday evenings, Pleasant Hill, Lafayette, Moraga, Danville, Orinda, Walnut Creek Saturdays at The Shadelands and Sundays on Locust Street (more on these below), Martinez at the Contra Costa County Regional Medical Center, Walnut Creek Kaiser, Concord High School, and the list goes on.

My favorites are the Walnut Creek Saturday morning market at The Shadelands, and the Walnut Creek Sunday morning market on Locust Street.  Both are very large, with over 40 vendors,  and both are year-round.  The Saturday market is only a few years old but already bustling with happy patrons.  The Sunday market has been there over 20 years, and most of that time I’ve been there.  The vendors there have watched my kids grow up, and know me well as one of their regulars.  At The Shadelands, my favorite tomato vendor is Swank Farms, which has several tables strewn with all sorts of heirloom tomatoes every week.  At the Sunday market, I like Roseland Farms, where the seller has numerous flat boxes of heirlooms sorted by color.  He also is one of the very few vendors that sells San Marzano tomatoes, one of the world’s best cooking tomatoes.  These last weeks sitting out on the table, cook into very flavorful sauces and soups, or can be sliced into salads as firm yet flavorful dependable little oblong beauties.  Roseland Farms also has a big pile of cherry tomatoes of all kinds, and you can grab them by the handful or pick them out one by one.  The Shadelands market had a map with push pins, showing the location of each vendor, and how far away their farm is from the market site.  The average distance they come is only 89 miles.  The average distance food travels to our supermarkets is 1,500 miles.  The map had a sign on it reading, “Choose the food less traveled!”

Here is one of my favorite things to do with tomatoes.  This is my somewhat famous tomato platter.  Amounts are approximate.  I made this up, and it doesn’t have official amounts of anything.  Mess around with this as much as you want, and change it to your taste. The secret is the freshness of the ingredients.  And do not ever refrigerate tomatoes – it destroys their flavor!  Slice several heirloom tomatoes (as many colors as possible) onto a large platter in several layers.  You can make patterns of color or just do it randomly.  Chop up a handful or two of feta cheese and sprinkle that over the tomatoes.  Then sprinkle a generous handful or two of olives over that.  Lately I use mixed Greek olives from Whole Foods, and I recommend you not use olives from a jar – get fresh ones from an olive bar if you can.  If you have fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes in several varieties, sprinkle a handful of those over the top. Then chop up a generous handful or two of fresh basil leaves and sprinkle that over the top and around the platter.  The vinaigrette I use is homemade, and is quite tart, so you may want to try it separately before using it here, to adjust for taste if you want. This reverses the usual proportions in a vinaigrette, and has 2 parts vinegar to 1 part oil.  1-1/2 T best quality olive oil, 3 T red or white wine vinegar, 10-15 shakes of salt, 10-15 grinds of fresh ground pepper or 3 or 4 shakes of coarse ground black pepper, 2 or 3 shakes of granulated garlic, 2 or 3 shakes of dried mustard. Mix thoroughly and pour over the tomato platter, serve immediately.

painting depicts salad, varierty of citrus fruits.

Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn DImmick

What do we eat in January? The reds of the summer and late fall have given way to orange and green. Citrus is pouring in from the farm box, from the market, from my sister-in-law’s orange tree. Lemons and limes are ripening in the yard. This week’s box from Riverdog Farm featured a red Kabocha squash (which is a deep shade of reddish-orange), two pounds of oranges, one and a half pounds of mandarin oranges, a couple of leeks, rapini, spinach, two celery roots and a pound and a half of potatoes.

First up, I stir-fried the rapini in olive oil with garlic and squeezed a lemon over that. We ate it with roasted delicata squash seasoned with ginger, lime and an apple cider reduction made from the last of a bottle of cider. We had a slice of heated up ham, which Mom splashed a little maple syrup on at the last minute. We each ate a slice of homemade whole wheat bread. I peeled a tangerine for dessert and Mom cut half an orange into quarters. I watched as her face puckered and volunteered to use the other half of the orange in salad dressing tomorrow.

I first saw this vinaigrette recipe in the farm newsletter, where it was reprinted from the Sun-Times. I have adapted it to use a variety of citrus and I’ll make it from now until citrus fruits fade out in the spring to be replaced by strawberries. While the original recipe called for canola or safflower oil I like to use peanut oil, which goes well with the Asian flavors of ginger, sesame, rice vinegar and tamari.

Orange Sesame Vinaigrette

Juice and zest 1 orange or 2 tangerines or 2 blood oranges or any combination into a bowl, bottle or cruet.

Add

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

2 Tbsp tamari

2 Tbsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp honey

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1/2 tsp kosher salt

black pepper to taste

minced chives, scallions or green garlic, depending on what you have

Whisk in

1/4 cup peanut oil (or add it to jar and shake vigorously).

Toast

2 Tbsp sesame seeds in a skillet

Now, make a salad of winter greens: spinach, arugula, lettuce, watercress — whatever you can get. If you can’t get fresh greens, you can slice up napa cabbage on a mandoline. Add slivered carrots, cabbage, sliced fennel, radishes. Throw in roasted peanuts or almonds if you like. Segment your favorite citrus fruits. Toss the salad with the vinaigrette and reserved sesame seeds.

Food notes: You can also eat this vinaigrette on cooked greens or Brussels sprouts. If you are allergic to peanut oil, substitute another oil that you like. Tamari is a wheat-free soy sauce, not as salty as standard soy sauce.

Painting note: This painting is a little blurry because it is a photo of a photo — the original is in a private collection and is more vivid and well-defined.

January is citruslove month. Which makes sense in the Northern Hemisphere at any rate. There is a citrus love recipe posting project. The hash tag is #citruslove. More about it here.

Now, Lauren of PrinceProductions has kindly awarded me another blogging award, Food Bloggers Uncovered, just to make sure I start the New Year off right. She posted ten questions to answer:

1.   What, or who inspired you to start a blog?

After struggling mightily over how to launch a website and what would be on it, I was talking to my friend Neola and she said, “Why don’t you just write about food? You could write about what vegetables you get and what you do with them.” Neola knows I am passionate about seasonal eating, that it actually pains me to see recipes containing basil and tomatoes in January.

2.   Who is your foodie inspiration?

I have had the good fortune to eat at Greens in San Francisco, at Chez Panisse and Ajanta in Berkeley, and at Joseph’s Table and The Love Apple in Taos, New Mexico. The chefs at those restaurants, Alice Waters, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and Michael Pollan’s books have influenced me mightily. The produce from Riverdog Farm has forced me to stretch my cooking muscles, and increase my versatility and look for ways to render a variety of greens delicious.

3.   Your greasiest, batter – splattered food/drink book is?

The old Betty Crocker Picture cookbook, which is where I go when I have a question about anything basic (substitutions, cooking methods, standard dishes). I like it that it has tabbed sections for yeast breads and pies as well as main dishes, meat, poultry. Read more about the cookbooks I use the most here.

4.   Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?

It would have to be in Paris in the winter where I ate coquilles St. Jacques, a poached pear and the best white bordeaux I have ever tasted, perfectly matched to the food.

5.   Another food bloggers table you’d like to eat at is?

I would like to dine with Susan Nye when she is cooking lobster, dine with anyone who likes to cook lamb, sit down to an Italian meal with John of the Bartolini Kitchens. Greg of Rufus’ Food  and Spirits Guide can make the pre-dinner cocktails and perhaps the bread pudding and you can all submit selections for the dessert cart. Are you listening, Linda? Get out the cheesecake! And I want to know what Christine of Angry Cherry is baking as well. Sally can bring the bread.

 6.   What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

We have a KitchenAid, but I would like the heavier-duty model, please.

7.   Who taught you how to cook?

Mom taught me the basics, including the pie crust, and then I started collecting recipes and techniques and ideas wherever I found them: learned to cook a few Indian and Thai dishes from college roommates, copied flavors I had had in restaurants, watched people cook on T.V., and read lots and lots of cookbooks.

8.   I’m coming to you for dinner what’s your signature dish?

It depends on the season. Turkey and apple stew, perhaps, or posole (without the kale!). Served with home-baked bread and a simple pudding or pie. Or green curry of anything. Or something Indian served with cucumber raita, whole wheat tortillas and chutney: chicken biryani or Indian-style black-eyed peas from the Ajanta cookbook.

9.   What is your guilty food pleasure?

My secret love of these processed foods: Cheez-Its (original flavor), barbecue chips, and Golden Grahams, which they might as well call candy.

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

I refuse to eat a number of common foods: mayonnaise (I don’t care who makes it or if you call it “aioli”), avocado, hard-cooked eggs, most organ meats, tuna. I also refuse a number of delicacies: pate, sushi, oysters, caviar, Brie.

Finally…tag 5 other food bloggers with these questions…like a hot baked potato…pass it on.

No, no. We live in a democracy. Take it upon yourselves to answer these questions, or tell your friends about them. Alright, I nominate Granny Wise of Granny’s Parlour because I want to hear how she answers the questions. Who else? You know my favorites already. There’s Eva and Betsy and John, who doubtless have all been nominated for this before. I know, let’s give another award to Jane at ArtEpicurean. Done.

painting depicts Greek salad and ingredients

Greek Salad 8"x8" watercolor pencil and gouache Sharyn Dimmick

One of my friends wrote to me yesterday and asked me to address the issue of cooking and eating well when you are a household of one. I live in a household of two and I usually cook for both of us, but I used to live alone and cook for myself.

What makes you happy depends on your tastes: I do not mind eating leftovers — if I make something yummy I will want to eat it again and again. Some people want to eat different things everyday. If you are a person who craves freshness and innovation, some dishes are made for you. It is easy to prepare an individual salad, a bowl of pasta, an omelet, a plate of scrambled eggs, a sandwich, or a quesadilla. You can vary the ingredients by choosing the best of what you like that is in season: right now is a good time to put corn in quesadillas, zucchini in omelets, cucumbers in sandwiches and salads and peppers and tomatoes in everything.

In Northern California it is ideal to make Greek salad while tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are in season. You’ll need at least one tomato, cuke and red bell pepper, more if you want a larger salad. Other than that, all you need is feta cheese, a jar of kalamata olives and the ingredients to make a vinaigrette: olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, dry mustard, salt and pepper.

I make my simplest vinaigrette by drizzling some olive oil over my salad ingredients. I don’t measure it — I just drip some on and toss the greens or vegetables. Then I take a small measuring cup out. I add to it one clove of crushed garlic, a large pinch of hot mustard, ground black pepper, a dash of salt and a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. I stir that up and dump it on my salad. Toss again. Then I taste it by picking out a leaf of lettuce or a piece of cucumber. Can I taste every ingredient? If you go easy on the salt and vinegar in the first pass, you can always add more. I like quite vinegary dressing (My friend Valentine says salad dressing gets sharper as you move from East Coast to West Coast and I was born here in the west).

When I make vinaigrette for Greek salad, I like to add the juice of a lemon, especially a home-grown Meyer lemon from the front yard. I add it just after I toss the salad with oil. I also keep the salt to a few grains because both kalamatas and feta are salty.

Food notes: You can use any kind of cucumber in Greek salad. I like Armenian cucumbers best because you don’t need to peel them, but I have made the salad with lemon cukes, English cukes, pickling cucumbers and the standard supermarket variety. You can use bell pepper of any color, or gypsy peppers. You can use full-sized tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, or grape tomatoes — I use what I have, but my favorites are little orange Sun Gold cherry tomatoes right off the vine. I like sheep’s milk feta better than goat’s milk feta, and I prefer French or Greek feta to others when I can get them (but a lot of my feta comes from the cheese selection at Grocery Outlet). Do use kalamata olives — canned black olives will not deliver the punch here. Leftover kalamatas keep well in the refrigerator. I like the clean taste of kosher salt, but you can use what you like.

Variations: In full summer, I sometimes add watermelon chunks to Greek salad. It’s not for everyone. If you are cautious, put a bowl of watermelon chunks on the side, transfer just one piece to your salad plate and see what you think.  If it doesn’t work for you, save the watermelon for dessert. Want more spice? Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to your salad and toss well.

Greek Salad for One

Slice or chop one cucumber, one red bell pepper, and one tomato or a handful of halved cherry tomatoes into your salad bowl. Crumble in feta cheese to taste. Add some pitted kalamata olives (if you halve them, they will go further). Drizzle salad with olive oil and toss. Squeeze half of one Meyer lemon over salad. Toss again.

In the bowl of a measuring cup, make a vinaigrette of one small smashed clove of garlic, a Tbsp or two of red wine vinegar, a few grains of salt, a pinch of hot mustard. Stir together. Grind in some black pepper. Toss it into your salad. Taste and adjust.

It’s wonderful to eat this with a sourdough baguette to soak up the dressing — I “clean” my salad bowl with bread when I am done. If there are any leftovers (there shouldn’t be), they’ll be good for lunch tomorrow.

Painting Note: For information on “Greek Salad” or any other original painting, please contact me here.