Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Favorite Tomato

My FF (Foodie Friend) and I adventured to the 13th Annual Tomato Festival in Granby, Massachusetts at the Red Fire Farm yesterday where we took on over 140 varieties of cocktail, cherry, slicing and hybrid tomatoes. Zena, Goddess of Fire, was not afraid.

Well, maybe a bit, so we used the loo first, just in case, then checked behind the Solar Barn where the tasting was set up, just to make sure everything was safe. Happy to report, the tomatoes growing in the greenhouses were quiet and seemed content to still be alive on the vine. Small children were staring at some large, strange hippy noisy thing all painted in psychedelic colors, wondering why the stupid thing reminded them of Granny and that guy. Crates of tomatoes waited feverishly to be cut up by a group of festively scarved women with large knives. Satisfied, we slowly backed out and found our way to the lineup.

Given a list and six little red stickers for voting for favorites, we waited on line to enter. Little toothpick weapons in hand, we attacked! The line snaked around both sides of the tables, starting with the cocktails, then the cherries. These small treasures were amazing - I especially liked the Indigo Rose cocktails, and the Sungold, Jasper and Black Cherry cherries. Being brave, I looked left, then right for danger, then quickly stuck my toothpick directly into the quart box display in the center of the table and ate a WHOLE little tomato, slurping it down greedily, never sure when I will eat again. (Actually I did this about a dozen times and didn't get caught!) Now the slicers - dangerously good - liked the Bobcat - then on to the heirlooms. Now here, feeling sated, these didn't strike me with the same spark. Many were mild, single note, and mostly very attractive - FF wondered what it would have been like if we had tasted these first. Anyway, I liked Beorange, as well as Juane Flamme. Too bad he wasn't a swashbuckler instead of just a tomato. (The names of the tomatoes were so cool, so many were new to me - who wouldn't be tempted by a little tomato called a Lemondrop???)

I beat off the crowds as we went around and explored the grounds - not much there - a few food stalls (could have had more tomato edibles), the usual knitters and jewelry and tee shirts.  Lots of people, some with dangerous looking furry things on the end of strings. We found our way to the Chef's Tent; J.J. Gonson had finally beat back traffic to get to her cooking demo - tomato soup (what a surprise!). Despite those home "chefs" that like to ask too many questions we actually learned stuff - like not to use Chardonnay to cook with because the oakiness can interfere with the taste of the food, and to kick out the tomato seeds because they can make your soup bitter. Gonson had a nice sharp knife but she used it only to chop up tomatoes and onions. Her bodyguards (children) known as Team Tomato lent a hand in the demo. They were both very brave and really adorable. I let down my guard, pulled out my wallet, and entered the Barn to see what they had for sale.

Tomatoes, corn, beets, beans, herbs, flowers and more, all in abundance. Here the crowd got thick, so I did my best to keep an eye on things on tippy toes, since in shoes I'm still only 5'1". I didn't lose FF among the fray. We paid up proper, loaded up our bags and escaped the grounds, full of great ideas for what to do with too much produce. We talked recipes all the way back to Albany.

Many challenges faced, and many great tomatoes, but my favorite tomato is still FF. She got her own sticker for being so sweet.

Here's what I made when I got home:

  • Serves 2 or it should if you don't overeat, which is easy to do with something this good
  • 30 minutes to prepare

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
scant quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 pint Jasper Gold cherry tomatoes, cleaned, stems removed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine (NOT Chardonnay!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil

Heat the olive oil and add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook over medium low heat for one minute, or until fragrant. Don't brown the garlic. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, salt and pepper and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes or so to concentrate the sauce. Stir occasionally. When the tomatoes are slightly softened you can squish them down gently with a potato masher to break the skin and release the pulp.  Finish with fresh herbs and remove from the heat. Serve over your favorite pasta (a thin spaghetti is a good choice for this light, simple sauce).

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Friday, August 16, 2013

Coming up: Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival

I get to go to a tomato festival with Zena, Goddess of Fire!!!   The Goddess of Fire will be at Red Fire Farm - so you know it's going to  be sort of a big deal.  Come back for the trip report after the weekend.

Here are the details:

Saturday August 24, 2013
"Every year, we have an unbelievable selection of amazing and often award-winning tomatoes for you to taste. It's a great day at the farm, with everything from a 5K Tomato Trot field race to hay rides to cooking demonstrations to live music to crafters and a smorgasbord of local fare from area producers. Come and visit!"

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sunday and blackberries from the Berry Farm

What can be better on a warm summer afternoon than to get out in the country and pick berries?

The Goddess of Fire and I hopped in the old Mini Cooper and took ourselves to The Berry Farm in Chatham, eager to see this year's crop.

Picking berries, while it has it's delights, can be some serious business. In the middle of an organic berry patch there are lots of flying creatures, most of whom are as interested in the  berries as you are.  They're not very polite either.  The Goddess got out the bug repellent, and I got out my head net.   Blackberry plants have long canes, which the farmers try their best to corral with wire, and each cane has a very very generous helping of thorns as well as berries.  Big thorns, little thorns and medium size thorns, all with extremely sharp points, wave about in the breeze.  It's a sort of strategic challenge to not only see the berries, which frequently hang hidden under leaves, but to grasp, pluck, and successfully get berries into one's basket without seriously ripped clothing and flesh.   One reaches into the bush cautiously, knowing that one little twitch of either the cane or the human can result in pain and lots of uttered profanities.

We won!!!

One of the advantages of living in our agricultural area is that these babies are just a short drive away, waiting on the bush.  For a few scratches, bug bites and an hour or so of picking, we gathered six quarts between the two of us.  These are the Goddess's.

She's freezing hers on this tray so that they don't become a huge block of blackberry, and jam is on her mind. That'll all get cooked up when she is ready.  Mine are going to be eaten fresh this week, and some will be made into a nice syrup, to be used in cooking and making salad dressings, etc.  I washed and rinsed them in a mild vinegar wash in order to keep the mold down.

To reward ourselves we enjoyed a refreshing dessert composed of blackberries, a nectarine, fresh mint leaves and Lillet.  It was a wonderful end to a lovely adventure.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lunch at Grappa

Cool weather, a light breeze, and three birthdays to celebrate took me and my colleagues to Grappa' 72 for a workday lunch on their patio. Except for one stupid fly I wanted to shoot, it was a wonderful meal.

The heavy iron table was beautifully and simply dressed with a proper tablecloth and real napkins, important unless you prefer to spend your meal trying to keep your paper products from being swept up in the wind. Our order was sent to the kitchen within ten minutes of being seated, quickly followed by a delivery of warm, slightly charred crusty bread and an olive tapenade to keep us busy while we waited. It was nice that we also had on hand olive oil and balsamic for dipping if one prefers, which I do since my day of reckoning (140/90) and I had to start cutting back on salt.

A very yummy start.

One colleague ordered two appetizers - the Caesar salad avec anchovies and the bruschetta, both very generous servings and reportedly delicious since she didn't offer me even a nibble. The other ordered the ravioli del giorno, a four cheese creation topped with a cream sauce, peas and pancetta. Again, reportedly very good, since she didn't share that with me either. SO I ate all of my pollo alla grillia - ziti with a really garlickly cream sauce (this one not as thick as what was on the ravioli), lots of real grilled summer vegetables, chicken and herbs. I only let them taste the sauce with some of that nice bread; the sauce was absolutely delicious. I was unhappy with the wooden thyme stems and the hunk of rosemary that I had to pick out of the dish, but at least it wasn't the fly.

Even though the view was of a parking lot the setting felt private and it wasn't too noisy. The patio was covered so even if it had drizzled we would have been very comfortable. Grappa' 72 is located on Central Avenue near Colvin at the back end of a mall that runs perpendicular to Central not far from downtown Albany. Plenty of parking, and if you wiggle your way out via the Hannaford's parking lot next door there's a light so you can make your left turn and speed back to work. Not that we had to. The food was delivered freshly prepared and in very good time. Kudos to Grappa' for remembering that us working stiffs have to get back to the office before the afternoon is wasted.

All agreed we would return! And the best part, we had a $40 gift certificate that I purchased for only $20 through MetroMarket, which covered the bill (we didn't have drinks or dessert).

Here I am over an hour later and I reek of garlic. Good thing I'm single.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dnipro's new location

Dnipro's new place is above Latham Circle in a small plaza that's been there for decades, and if  you're heading north through the circle it will be through the light for the Price Chopper/Marshall's/Hobby Lobby plaza, but on the left side.  Parking is good, and the store is chock full of all the good stuff we all remember.

I got basterma and spiced veal, a jar of Taramosalata (for a great price!!!) and couldn't help but try the half sour pickles in the case up front.  YUM!!!!  I'm so glad I can shop there again!!

Philly cheese steak

Inspired by the Profussor and with a curiosity born of feeling like I had never tasted the real thing, I found myself in Latham, searching for the new Dnipro store and voila!  There was the Philly Bar and Grill, and it wasn't too early to consider a cheese steak sandwich for dinner.  I've tasted Philly cheese steak sandwiches in the past and never been impressed, although I admit to a longing for them to be all that I want in a steak and cheese sandwich. When the Profussor claimed that it's the roll that allows the rest to be correct and proper, I was willing to believe that this could indeed be the secret.

I ordered an Angry Orchard hard cider and I really enjoy it's full-bodied and sweet character.  This is no light, dry cider.   It was a great compliment to the cheesy sandwich.

Since the sandwich is a menu highlight there are complicated instructions and way too many choices for a beginner to feel confident, but I sipped my Angry Orchard cider and decided to be strong.  I ordered beef with onion straws,mushrooms, and Cheese Wiz.  What arrived was a  monster of a sandwich.  I put the fork in the photo above so that it would be clear that this not just a sandwich.  In order to manage I took to using my knife and fork so that I wouldn't be covered in liquid cheese wiz and steak juice.

It is clear that the superior roll makes this sandwich something that it would not be without it.  The roll's texture and flavor contain the steak, cheese onions and mushrooms with no leaks or tears.  

As I was contemplating how to eat this behemoth I nibbled on the onion straws and they were yukky. They were cold.  A few moments on the grill would have turned them into something special and worthy of the sandwich, but as they were they didn't enhance anything, and I wouldn't go for them again unless the cook knew his way around them.

With those small complaints I really enjoyed this sandwich.  I ended up just eating the meat and mushrooms for the second half, which probably made it look as though I didn't like it -- but it was great and I will visit again when the urge moves me.

LorreBob sez check it out, but go for the straight classic.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Honest Weight's new incarnation

The best laid plans can go awry, so yes, I haven't been such a diligent writer in the early part of the year.  But I'm revved now.

I've been working as a shopper's helper in the new Honest Weight store and it has been very hard work, but also a delight.  I tend to get a lot of comments from shoppers and they're overwhelmingly positive.  So my job is to learn where everything is and then help everyone else find it.  That means I spend a lot of hours cruising the shelves and just memorizing.  Now that it's a large grocery store that is no small task.  But after several weeks of 3 hour shifts on Saturdays I'm getting a grip on it.

I'm constantly intrigued by the products, like in the yogurt section.  This section, which not only holds about 50 linear shelf feet of yogurts, also has some of the more esoteric cultured dairy products and some non-dairy versions.  So of course here in the Capital Region, people get a charge out of asking for the most off the wall yogurt.  I get a charge out of saying "yes, we have that" with a thoughtful look and then leading them to the spot.

Food geekery reigns.

This week a few products stood out as ones I eventually want to try when my kitchen and pantry are a little less burdened by the bounty of summer produce!

Organic refridgerator biscuits.  They don't have the less desireable ingredients that most other general brands do.  I want to do crazy things with them like stuff them in muffin tins with good cheese and ham or bacon slices.  Don't you?

Small bottles of orange and lime and lemon oils - you'll actually be able to use that much oil in less time than it takes to turn completely rancid.

Acutally I already tried this pasta and I had to write about it because it is hands down some of the best pasta I have ever tasted!! It's like a nice little  twisted rope of pasta and completely soaks up any sauce, providing a toothy flavorful bite.  nom nom nom

So I highly recommend giving a good amount of time for your first visit.  There are thousands and thousands of delicious products plus the usual household items like laundry soaps and cheese cloth. I hope you enjoy all the luxurious parking too!!

The grand opening date is August 8, so watch for all the specials and sales and join in on the general revelry.