Garden Fresh Salad. Literally.

August 30, 2011

You know by now that I love produce straight off the tree.  Or vine.  Or bush.  Most recently, I scored some great lemons and oranges from my friend Robyn’s backyard and some limes from my friend Emily’s.  Although they’ve told me about it, I had completely forgotten that this year, my sister Sarah and her husband Justin put in a little garden along the side of their house, and Justin and I raided it to help put together last night’s dinner.

Here’s the garden:

They’re growing tomatoes, and these two guys were ready to go:

Justin harvested four cucumbers from his cucumber plants (he says they can barely keep up with the cucumbers they’re growing):

There’s also green peppers that are coming along nicely:

And some strawberry plants that haven’t yielded much this year, but I did find this little green guy:

So what did we do with the tomatoes and cucumbers?

We made a salad, of course!

Both tomatoes and 2 of the cucumbers got chopped up.  My 5-year-old nephew Sam helped – I did the chopping, he put them in the bowl.  We added a few more store-bought veggies: baby arugula, mushrooms, and 1/2 an orange bell pepper.  For dressing, we added a little olive oil, some vinegar, and salt and pepper.  This may be one of the freshest salads I’ve ever eaten:

Delicious!

The rest of my dinner was two sliders (each burger was 2 ounces), with tomato (also from the garden), lettuce, pickles, and mustard.  I split 1 bun between the two of them, and ate them open-faced.  I also nabbed about 4 french fries off my nephew’s plate.

My back is doing much better.  If you saw yesterday’s post about pools and high-dives and moving and skyscrapers, then you read about how I threw out my back.  Ouch.  I consulted the fitness professionals in my life today: Richard Simmons, among other things, suggested a massage (which is a great idea), and Craig laid out a plan for when I should get back to the gym, and what I should do.  Over the course of the day, during which I occasionally did stretches, my back improved.  It’s not 100% better, but it’s improved.

Tomorrow I hop on a plane and fly to Michigan.  Hopefully, this travel day won’t be as long and arduous as my last flight!

Keep it up, David!

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Putting Those Tomatoes To Use

July 26, 2011

If you stopped by yesterday, then you probably read all about the free tomatoes that I recently acquired from my friends Matthew and Maggie, who were looking to unload some of the tomatoes that were growing in their yard.

I’m happy to report that I found a great use for some of them (but not all), and that’s what today’s post is about.  What do you do with an influx of tomatoes?  My mind went straight to salsa.  I love salsa, and I haven’t made it in a long time.  What I love about making salsa is that there are tons of varieties, and it’s really hard to fuck up, so, basically, you can’t go wrong.  So I picked up a couple things at the Whole Foods in Porter Ranch, and got busy in my kitchen, making up a salsa recipe as I went along.  The salsa ended up having two new elements I’ve never used before in a salsa, so read on!

One of the things I picked up was a pepper.  I’m not a chile pepper expert, and usually I’d just grab a jalapeno or two, but I was feeling adventurous today, so I picked up a pepper I’d never bought before (my habit of purchasing unknown produce is well-documented here – you’ll have to scroll down).  I came home with these guys:

There’s called pasilla peppers… or so I thought.  I did a little research when I got home, and found this nugget on Wikipedia:

In the United States producers and grocers often incorrectly use ‘pasilla’ to describe the poblano, a different, wider variety of pepper.

So I don’t know what the hell I bought.  But I decided to give them a quick roast over an open flame, which is the first of the aforementioned new elements.  It’s something I’ve seen someone do on the Food Network years ago.  The peppers went directly onto my gas stove, which I turned to medium-low:

Within seconds I could hear them crackling, and every few minutes I turned them to a different side, and soon all sides were beautifully charred:

You take them off the heat, put them on some paper towels to cool, and after 10 minutes, you can wrap them in the paper towel and give them a vigorous rub, which removes the char and leaves behind a lovely roasted pepper:

While the peppers were cooling, but before the vigorous rub, I got the other ingredients ready to go.  First step: pulling out my Tupperware Quick Chef.

The Tupperware Quick Chef is a hand-operated chopper/food processor that I got 7 or 8 years ago when my aunt sold Tupperware, and it’s really handy for salsa making.  I don’t use it often (this marks its first appearance in this blog), and, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve used it for anything but salsa!

Anyway.  I washed a bunch of Matthew and Maggie’s tomatoes, cut them in half, and scooped out the seeds and extra liquid (so it wouldn’t end up in the salsa), leaving the flesh:

I peeled an entire red onion and chopped it in a few big pieces, and tossed it into the Quick Chef along with some of the tomatoes:

I added a glove of garlic, which I ran through my garlic press.  It might seem silly to press the garlic before putting it into a chopping device, but I didn’t want to risk the blades missing it, and getting a bite with a big chunk of raw garlic.  I also added lime juice.

Then came the other new element that I’ve never used in a salsa before… drum roll please… PLUMS!

I’ve had peach salsa, mango salsa, and pineapple salsa – fruit in salsa is not uncommon.  And since summer is the season for stone fruits, and I had some plums lying around, I thought why not?  I used 4 red plums total.

Then came the pasilla/poblano/whatever peppers I roasted – the only thing left to do to them was remove the stem and seeds and cut them up in a few big pieces:

The top went on the Quick Chef, and I started turning the handle, and about 30 seconds later, I had some fantastic looking salsa.  The Quick Chef wasn’t big enough to handle all the ingredients at once, so I ended up doing two batches (each batch included 2-3 tomatoes, 1/2 red onion, 1 garlic clove, 2 plums, juice of 1/2 a lime, and 1 of the peppers).

Here’s the end result:

Now – what to do with it?  I’ll be honest and admit I wanted nothing more than to go get a bag of tortilla chips.  But tortilla chips are the sort thing that are hard for me to control – an open bag could very well end up being an empty bag in one sitting – so I used some of the salsa as a topping for a salmon burger, and that was my lunch:

I cooked the salmon burger (which was store-bought) in a pan on the stove, in a little Pam.  It’s exactly the sort of thing that would cook up perfectly in my RediSetGo, but I’m not loving my RediSetGo right now.

And yep, that’s celery on the side.  I ended up eating way more celery than what’s pictured – it turns out I like salsa and celery!  The celery has a nice crunch, and the shape of it is perfect for holding onto salsa.

The salsa itself was terrific.  So fresh and flavorful.  The plums made it sweet, and the pepper gave it a little heat (although not too much), and that they were roasted added a nice texture, too!

I still have some tomatoes left… and I might have another idea or two about what to do with them…

Keep it up, David!


Free Food!

July 25, 2011

I’ve known my friends Matthew and Maggie for, let’s see… 13 years now?  All three of us went to the University of Michigan together, where Matthew and I were in the same department, and he and Maggie were dating back then.  Now they’re married, and a few years ago, they bought an adorable house in Silver Lake, about 15 minutes away from me in Los Angeles.

I always have fun with Matthew and Maggie – a few months ago, we went to a firing range and shot some pistols.  It was a big deal for me – my reward for losing 150 pounds, and TOOT TOOT TOOT TOOT…  That’s me tooting my own horn, because it turns out I’m a pretty good shot.  You can see my target and read about our day here.

Back in college, Matthew worked at a party store a block from the building where 80% of our classes were.  I don’t mean party store like where you buy balloons, streamers, and pinatas – in Michigan, a party store is a liquor store, and the counter up front at Matthew’s party store had rows and rows of bins of candy – individual fun-size Snickers, Tootsie Rolls, peanut butter cups, and Laffy Taffy, all for 5 or 10 cents apiece.  I would go in when Matthew was working, often multiple times a week, spend a dollar on an Icee or a Diet Coke, and just shoot the shit for a while, the whole time eating candy – lots and lots of candy.  Matthew didn’t charge me for any of it, and I would leave with my pockets full so I had candy to munch on while walking home or wherever.

A few days ago, more than a decade later, Matthew emailed me to offer me more free food, although, this time around, it was of a much more healthy variety:

We have a ton of tomatoes. You should stop by and pick a few.

Uh, you don’t have to ask me twice!  A few more emails were exchanged with Matthew and Maggie, and on Saturday afternoon I headed over to their house.  Neither Matthew or Maggie were around – but they were cool with me stopping by and raiding their garden.  Maggie had said, in another email, that the tomatoes were “out of control” and that “we just feel guilty that we can’t eat them all” but I didn’t know what to expect until I stepped into their yard.  The tomatoes were out of control. They were everywhere, and they looked great:

One plant was so overloaded with tomatoes that the vines drooped down over the edge of the planter, all the way to the ground:

As I stood there, my entire field of vision filled with tomatoes, a dilemma formed in my head.  How many tomatoes should I take?  Matthew and Maggie were very kind to share their bounty, and made clear that there were more tomatoes than they could handle, but what’s an appropriate amount to me to relieve them of?

I often turn to humor when in a moral quandary like this one, so my first gut instinct was to chop down the plants altogether, so when they came home, they’d see a barren planter and maybe a note that said “thanks for the tomatoes!” with a smiley face.  I think that’d be hilarious!  Alas, that’s not something I’ve ever actually do, so I returned to the issue at hand.

I ended up being rational, and came up with three notions that I thought would be helpful to remember:

  1. I like tomatoes.
  2. I’m going out of town on Thursday for 6 days, so I’ll need a plan for the tomatoes I do take.  (You’ll hear more about the trip in upcoming posts, don’t you worry)
  3. Naturally, I had just bought 2 big tomatoes at Whole Foods a day before I got Matthew’s email, but one of them I’ve already eaten.

Then I started picking.  These tomatoes were ready to go – some practically fell off the vine when I touched them.  Once I started picking it was hard to stop, and soon, I had these in my clutches:

Nine tomatoes, with the largest one (top left corner) about the size of a tennis ball.  That seems like a respectable number, right?  Not quite double-digits.

I looked again at the tomato plants, and realized it didn’t really look like I had even made a dent.  And I also noticed that there were plenty more tomatoes that were up-and-coming:

OH!  Matthew and Maggie also each mentioned, in separate emails, that they had plenty of sage and oregano too, and I could help myself to some herbs as well – but when I got there, in their yard, I couldn’t remember what sage and oregano looked like – they’re not herbs I buy fresh very often.  I felt dumb, but I would have felt more dumb if I taken some leaves off a plant and tried to cook with them, only to realize they weren’t herbs at all!

I do have a plan for what I’m going to do with these tomatoes… and if I get my rear in gear today, it may even be the topic of tomorrow’s post!

Thank you, Matthew and Maggie, for the lovely tomatoes!  Who needs a supermarket with you two supplying tomatoes, Tavi supplying grapefruit and tangerines, and Robert supplying kumquats?  Seriously, all my other friends need to step up and plant gardens or get fruit trees, because getting fresh produce right off the tree (or vine) is completely awesome in every way.

Keep it up, David!